A sad woman in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vancouver B.C..
A truly terrible thing happens in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vancouver B.C.. The Tree Inside

I want to think about a difficult scene in The Tree Inside, a movie that was shot in Vancouver, B.C. and screened at this year's Local Sightings film festival. (The festival is down to its last two days and tonight screens a must-see early feature by Kelly Reichardt, River of Grass.)

The reason it is important to know that the star of The Tree Inside, Michelle Kim, is also its co-director and writer, is because it explains why the movie reveals a side of rape that is completely missed by the sex that dominates this art form. What happens is this: Myra (Michelle Kim), who can never stay in a relationship for too long, ends up meeting a man who has the intelligence, the manner, the face of a long-term commitment. Their relationship has lots of wine, lots of dinner parties, and lots of ups and downs—and the downs are all related to Myra's ambivalence. During one big downer, Myra leaves her lover in the dark, goes to a seedy bar, gets a little drunk, and ends up in an alley making out with a shifty character.

Support The Stranger

Now, when I watched the scene, two things caught my attention. The first was, of course, the charm of Vancouver's alleys, which, unlike Seattle's, are ornamented with old-looking cedar and pine power poles, dusty distribution transformers, and networks of transmission lines. (The Tree Inside is also about the beauty of Vancouver—its dusky light, glass towers, green-blue trees, pretty parks, and so on.) The next thing was how the man making out with Myra unzipped his pants and entered her without checking if they were on the same page. By the look on Myra's face, it's clear she was not ready for, nor had she made a decision about, the unprotected sex. But once the man broke with the kissing, he stopped looking at her face and focused on his penis getting inside of her. This is a rape, but Myra bears it with a pained expression. She forces no word or a scream to pass her pressed lips. And when the bad business is done and the rapist is zipping up his pants, she stumbles down the alley, finds a dark spot behind a dumpster, and throws up.

But why did she suffer the rape in silence? Why didn't she fight back? I think it is because if she had done any of those things, and he had entered her, the rape would have been named and, as a consequence, become public rather than private. And the reason someone might choose to avoid the public is because the public often blames the victim (she was drunk, she went into the alley with him, she kissed him) or makes justice too difficult, too painful to achieve. Winning a rape case is often a Pyrrhic victory.

What this scene reveals is that a rape does not have to be named to be a rape. It is a crime that can happen wordlessly, and in some cases, within the boundaries of the law. And so, along with the rapes that finally reach the court of law, and the rapes that go unreported but were named, and the rapes that can't be named because of the victim's powerlessness (think of the rape scene in Blade Runner)...

Raping a replicant is like raping a slave.
Raping a replicant is like raping a slave. Warner Bros.

...there are those that happen and are locked permanently by the self-imposed silence (non-naming) of the victim. I do think this kind of rape (and there are many other kinds) made its first appearance on film in The Tree Inside.

Sponsored
Annual Seattle Erotic Art Festival and Halloween party returns to Seattle Center October 29 –31!
A weekend of art, performance, readings, & more! Festival ends at Seattle's sexiest Halloween party.