I don’t know how often I will do these, but, I figure, occasionally. I love me some pop culture and I love me some writing about pop culture, so it just makes sense.
Anyway, this time out, I am tackling series finales and how some talk about Taylor Swift’s newest video.
Knock, Knock. Who’s There? FREUD!
Before I get into this, I want to acknowledge that, yes, we have reached the point where people (me in this case) do textual analyses of trailers (KNOCK, KNOCK this time). I think we can all agree that this is the darkest timeline. Nonetheless, it is our timeline, so, embrace it. I’m sorry for contributing to the degradation of art and our society, but obviously not quite sorry enough.
Ok, disclaimers done.
What is immediately noticeable about the KNOCK, KNOCK trailer is how it plays as a nearly unfettered illustration of male paranoia about female sexuality. It may be the purest cinematic illustration of it since…I don’t know…FATAL ATTRACTION? The little seen DERAILED? I can see you raising your hand to suggest WILD THINGS but that’s disqualified on the basis of it confusing plot twists with complexity , so…no need.
In broad strokes, the movie concerns a family man who is visited by two young women (probably early 20’s) in the middle of the night. His family is away, the women are soaked and claim they need help. He invites them in, they seduce him into an adulterous threeway, and he awakens to an empty home. Pretty typical experience for your average married man, right?
But then, things get dark in a hurry. Some time later (probably the next night) the duo returns, knocks the family man out, and proceeds to torture him—probably on the way to killing him—presumably for prior sexual indiscretion.
This sequence of events is an overblown version of the classic male fear about women using sex (especially younger women) disingenuously to hook (and then later) harm the man. To begin with, the women are young, younger than the protagonist’s wife by probably somewhere around a decade or two. They are attractive and arrive in states of dress that, most likely, the family man’s wife rarely, if ever, favors, but that would catch many men’s eyes. The protagonist initially rejects their advances because, he’s a decent guy, of course. However, they don’t take no and the protagonist gives. But, still, he’s a decent guy. I mean, what could he do when they were throwing themselves at him so temptingly? Thus, they are seemingly fantasy objects made flesh: young, sexy, initiators –therefore leaving no doubts about consent—and slipping away in the morning so while the man has gained quite a memory his “real” married life is left untouched.
Their return, however, is the fulfillment of that most clichéd of clichés: there are no true no strings attached encounters. In this paranoid vision of female sexuality, the woman’s (or women’s, as here) allure is a trap, a deception designed to distract the man from the fine print. Their sexuality was not given honestly. They did not actually want to have a threesome with this random married family man 20+ years their senior. No, they were using their sexuality to draw him in, to force him to do something he really did not want to do—he protested, remember?—and once he gave them what they insisted they wanted, they changed the rules.
This differs from the presentation of male sexuality as threat. Male sexuality is a largely unambiguous threat, one that needs not be invited in. To get incredibly Freudian for a moment, the “male sex act” is penetrative and thus inherently violent and invasive, in this interpretation. Men in these films wield sex as means of possessing, hurting, controlling, and killing their victims/objects of fixation. It is a cliché that provided the foundation of Lifetime in its formative years.
Women’s sexuality—in its weaponized form— on the other hand, is less about the destruction of the love object and more about the reacquisition. Similar to the male sexual predator, the female seeks to dominant and control her victim, but, unlike the male, hers is a goal of “forcing” him to love her again. It is why the “other woman” (girl, really) in SWIMFAN seeks to destroy her one night stand’s life and reputation while simultaneously trying to seduce him over and over again. Male sexual aggression is the event in and of itself in films, female sexual aggression is a means of achieving a goal.
This is why this year’s thriller BOY NEXT DOOR so interesting. While perhaps not a good film (and all indications and reviews suggest it is not), it does offer a kind of gender swapped version of the typical male protagonist-female sexual aggressor dynamic. In it, it is the woman who is seduced by the younger man into a night of enjoyable but ill-advised sex. It is the man (or boy, evidently) who then attempts to force her back into being in love with her threw a series of increasingly bombastic efforts. His sexuality is not a blade or a cudgel, but a trap.
(It is worth noting that, unlike movies where the gender roles remain in the more prototypical arrangement, the woman protagonist has not really transgressed. She is divorced so their one night stand is not adulterous. The boy/man is a of legal age so this is not a LOLITA situation. Finally, although he eventually does become her student, he is not at the time of the encounter so she has not even violated laws designed to prevent student-teacher canoodling. Compare that to, say, Michael Douglas’s character in FATAL ATTRACTION or Clive Owen’s in DERAILED).
KNOCK, KNOCK may offer a gender swap in the opposite direction, at least in terms of the motivation for the sexual violence. Their sexuality, as noted above, does act as a snare. However, they seem entirely disinterested in regaining the love of the family man. Their violence towards him is meant to hurt and perhaps kill. They have no interest in him as a love object. Moreover, the dialogue implies that this is not their first such seduction/home invasion/torture/murder, making them, again, more like male sexual offenders as depicted in film.
The focus on how the women punish the married man, however, is uniquely born of male paranoia. His body is harmed but it is not the focus of the violence. Instead, they turn outward, destroying objects that are usually associated with bachelorhood (and thus, freedom)—records, high end stereo equipment, particularly masculine pieces of artwork. Again, the symbolic message seems to be, sleep with a woman, prepare for her to destroy what you hold dear to build your new “partnership.”
The other prominently featured act of violent sexual cruelty shines a light on that (in my opinion) creepy cliché of men being unable or unwilling to reconcile with the reality of their daughter’s eventually developing and becoming involved in sexual relationships. Without spoiling how, the trailer hints at a bit of forced role play that takes the clichéd to an extreme, the forced confrontation of a dad discovering that his daughter has reached the age of some of the women he fantasizes about, given a Grand Guignol twist.
So, in a little over two and a half minutes, KNOCK, KNOCK spotlights male suspicion and obsession with female sexuality, especially the sexuality of younger women. I am interested in seeing if the full film will use this as a springboard to truly dig in and explore these stereotypes and long disproved but still widely held beliefs or if it will simply accept them at face value and indulge in them.