Tag Archives: Film

Fractured Masculinity in The Salesman (2016) & The Death of a Salesman


The Salesman – originally titled Forushande – is an Iranian film that took inspiration from the American play The Death of a Salesman. It’s been many years since I read the play but I still think about it to this day. On a corner of the page, past me scribbled: “uplifting and off-putting at the same time” which (I think) perfectly characterises Willy Loman and Emad. Willy searches for the ever so elusive American Dream all his life and dies without ever experiencing it first-hand, and Emad searches for closure and struggles with his identity as a husband (and protector) in a patriarchal society.

The quest for middle class respectability ends with our male protagonists suffering from the hero complex. In The Death of a Salesman, Willy is in his 60’s and still struggling to have a comfortable and easy life and pay off his home mortgage. His sons Happy and Biff are struggling to find jobs. Willy is exhausted and frustrated after losing his sales job. He equates possessing wealth to happiness, freedom and being well-liked. During his lifetime, Willy doesn’t experience these. He forgets about his humanity and works like a slave in a machine that promises riches and acceptance only if you make it to the top.


Powerlessness is the huge driving force. Emad is a teacher and part time stage actor. His wife Rana and he star in a production of The Death of a Salesman in the lead roles. One day their building (literally) collapses. They find a new apartment which was previously owned by a prostitute and, despite being aware of this, move in. Rana is mysteriously assaulted in the bathroom by a customer of the prostitute when her husband isn’t at home. She goes into shock and tries to deal with the trauma in her own way.

Emad becomes increasingly angry and paranoid. He feels humiliated because he couldn’t save his wife from the violence she experienced. Rana declines going to the police and retreats into a shell, rejecting her husband’s efforts to comfort her. Emad takes it upon himself to find the man who disrupted his peace & family life and seek vengeance. As revealed, the man in question turns out to be a sad old guy who has a wife, daughter and son-in-law. In one of the most tense and pathetic scene in my cinematic life, Emad slaps him. Rana demands Emad to let the man go after he apologises.

When masculinities are threatened, our male characters are driven to an extreme state of action. Willy drives his car into a wall and kills himself. Emad uses physical violence to counter physical violence. He doesn’t feel any less worse after that. He couldn’t singlehandedly defeat the Iranian male gaze. This doesn’t make them bad men though, they are good men who made the decision to act a certain way since society told them to. They conform and don’t want to let down the people they love. Therein lies the misfortune: the gap between reality and their versions of an ideal world. Rana and Linda (Willy’s wife) suffer silently, and they are memorable because of their endurance. They are the opposite of perfect but fully human and utterly horrified at witnessing their husbands disintegrating before their own eyes. The real tragedy is societies that extend false materialistic ideals and toxic masculinity be it in modern day Iran or America.


The Concept of a “Social Thriller” in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives

Whilst reading The Stepford Wives I was reminded of Get Out, a film I’d previously watched and absolutely loved. Lo and behold I find out Jordan Peele was indeed inspired by the 1972 novel by Ira Levin, which was then made into a film and shot to cult classic status [1]. It is interesting, to say the least, because The Stepford Wives and Get Out are dressed up as horror/thriller stories but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Jordon Peele labelled Get Out as a “social thriller… inspired by movies that are creepy but humanity is the creepiest part at the centre of it [2].” It intelligently critiques ‘Post-racial’ America – which is the idea that prejudice and discrimination no longer hold sway. Cough. In the movie Chris, who is black, is dating a white woman named Rose. Such a delicate name. Spoiler alert: Rose lures unsuspecting black men to her family so they can brainwash and periodically transfer white people brains into black bodies. Why, you ask? So that white people can live forever in genetically-gifted strong bodies.

The white characters in Get Out are not repulsed by blackness, no. They admire and envy instead [3]. The film doesn’t jump straight to the chase like I did. It gradually transforms into a dark and creepy story. Peele was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the opening scene invokes the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Get Out paints insensitive white middle-class liberals as the true villains. Chris is visibly uncomfortable in every scene, at every insidious comment. Daniel Kaluuya is a fantastic actor and  the film score was brilliantly crafted to boot [4].

The Stepford Wives can also be interpreted to revel a hidden meaning. Socially aware and politically driven, Ira Levin’s story is about a family who moves from the city to a suburb called Stepford. Joanna, our main protagonist, finds the housewives of Stepford to be rather odd. They are uniformly good-looking, Barbie-like, and spend all their time cooking and cleaning. Turns out, the husbands of Stepford run a secret society and transform their wives into submissive robots.


