Rejecting Forgiveness Culture: Women in Revenge Films

Lady Snowblood (1973) Directed by Toshiya Fujita

I have an affinity for revenge stories. Three of my favorite movies are revenge films. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Lady Snowblood and Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 have a special place in my heart. I love the ruthlessness that accompanies the main female characters in these films. I love the unapologetic politics of killing those who have wronged you in the past. I love the lack of forgiveness. These women have lost a part of their humanity and this is what is left. The anger. The rage. The power to delve into a dark part of themselves because this is what is necessary to get rid of the evil men. They will not be silenced.

So, here’s the thing about silence: silence sunk into the depths of my chest. It made my body heavy and lethargic. As a child and into my 20s I carried my heavy bones and a heavy heart promising myself I would let the earth swallow me whole if it wanted to. Silence sent me nightmares about shadow people numbing me into unheard screams. Silence made my traumas private. I carried these “secrets” because he told me to stay silent. He told me to stay quiet. My mom would get mad at me. My family would be upset with me. It was our secret. These are the things he repeated to me. In these moments of being threatened by a grown man, fear froze me. I thought of myself as someone who could stop time. Time stopped because I was so afraid and time stopped because I could feel myself floating out of my body. I thought of myself as a ghost from another life warning me to try and stay alive, keep living, even after this man disappears to Idaho. Keep living and mourn for yourself as long as you have to.

I write about my trauma because I am no longer afraid. I write about my trauma because I know I am not alone. I never deserved to carry that burden. I was very angry for a long time. I was angry with the fact that I felt responsible for his actions. I was angry that he was still alive. From a very young age, I understood humanity was very flawed and complex, but I only understood his existence as evil. He didn’t deserve to love or be loved. Why did he get to experience warmth?

My family knows. My family knew. I heard a lot about forgiveness. Forgive him. Forgive him. Forgive him. I refuse. I still refuse. I will not forgive him. Forgiveness is not the last step in processing my trauma. I will play my favorite songs on the day he dies and I will sing to the clouds. The birds will hear me and some of them will get scared, but others will know. They will carry the message in their wings. Another evil man is gone.

Lady Vengeance

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) Directed by Park Chan-wook

So, here’s the thing about catharsis: I started searching for outlets when I was eight. I found catharsis in songs. I loved hearing women scream at past lovers. (Thank you, Selena, Alanis and Gwen.) I found catharsis in writing poetry. I found it in reading horror books and then writing my own horror booklets detailing every gore filled moment of murder committed by a killer ghost or creature from outer space. Sometimes, I daydreamed about finding the abusive man and me being so strong, I could drag him by the hair and dump him into a grave deep enough to reach the core of the earth. He would never be seen again. I often thought about punching my tiny fists through his lungs or shoving him off a tall building. In these instances, I imagined him as a splat on the earth or deflating into himself before disappearing.

In my search for catharsis, movies provided me visual representations of something I thought about a lot as a child and a teenager. I wanted this abusive man dead. I wanted to find him and through a megaphone, announce his sins and then rip his tongue out so he couldn’t say any last words to anyone he ever loved.

Seeing Yuki in Lady Snowblood unapologetically intrude the spaces of those who thought their pasts had been forgiven brought me a sense of solidarity. Watching Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 leap around gracefully with a sword in determination to find her ultimate enemy made my heart beat faster and faster with excitement. I wanted her to win and I wanted her to show me, there is redemption for us. In Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, seeing the fury in Lee Geum-ja’s eyes as she plotted against the man who framed her gave me a sense of relief. My anger was not a weakness, but a coping mechanism in processing what had happened to me.

Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill
Lady Snowblood
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Revenge is an extreme, but you have to understand what trauma does to those affected by it. I was seven when I was sexually abused for over a year. Part of my healing has come through a lot of mental exercises in telling myself I am composed of resilience, but not because of him. I would have turned out this way without the abuse in my history. I have breathing exercises, I run, I paint, I cry with no shame. I have my routines in helping me heal.

Sometimes, it feels as though you have no control of your body, your brain becomes infested with thoughts of the perpetrators, their faces are imprinted into your memory. So, in your mind, you tear off one of their limbs, you watch them become dust, you see the fear in their eyes, and it is only in your imagination so no one can tell you that you are hurting another human being.

Forgiveness works for some toward their path of healing and this is great, but it has never worked for me.

For the women in these three particular films, revenge is loud. Victims are expected to be silent or to be the bigger person and absolve the perpetrators of their inhumane actions.  In these films, blood splattering their faces and clothing is an accessory. The blood is evidence that the perpetrator is not forgiven, that they can rot in the ground, they can disappear so they cannot hurt anyone else. In these films, the women give off an overwhelming aura of calm. There is no anxiety or a voice in the back of their heads telling them their mission is flawed. They are there to get rid of those who have wronged them and this will give them peace in the middle of the night. Revenge gives them the ultimate ability to reject a culture of forgiveness.


Filed under Movies + TV

4 Responses to Rejecting Forgiveness Culture: Women in Revenge Films

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  2. will

    Although it’s leavened with a certain cartoonish humour, if you’ve not already seen it you might appreciate Matthew Bright’s ‘Freeway’ which I think belongs in a similar bracket to these films (it features a jaw dropping performance from a young Reece Witherspoon too). In any case, this is a great piece of writing. Thankyou.

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