I'm writing this text not even one month after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the right to abortion, and thereby women's bodily autonomy. This decision makes the dystopian world that Margaret Atwood describes in her 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale and is visually depicted in Hulu's TV adaptation seem a lot less fictitious and more like a logical consequence of the momentum Christofascism is currently experiencing in the US. When I first received the text "The Mark" by Gregory Brophy, I felt some resistance to engage with the religious aspects of the text. My first experience in the US was as an exchange teacher at a Christian high school, living with a host family whose children attended the school. While I had heard about evangelical Christians, I had always thought of them as a fringe niche group. The culture shock of being suddenly thrown in the midst of born-again Christianity was quite severe. Yet, I don't think I would have understood the deep divide in US American culture without this experience to quite that extent. Since "The Mark" brought on some adverse memories from that time, I felt more drawn to engaging Brophy's notion of paranoid reading strategies he explains to have developed through the constant vigilance in fear of the devil, both for real-life situations as well as textual analysis.
I set out on a quest for films portraying paranoid protagonists whose distorted perception leads them to commit horrific acts of violence (which incidentally happens to apply to Christianity as well). What finally drew me to the Austrian film Homesick (2015) by Jakob Erwa and Black Swan (2010) by Darren Aronofsky was their frequent use of follow shots, often with a handheld camera, that struck me as emphasizing the protagonists' sense of paranoia that finally leads to their own destruction. When I rewatched the films, I was astonished by the similarities between them that hadn't occurred to me previously. The female protagonists in both films have an artistic career with a unique opportunity; according to their male teachers, their performances are technically excellent but lack emotion; the recurring theme of the angel has symbolic meaning; they perceive another woman as a direct antagonist, leading to their growing paranoia; when they finally access the level of emotional depth necessary for a truly spectacular performance, it unleashes an unforeseen darkness that consumes them; they attack and kill their female antagonist; this final attempt at liberation turns out to be their own suicide.
By adding the continuous soundtrack of the hanging scene from The Handmaid's Tale (2018), I argue that the female protagonists' mental deterioration is a product of their experience of the patriarchy upheld by female accomplices, and their final violent act the only way to achieve freedom within a society imbued with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The lack of a male aggressor in Homesick and Black Swan as well as the sound clip from The Handmaid's Tale underscore the significance of systemic sexism that goes beyond the individual. The title of my video is not a question but a provocation that destabilizes the preconceived roles of victim and perpetrator, on a narrative as well as metaphorical level.
Maria Hofmann is a film scholar and video essayist. She holds a PhD in German and Moving Image studies. Her research focuses on contemporary documentary film, videographic criticism, horror film, and Austrian studies, and has been published in [in]Transition, Studies in Documentary Film, and Austrian Studies, among others. Her video essay "Beyond the Screen #nofilter" was screened at the Adelio Ferrero film festival where it received the award for best video essay in 2018.