Child Abuse in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Author Note: This is a repost of an essay I had on my movie blogger. I liked it enough that I wanted it over here too. 

So this blog is movie analysis and review. Shut up.

I've said time and time again that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, written and directed by Shane Black and starring Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan is my favorite movie. My best friend's nickname is a weird reference to the movie and I watch it a few times a year, especially when I'm working on things for class. I've listened to the commentary multiple times, I still yell at the screen and I laugh at the movie. Every time. I know the jokes, the beats a lot. I don't have the audacity to say 'everything' but a lot of things. I mean, I watched that movie every day for a week when I first got it. I wrote a paper on the function of guns and sexual prowess so I mean, I've seen this movie a fair few times.

The other day I was thinking about the fact that a catalyst of the the main action of the movie is child abuse.

It's somewhat glossed over, Shane Black mentions that in the commentary that he wishes in the edit that that beat had stood a bit longer before the movie jumped into it's next joke. It's a black comedy there's terrible and amusing wrapped together in a fucked up fashion for the audience's entertainment.

Harmony Faith Lane left her childhood home as a young adult knowing that her father was molesting her younger sister. There is a short insert showing the father taking the daughter from her bed while the other just lays there pretending she doesn't know this is going on. So, Harmony leaves as a response to running away from something she knew she should have stepped in to stop or affect in some way so that can be seen as psychological abuse. The mother was ill, I believe, and possibly didn't know any of the sexual abuse was going on and didn't stop it. Instigating the action of the movie, Harmony's sister has shown up and taken Harmony's ID and credit card in search of Harlan Dexter the man she thought washer real father because Harmony lied as a child and said that her sister's real father was an actor from Hollywood, hence her seeking Harlan Dexter.

Harlan has recently murdered his daughter and has hired a girl to pretend she's his daughter, the problem is he has some sexual relationship with her that Harmony's sister sees. As Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) says, the shiny new father is just as fucked up as her original father, which leads Harmony's sister to kill herself.  which jumpstarts the investigation.

This brings me to a functional response to child abuse, the children are fucked up. Harmony first running away and not doing anything to take care of her sister is a drastic response to the knowledge that her sister is being molested. The sister running away a few years later and trying to find a new father because her first one is a realistic response. The fact that she kills her self is also believable in that she doesn't want to live ina world where fathers hurt and abuse their children.

Looking at the very common trope in media to have a character become a badass warrior after being abused, raped or in any other way sexually attacked as a young girl, it'd generally female characters, I don't want to say it's refreshing that she kills herself in response to having lived a fucked up life, but it can be seen as a more believable response than lashing out in the controlled ways that other fictional women do. The movies doesn't shy away from the fact that sexual abuse leads to people being fucked up which is a strength to it. It is a bit quiet about it and tastefully doesn't go into details about what happens but seeing how these characters react shows how people can respond to being abused. Seeing how the other characters respond as the information is revealed is also great, it's a quiet fury that things are not all right in the world as a character's chance at happiness with a new father figure are dashed on the rocks of assumed abuse before anything more than a fantasy can be considered. 

The clever writing and the jokes are what made this movie my favorite. How the characters react in unique ways makes it that much stronger as a movie and a fictional version of the real world. The abuse is key tot he movie but seeing how it works on different levels makes it that much stronger as a film in my eyes.


Thoughts on Sexual Assault

Edited Fem 4, 2014 Author's Note: At the bottom of the essay, in addition to rape and assault hotlines and websites I have added links with resources about domestic violence and getting help. 

I have never been assaulted, if I had I think I’d be open about it. I’m open about so many things, but I don’t know. I hope you’ll trust me that I’m being honest about this. There are so many reasons to lie.

I just read an article in the Washington Post about how a Notre Dame alumna isn't going to be supporting ND in some game on January 7th because they protect and defend their football players who have been accused of rape and assault. You can read the article here. I find that the school protects accused assailants in the ways identified to be horribly disgusting. I’ve seen different image projects pass through tumblr where an assault victim has written what they were told to say on a piece of poster board. 

The above images are from Project Unbreakable, the exact posts: "I'm Going to Fuck You" "C'mon...Nobody has to know..." "Stop Struggling"

These statements are all victim shaming which is also telling these people that their peace of mind is valued to be less than that of their assailant. These women are actively being told that they are less important and that they’re lying about being assaulted. These are the things that feminists and people are and should be fighting against. Institutions that protect someone accused of something. Institutions that drag their feet to find the truth about what happened to a potential victim. Institutions that grill and attack the victim on the witness stand and turn a blind eye to the wildly changing story from the assailant.

What about the women who lie? So fucking what? If a woman lies the truth will come out. If a man lies the truth should not be protected. It isn’t everywhere. I really did feel proud that at ODU they protect women. We take all of October, every year, to educate on sexual assault. There are little seminars and speakers against it. ODU has a sizable women’s center that works with women who have been assaulted to help them the best they can. ODU has persecuted at least two accused football players for sexual assault because the understand that college football is fleeting for most, the fallout from sexual assault isn’t. My university tries and when it fails and an assault happens they do what they can afterward to help. We are a little, moderately known public university in south eastern Virginia. We have a new football team that apparently has been doing quite well and bringing us notoriety. Our other major sports, before we had football (which has been around for only 3 years) were women’s basketball, men’s soccer and I think woman’s field hockey or lacrosse  I’m not a sports person, I don’t really care, but I do think it’s a big and fantastic thing that ODU works for victims as much as they do and that some of our biggest draws in sports were our women’s teams. That’s respect.

