The Gift – Joel Edgerton sells out his female protagonist in the worst possible way. (Film Review)
The Gift is a puzzle in itself, in that Joel Edgerton (writer, director and playing Gordo the weirdo) has immersed himself in the tropes of the thriller constantly examining and subverting them with the painfully obvious exception of his female lead, the perpetually little black dress-wrapped Robyn. Actress Rebecca Hall does a typically brilliant job, specific to female actors who have to do something magical with a cliché in a problematic film. It’s hugely disappointing, because this could have been a really great film. But again it all comes down to a battle between men over the body and reproductive capacity of a woman. For those of us for whom the reproductive rights naturally lie with the judgement of the female baring the impending responsibility of motherhood, remember that societies opinions are not revealed through legislation but through popular culture and fully expressed in the never-ending parade of films, television shows and books that insist on categorising pregnancy as an issue of male ownership. The Gift is yet another example of the cliché, to the point that it is gut wrenching and disgusting. I don’t say that easily because I could have enjoyed this film, but what it seeks to reinforce, in the name of a good moral lesson is irritating at best and abhorrent at worst.
Men, let me say this clearly. While you allow films like this to speak for you, you have to assume women will respond to you as if you are a man who approves of this film.
I won’t speak to the specifics of the film, not because spoilers ruin a twisty thriller, but because I won’t put my intelligent female readers through the lurid details. For a classic noir thriller, it’s a film that doesn’t disappoint, successfully evoking Hitchcock – a claim that is made too easily and frequently these days, but is accurate in this case. The male leads, Gordo – played by Edgerton – and Simon – played by Jason Bateman – are the axis upon which the plotting tilts, and it is a stellar role for Edgerton, about whom I have no problem making the claim he must have written this role to showcase his own acting skills, and more power to him. Except for the terrible problem that completely negates anything good about the film, this is an, at times, competently written and beautifully directed film that focusses on very subtle performances that rely heavily on gestures, eye movements and feather light subtleties.
But do we really need another film about two men settling an old score by inflicting violence on the body of a woman? My question to Joel Edgerton, who reveals competence as a director, is why did he have to sell out his female lead so horribly? In fact the greatest injustice perpetuated on Robyn is not by her husband, not by the man trying to exact revenge on her husband, but by Joel Edgerton the writer. Not only does Robyn end up bearing the brunt of the pain and misery she had nothing to do with, but she is eroticised and fetishised as a mother – made completely separate from any sort of dignity about who and what a real woman is. The Gift ends up being a film where a woman struggles to be seen as something other than chattel, without knowing she is engaged in the struggle, all the while being treated like a stupid child who needn’t know what is happening to her, because that is the business of the film maker, the male characters and the audience. Edgerton could have easily made this film with a complex, interesting female lead, but chooses instead to defiantly castrate her, then rape her physically and emotionally in the dying minutes of the film as the final plot twist is revealed. As much as I like Joel Edgerton and applaud his efforts, I haven’t seen a film with a female character psychologically and physically abused in such a horrific fashion for years. The Gift is a revenge story that only works if you are a dangerous, profound and serious misogynist. Any other audience member need not apply.
And apparently, we have plenty of dangerous, profound and serious misogynists around, because The Gift is currently languishing under ninety-three percent support by the primarily male critical audience. This is genuinely frightening.
Why does Joel Edgerton think this is a great ending? Why did no one say to him, what you are doing to your female character and indeed all women, is antiquated, and indescribably nasty? Why didn’t the hundreds of people involved in this film give any sort of feedback regarding the offensive and distasteful (at best) use of a woman as an eroticised incubator for a man’s sperm to become a man’s child? Not to mention a rape that defies categorisation.
I was so perplexed by this film, I left weeks before I could comfortably review it. I read my review and decided I must be too harsh, and I should see it again – second guessing myself like a fool. So I put myself through this experience again, desperately trying to do Joel Edgerton justice, a man who afforded me not even the smallest shred of justice or respect when he wrote this film. But I was far more repulsed the second time around. The Gift is worse than I first thought, disgracefully disdainful of female autonomy, disinterested in women as anything other than an appendage to a male life, and willfully refusing any perspective other than the male gaze. I have given Joel Edgerton far too much leniency as it is, and he needs to hear from someone, that this film depicts a crises in the way men (him absolutely and one presumes other men) see women. This review is a warning to all thinkers. It will enrage intelligent women and offend intelligent men. It’s a tremendous disappointment and a genuinely frightening glimpse for women of what far too many men are really thinking.