The “Innocence Snuff Film”
Actor David Schwimmer, best known as the sad sack Ross Geller on the hit ’90s sitcom “Friends,” is now bemoaning the sex-saturated Hollywood business atmosphere and its corrosive effects on society and women in particular. The first question many Hollywood critics should ask: Isn’t it curious that Schwimmer would care about this issue — after he earned a million dollars per episode on one of the most sex-obsessed sitcoms of all time?
Schwimmer granted an interview to the British newspaper The Telegraph while promoting his new film, “Trust,” which opened July 8. “Sex sells, and unfortunately, there’s this inbuilt hypocrisy in our society: We’re always talking about how inappropriate it is to see an older man with a very young girl, but at the same time, all our advertising is based on that,” he said.
He asserted that “both here and in the UK, we have this real emphasis on how important it is to look young and sexual, so that’s the message we’re sending our girls. Look at the biggest pop stars around at the moment. Everything they do is about sex.”
Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna? Check, check and check.
At the most extreme edge of all this mediated sexuality is sexual violence. Schwimmer said his new passion is inspired by his relationship with two women, both child sexual abuse victims and one a later date-rape victim, which led him to take a position as a director with the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center in Los Angeles. Schwimmer also may be growing more concerned as a new husband and father of a baby girl.
But Schwimmer’s new film raises as many questions as it asks. It has a moralistic plot that bemoans our sexualized culture. It centers on the gradual Internet seduction and rape of a 14-year-old girl whose unwitting father, in an ironic twist, is working on a seductive advertising campaign at the time. (Think Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein.) The assailant portrays himself online as 16, but by the time he meets his teenaged prey, she knows he’s more like 40.
The problem comes when the actress playing the rape victim is 14, just like the character. Schwimmer admitted in his Telegraph interview that it was tough on the young actress, Liana Liberato. “It was extremely difficult to film and so important not to do anything gratuitous. I know that it was pushing the boundaries just to have Liana come out in her lingerie, and I made sure that there was modesty lining on the underwear and that the scene was done tastefully and respectfully with regards to her and her body.” He deliberately put that scene at the end of the filming schedule and insisted there was “no one in the room who didn’t have to be there.”
Clearly, Schwimmer didn’t get it. The one person in the room who didn’t have to be there was a girl who could have better spent the day in an eighth-grade classroom. There is no such thing as a “respectful” rape scene with a 14-year-old actress.
Time magazine critic Mary Pols described the end product as an “innocence snuff film” and found it “excruciating to watch” actress Liberato in her underwear, appearing delicate and awkward, be assaulted on screen. It was so unsettling, she wrote, that “had I not been obliged to stay, I could easily have seen myself storming out of the theater at that point, spitting about prurience and such.”
Pols tried to resist the urge to “spit” like a prude … or a parent. But Pols argued that “the film gains power in its gritty depiction of the aftermath.”
For some, this may recall the filming of then-12-year-old Dakota Fanning, the star of “Charlotte’s Web” and other family films like “The Cat in the Hat,” in a five-minute rape scene in a little movie that never went anywhere called “Hounddog.” Some adult scenes should cause a director to look for an adult with a childlike quality instead of an actual child.
Sometimes, Hollywood directors take uber-realism to new heights of silliness. When making “Titanic,” director James Cameron demanded the set include carpeting woven by the original suppliers of Titanic’s carpets and meticulously reproduced plates and silverware with the White Star Line crest on each piece. But when you film rape scenes with 14-year-olds, you’ve gone over the top. This simply should not happen.