Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lorena Bobbitt ain’t got nothin on Teeth

Teeth is, of course, about vagina dentata. And like the mythical phenomenon itself, it's a heavy metaphor for the strength and power that women possess. When it comes to portraying vagina dentata, it's nearly impossible to go wrong: man tries to take advantage of woman, woman's vagina bites off his penis. Game, set, and match.

Where Teeth fails is its attempt at an accurate portrayal of young Christians. Admittedly I'm tough to fool, having grown up in exactly the kind of group of friends that the protagonist is meant to be a part of. There's a temptation to believe that abstinent teenagers are teethposters-793555 particularly perverse in their own way, more likely to talk about, obsess about, and engage in particularly freaky sex. Sadly, that's not the case: they're just like anyone else, and while many of them have issues of guilt and shame surrounding the act, it doesn't turn them all into sluts or rapists.

And it doesn't turn them into victims, either. By the end of Teeth, our heroine takes a sort of pleasure in putting herself in sexually harmful situations so she can have her sweet, toothy revenge.

The first man to take advantage of Dawn is a young boy she meets at the abstinence group where she speaks, and as he rapes her, first he is angry at her for denying him, even though he is self-admittedly responsible for his own sexual frustration: “I haven’t even jerked off since Easter!” Then he is comforting: “don’t worry, you’re still pure in His eyes.”

It’s true, you can be a born-again virgin. You can even get your hymen surgically replaced if that’s your bag. But, although modern Protestant Christianity is founded on the principle that you can be forgiven for any transgression, basing your choices on the hope of a last-minute deathbed confession misses the whole point. And Dawn understands that all too well – she throws her purity ring off a cliff after the rape.

(I once lost mine down the drain. Symbolic?)

After that, Dawn becomes a professional victim, bouncing from abusive man to abusive man, leaving a trail of severed extremities in her wake. And this becomes her legacy – her power. She’s like the vengeful matron saint of molested girls, wreaking the kind of revenge that they cannot.

The problem with Dawn’s power is that she doesn’t control it. While she learns its foibles and becomes accustomed to the vicious fangs that lash out at men to whom she doesn’t grant entrance, she still must put herself into traumatic situations in order to display her true colors.

The true power of womanhood lies not in the mysterious, the mythological, or the ill-understood. Being a strong, capable woman is pretty much the opposite of lying back and letting your genitalia do the talking. For all her mythical power, Dawn is still doing what victims do. And a movie that could have held a powerful message about true female strength becomes just another bloody black comedy.

I give it a 5/10.