Whilst Fantastic Four was busy bombing and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was bringing more and more people into the Church of Rebecca Ferguson (hi there, nice to have you!), there was another, less high-profile film in theaters: psychological thriller The Gift, the directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, Warrior). It’s currently rocking a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which might make you think it is a good film. And it is!
Until the last half hour, at which point it should make anyone who’s vaguely sensitive to the way women are portrayed in media want to bash their heads against a wall.
This post contains massive spoilers. I consider it a public service to warn people away from this movie.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual assault.
Here’s the setup: Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple who have recently moved back to Simon’s childhood California town. While out and about, they run into Gordo (Edgerton, who also wrote the script), an old classmate of Simon’s who quickly becomes infatuated with the pair. He becomes the Demon of the Pop-In, showing up at unexpected times with presents and to chat with Robyn, who stays at home setting the place up while Simon’s off at his new job.
Though Simon chafes at Gordo’s unwanted attention, Robyn’s more sympathetic: He’s socially awkward, sure, but so is she, and man, her husband’s kind of being a dick about this whole thing, isn’t he? Turns out Gordo, nicknamed “Weirdo” back at school, was mercilessly bullied… by, we (and Robin) learn, Simon, who started a rumor about Gordo being molested that basically ruined his whole life. This is where The Gift comes into its own: We start out thinking that Gordo’s the awful one, but it’s Simon–seemingly perfect, but with a little of that Tom Cruise emptiness behind the eyes–who could be the real villain. He’ll do anything to get his own way, including manufacturing evidence against a professional rival, beating Gordo, and lying to Robyn when she begins to be suspicious of him. Robyn is the hero of this story; her gradual realization that she doesn’t really know the man she married is terrifying and riveting to watch.
And then the wheels come off. Robyn, by this point, has had a baby, fulfilling a lifelong desire. She’s broken up with Simon, who’s also lost his job. What can I say, Si? You reap what you sow. And in comes Gordo to twist the screw:
“Hey, JSYK, I may have raped your wife.”
In an earlier scene, we saw Robyn pass out; now, Gordo sends Simon a DVD showing him approaching his unconscious wife, dragging her into the bedroom, and … end scene. Maybe he did rape Robyn. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe the kid really is Simon’s. Maybe it’s not. In a triumphant villain speech, Gordo revels in having finally ruined Simon’s life, the same way Simon ruined his. Gordo walks off into the metaphorical sunset; Simon is left cowering and sobbing on the hospital floor.
No one tells Robyn.
In fact, when Gordo brings up telling Robyn, Simon reacts with horror and begs him not to. Her maybe-rape—at the very least, the fact that her house was broken into and she was drugged—isn’t really about her, y’know? It’s about how it affects her husband. Because Robyn has a kid now, and that’s all she really wanted, so anything else—like the fact that she might have been raped—doesn’t really matter anymore. In fact, after the scene where Simon finds out about the assault, which is intercut with Gordo visiting Robyn at the hospital, I am 95% sure that Robyn doesn’t have a single line for the rest of the film. The margin of error is because my brain was a cloud of WHATTHEFUCKWHATTHEFUCKWHATTHEFUCK.
Game of Thrones has been usurped from the “rape for shock value” throne. Good to know.
On a less rage-inducing level, the twist ruined everything good the movie had going for it. Until then, The Gift reminded me of The Omen, specifically that really cool thing it did where nothing overtly supernatural happens in the film. While it seems like Damien is the Antichrist, it is entirely conceivable that he’s just a creepy kid, and Gregory Peck is delusional. Simon and Robyn think that Gordo’s a stalker, but maybe he is just socially awkward, and everything it looks like he did—like stealing their dog*, which could have just run away—was just a coincidence. Maybe “Gordo the Weirdo” isn’t that bad, and Simon the Golden Boy is the one with problems. Maybe this movie’s going to do something interesting with the home invasion genre. Ha, nope.
*Public Service Announcement: The dog is fine. Nothing bad happens to the dog.
Instead, the twist resets The Gift back to the same old territory. Creepy Gordo is a monster. And Simon still gets to be the victim. He may have been a bully who habitually lies to and psychologically manipulates his wife, but hey, he never sexually assaulted anyone! And he’s never confronted with the fact that his behavior is wrong, either. Mid-way through the film, there’s a conversation where Simon agrees that lying to Robyn in order to protect her does more harm than good. By the end of the film, when Robyn’s possibly been raped, which maybe has something to do with her, Simon forgets about his own promise and the explicit wishes of his wife that she not be lied to. Things happen to Simon, sure, but there’s no character arc. And Robyn, who’s had the most development up to this point, gets demoted to an object that two guys can fight over.
The socially awkward loner is crazy, and the self-obsessed bully isn’t all that bad in the scheme of things, awwwww. Poor guy.
And Robyn, the actual victim here… well, what she wants doesn’t really matter. She has a kid now, y’know? That’s what women need to complete their lives; just ask Jurassic World! That’s the most egregious thing about The Gift. Not that the twist took an interesting idea and scuttled it. Not even that rape was used as a plot device, though that’s obviously pretty damn bad. The salt in the wound, for me, is that a complex character had all her initiative stripped away. The movie doesn’t care about how she responds to her potential rape. It doesn’t even think she needs to know about it.
Rebecca (@RebeccaPahle) used to work for The Mary Sue before she cruelly abandoned them for Film Journal International, where she is currently the Assistant Editor. Still, she couldn’t stop doing Avatar recaps. Rebecca also writes for Pajiba and Phactual in addition to her personal website, Cinefeels.
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