Monthly Archives: February 2014

Shut Up, Rape: Gender Politics in “Super”

This post is slightly tangential to the usual focus of this blog. However, I think that my role as a writer is at least partially responsible for the fact that I overanalyze everything, so it somewhat relates. Today, I want to talk about the movie “Super,” a 2010 release featuring Rainn Wilson as the Crimson Bolt, a twisted vigilante superhero. Ellen Page also stars as his trusty sidekick, Boltie. Oh, Netflix. You had me at “superheroes” and “Rainn Wilson.” This is exactly the kind of dark, indie gem that would normally find it’s way into my weekly rotation. I loved Rainn Wilson as the dorky, unlikely hero, trying desperately to save his junkie wife (Liv Tyler) from the clutches of her mobsteresque dealer (Kevin Bacon.Seriously,who doesn’t love Kevin Bacon as a Villain?). I was even on board with the romantic tension brewing between the Crimson Bolt and Boltie. I mean, his wife basically left him for Gary Oldman’s character in “True Romance”. she kind of had it coming. I was totally sold until the third act, when the movie inexplicably shot itself in the foot.

I’m referring, of course, to scene in which Ellen Page’s character rapes Rainn Wilson’s character. Yes, you read that correctly. After artfully building a charmingly bumbling romantic arc for the Crimson Bolt and Boltie, the writers proceed to drive it straight into the ground in a scene that ends with Rainn Wilson on his knees, puking into the bathroom toilet. (If you think that I’m being overly dramatic, here’s a link to the clip from the movie. It skips the part where Rainn Wilson’s vomit takes the shape of Liv Tyler’s face, a la Virgin Mary tortilla, but you get the point. )

What bothers me is not that the movie contained a rape scene. What bothers me is that it was not treated as a rape scene. Within moments, the Crimson Bolt and Boltie have resumed their adorable Batman and Robin dynamic, teaming up against evil Kevin Bacon in the final battle. The rape is never addressed. Boltie retains her girl-at-the-comic-book-store charm, and remains a sympathetic character until the final credits roll.

I find this problematic because it indirectly condones female-on-male sexual violence. In this film, the non-consensual sex scene is played off as the resolution of a romantic plot point. I doubt this would have been executed in the same manner had The Crimson Bolt been the aggressor, with Boltie on the receiving end of his advances. I’ve tried to consider alternate perspectives in my examination of this scene. For example, since this is listed as a “dark comedy,” perhaps the writers were trying to satirize the gender dynamics traditionally portrayed in the superhero genre. However, even if this were the case, I find it to be an effort made in poor taste. Here’s why.

In the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to teach a portion of Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in my literature class. As always,it was a reminder of how long humanity has been concerned with gender inequality, of the progress we have made and the obstacles we have yet to surmount. On the other hand, movies like “Super” make me worry that we’ve lost sight of what gender equality really means. Kant tells us that certain types of revolution succeed in doing nothing but turning the oppressed into the new oppressors. By simply inverting the hierarchy, we are making no progress.

I constantly see efforts in the media to condemn sexual violence against women. While I fully support these efforts, I also believe that everyone has the right to be safe. Considering the fact that gender and sexuality are fairly fluid concepts, should they really be the primary considerations in relation to what constitutes rape? Are scenes like the one in “Super” sending the message that the only people who count as victims of rape are women involved in heteronormative sexual altercations? I worry that they are. More than that, I worry that they’re slipping past us unnoticed.

I don’t have any answers. This is an issue that is so much larger than I am. But I’m a writer. So I write.



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