Thinking about what I learned about “why” sexual assault happened as a kid, in the glorious rainbow filled 90s that had the best cartoons, I remember kids in elementary or middle school saying that fat and ugly chicks should “ just lay back and enjoy it, it was the only way they were going to have sex”. That is an incredibly ugly, hateful and poorly educated sentiment and it’s horrifying that children thought this about assault. It’s showing a lack of understanding about how adults go after sex to begin with, but also showing how little respect women had that they should accept and expect to have no choice in how they were going have sex. It’s also an interesting dichotomy of adulthood where the hateful statement is that “she deserved it for dressing how she was/being where she was/being alone etc”.  That dehumanizes a woman in one of the worse ways imaginable and it’s saying that men have no control over their sexual urges. Both of these faulty statements take the responsibility of the assault away from the assailant and put it on the victim. That is never right. If we lived in a country where we were truly past ‘feminism’ and it wasn’t a thing that people worked for and identified with as a social statement then falsehoods like those would never be uttered. There wouldn’t be an assumed statement that the victim of sexual assault deserved it to any extent. There wouldn’t be the heaping of responsibility onto women on whether or not a sexual experience was going to happen or not. If we lived in a truly post feminist world victim blaming, shaming and quieting wouldn’t happen. Victims of assault would not be afraid to point out the accused. Hell, if we lived in a truly post feminist world and everyone was humanist wanted equality for everyone, maybe sexual assault wouldn’t happen. Maybe no one would be pressured into a situation they didn’t want to be in and the party that wanted a sexual experience would back off and find a willing partner or handle it on their own.

Both of those statements involve an unhealthy relationship and understand of sex what all parties involved are expected. The first one shows that men will fuck anything and they don’t care about what their partner wants. That’s incredibly selfish. The second says that but it’s also saying that men have a right to sex whenever they want it and that women need to be punished for showing too much skin. The second statement says that women are just walking sex toys for any interested penis and if every penis is interested then her vagina is theirs for the taking. But really what’s worst about both of these is that it’s reducing all factors involved in a sexual experience to a dehumanizing base where men have no control over themselves, effectively ever if they will equally rape a ‘fat/ugly girl’ and a ‘scantily clad hot girl’. This thinking also says that women have no say over their bodies and that they exist solely for the pleasure of men and that women have no interest in sex. 

That’s all just me thinking about an entirely unwanted sexual situation and not considering other ways for people to get to a sexual situation and maybe wanting it for a while then changing their minds. That’s allowed. Either party can change their mind and any time. I never wrote out any hypothetical situations that could lead to an unwanted sexual situation because I don’t think it’s necessary that I make those up when there are real accounts of assault that can be found and read online.

I have kept to the more common male attacking female situation but understand that men do have control over their faculties, as much as they jokingly deny it, and they can be assaulted. The body will react to stimulus that the brain doesn’t approve of, that is not consent for either sex. Women can be sexual predators and that is never right. It doesn't happen or isn’t reported as often but it can happen. And after that, there is unwanted homosexual assault that happens. There is never a right time to blame a victim for their proclivities, their fetish, their sex, gender, age, race, orientation, fashion choices and especially their sobriety.

There are many resources online for information on what to do in instances of sexual assault and my favorite anti-assault program I’ve ever heard that works to educate young men that assault is wrong and they should use their strength to protect women and make them feel safe and not to abuse them.

I know I used 'assault' more often than 'rape' and polite euphemisms don't really make things better, but this was a time I felt more comfortable with the euphemism.

Reference and Help
More from Project Unbreakable here
If you are struggling, RAINN has a free, confidential, 24/7 sexual assault hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE(4673). or online -
Similar to Project Unbreakable, It Happens Here
Laurie Penny sharing her story of assault
Societal Attitudes About Rape - Stats and numbers
Men Can Stop Rape - I mentioned this for a moment in the last paragraph above. This organization works with young men to educate them on not raping people, and not just on avoiding getting raped. That is one of the most important and biggest things that can be done to be a rape deterrent 
Title IX - the cause of many of the assault problems on colleges
Sexual Assault Prevention Tips
An old essay of mine: American Sex Culture

Edit: Feb 4, 2014

Verizon Wireless: Hopeline -- Karen Ogden informed me about this program through Verizon which works to get help to women, people though, in abusive situations. By proving phones to people who are in danger but have no safe way of getting help, hopefully more victims can break out of he dangerous life they had and get to safety.

Helpguide - This site has information from psychologists for getting help with depression, anxiety, abuse, family issues, weight change, and others. Here for Abused Women - Here for Abused Men

National Guide for locating women's shelters

Oprah's Domestic violence resources

Shelter for Help in Emergency

Safe Horizon - various types of abuse assistance

National domestic violence hotline - help understand if you're being abused and how to get help and move to a safer situation.