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Is Jennifer’s Body Feminist?

January 28, 2010

Ever since its pre-release buzz, Jennifer’s Body has been having some seriously conflicted image problems. The trailer presents the film as a standard horror movie, luring audiences in with Megan Fox’s cleavage, Diablo Cody’s characteristic dialog and, of course, some girl-on-girl action. But to hear Cody in interviews, she might as well have been talking about the adaptation of Women’s Room. So, which one is it: campy gore-fest or serious feminist undertaking?

After watching it tonight, I think the problem with Jennifer’s Body is poor marketing. In reality, it winds up somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and I don’t think people really knew how to define or sell that. Unfortunately, the trailers drew the wrong audience who, if they were expecting horror and sex, would most likely end up only a bit titilated at best. People didn’t quite know what to make of it and the message got lost.

Cody made it clear that her intent was not to make a good horror movie, but instead to use the genre in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way to explore other issues. Yet because of the pervasive sexuality involved, the movie couldn’t easily be directed toward standard feminist audiences. They got sidetracked by the trailer and the associations with Megan Fox and, without actually seeing the movie, began to slander it as sexist. However, if they actually sat down to watch the movie, it’s pretty difficult to walk away from it still thinking that Cody was completely hot-air when claiming it as a feminist script.

The trick is that the content of this movie basically defines the splitting off point between two basic camps of modern feminism. What the story boils down to is a classic Rape Revenge plot. (Caution: spoilers ahead.) Jennifer and her friend, Needy, go to see an indie band one night and, when the bar burns down in a freak accident, shell-shocked Jennifer agrees to “escape” with the band in their van. They have lured her with them on the false pretense that she is a virgin, and they want to sacrifice her in an occult ritual to help them become famous. Because she lied about being a virgin, though, the sacrifice results in a demon possessing Jennifer’s body which, in turn, makes her start killing and eating boys.

The murders can simply be viewed as an attempt to shock and gross-out audiences, or it can be read (as I feel it was intended to be) as a standard tale of Jennifer reclaiming her sexuality and body. While there wasn’t any actual rape involved, the band’s act still represented men viewing women as simply vessels through which to gain their wants and needs. Jennifer’s possession doesn’t require her to kill boys specifically, it is a choice she has made to avenge this concept. After you slough through some commentary on female friendships (which a lot more people picked up as being the feminist aspect of it but I, for one, thought that was the most sexist part of the whole thing), the tables turn to Needy, who was bitten by Jennifer during the struggle to kill her and thus gains some of her demonic abilities. In the end, Needy sets out to murder the band that killed Jennifer, as a final act of revenge, further perpetuating the theme.

So, while the story may not align with my ideas about feminism, there is inarguably a camp of people that believe in killing the patriarchy (either figuratively or literally) in order to be free and celebrate stories of women who take it upon themselves to attack their attackers. The most popular film I can liken it to is Monster, but the most  similar comparison definitely has to be Teeth. The people that were attracted to those films are who Jennifer’s Body w

as made for. As a horror movie, it’s average, but the heart of it lies in what’s underneath the cough-syrup blood and oil-slick vomit. It might not be for every feminist, but there’s no denying that it’s the reason this film was really made.

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