Elle (film)

Elle directed by a Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven, is one of the most classy and subtle satires to have come out in decades. It’s a story about a female CEO Isabelle: she is elegant, aloof and has a knife-sharp tongue. She speaks her mind and that makes her unlikeable to many other people. She is great at her job and has complete authority over her staff. This Isabelle gets attacked at her own home by a masked stranger: an event that has a puzzling impact on Elle.

What follows is a weird symbolism of empowerment and denigration of the physical body. I think what the film is trying to say is there are many other ways to violate a person’s sense of self and sometimes humiliation, faith or psychological abuse has far greater consequence than something like a rape incident. For Isabelle, rape and physical violence do not rank highly in what is most damaging to a person. In fact, most of the time she doesn’t seem to get upset, which makes her seem almost in-human.

The film explores various other ways a person can be violated. Some obvious and some not so: financial abuse, verbal abuse, stalking, cyber bullying, infidelity, grave desecration and so on. It also suggests that acts of extreme violence, such at what Elle endured as a child, can harden one to the point that violence of any sort is normalised: this idea is the essence of trauma-based mind control. 

I’m not sure if I’d call this a feminist film because while the main character is a woman and it is about empowerment I wouldn’t say it’s about female empowerment. The final message of the film is essentially that: power-over-self can manifest in many ways and can be maintained even when power-over-body has been violated. I think the fact that Isabelle’s personality appears so unusual is a testament to the flaw in the film’s message. It may not be such a gross violation for an unusual person like Isabelle but to most of us I think it is in-human to separate power-over-self and power-over-body so completely.

Nevertheless, I really appreciate the topic that the film explores and it does it in a way that is interesting, shocking and at times quite sweet.

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