And Joanna is next. She fears there is something in the water that makes all the housewives so but it is soon revealed, evil lurks in her own house, and her own husband. Joanna is fiercely independent, sexually confident, ambitious – the product of second-wave feminism – and is frightened at the possibility of losing power and control. Ira Levin is also pointing fingers at modern commercialism and technology, which can be easily manipulated by malevolent forces, in this case misogynistic, murderous husbands.

I believe that allegorical storytelling allows hysteria and paranoia of the main characters to blend into the background and bring into focus real-life political issues such as feminism and civil rights. The real enemy is not the devil or the monster, it is society and in it, patriarchy and racism are the horrifying elements. A carrier for contemporary ideas: these stories convey anxieties of marginalised groups over loss of their identity and power.

[1] Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh9yM00r9JQ

[2] Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh9yM00r9JQ

[3] In one disturbing scene, Walter the groundkeeper (aka Rose’s grandfather) runs in the garden at night. He never got over the fact that Jesse Owens beat him at the Olympics.

[4] Opening credits and songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA-ONNTBteE

Subversive Feminism in Storytelling: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Julia Ducournau’s Raw

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“You are what you eat,” as the saying goes, to which I’d like to add: “or don’t.” As of recent, food has increasingly become a part of identity politics. Anybody on the internet who strongly follows a particular diet has their pitchforks ready for the ‘non-believers’. In this backdrop, Han Kang’s novel [1] about a woman who refuses to eat meat after a nightmarish dream she can’t speak of and Julia Ducournau’s film [2] about a young vegetarian woman who begins to crave meat of all kinds, including human, come across as confusing and shocking pieces of work. The former is set in South Korea and deals with mental illness whereas the latter is set in France and is a coming-of-age drama.

I’d like to argue that the themes of vegetarianism and cannibalism, albeit contradictory, are utilised to serve the same metaphor. These (fictionalised) extremities enable a self-reflection on society that is very, very real. The Vegetarian follows the story of Yeong-hye who lives a passive, domesticated life in Seoul. Her husband, Mr. Cheong works and Yeong-hye does the cooking and cleaning. The story is narrated by three characters, none of who are Yeong-hye. We do not hear her voice, except details from the dream:

“My bloody hands. My bloody mouth. In that barn, what had I done? Pushed that red raw mass into my mouth, felt it squish against my gums, the roof of my mouth, slick with crimson blood.” 

Yeong-hye swears off meat and radically alters her diet. From what I understand, Korean food culture is centred around banchan or multiple side dishes that are mostly meat-based. Yeong-hye quickly loses a lot of weight, perhaps a little too much. Along with meat she refuses to partake in activities that patriarchy dictates she do like wearing a bra, doing her makeup, and being a dutiful wife. In one brutal scene, Yeong-hye’s father forces her to eat meat which shatters every semblance of normality the family struggles to portray.

In part two, Yeong-hye is the sexual object of her brother-in-law’s gaze, an artist in search for some inspiration. He paints flowers over her naked body, has sex with her and films the process. Art. The last section is narrated by Yeong-hye’s sister. In the mental hospital, Yeong-hye strives to become a tree [3]: “Look, sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands…they delve down into the earth. Endlessly, endlessly…yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide…” She stops eating entirely.

And then there’s Raw, which is visually stunning. Justine is a strict vegetarian who enters vet school, where her sister Alexia also studies. At a hazing ritual, Justine is forcibly fed rabbit liver and thus begins her obsession for meat. Her hunger is not satiated until she tastes human meat. Justine’s newfound freedom and desires lend to her agency she never experienced before: sexually and emotionally.

Cannibalism runs in the family. Alexia indulges and encourages her sister’s cravings but Justine decides to control her hunger. This causes a rift between the sisters who literally fight tooth and nail. Justine accepts her dark animalistic side and violence within it, but suppresses her monstrous desires. This caricatures society at large, where the hunger to consume and kill entails unparalleled cruelty and brutality.

Food is a potent device in these stories. Yeong-hye’s refusal to consume meat and ultimately any food, similarly Justine’s taboo desires act as symbols of feminine power and rebellion. They dissent and deviate through their bodies. In my opinion, The Vegetarian and Raw are part of a fresh wave of feminism in art that highlights female sexuality and dynamism [4]. It is uncomfortable to watch. But necessary.


[1] Translated from the Korean into English by Deborah Smith in 2015

[2] Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFlXVX2af_Y

[3] Interestingly, there is a Kannada folk tale called The Flowering Tree (translated by A.K. Ramanujan) where a young girl transforms into a beautiful tree when water is poured over her symbolising menstruation and fertility, the  female power of procreation and sexuality. Read here: journal.oraltradition.org/articles/download/12i?article=ramanujan

[4] Movie recommendations: The Witch, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, The Neon Demon, Lady Macbeth