Unprecedented: that was people's choice for word of 2020 at Dictionary.com. Fair enough. We were glad to see the back of that crazy year. At least until 2021 began as it seems to mean to go on, setting new records for anti-science, fake news, a dawning new dark age of general headless chookery.
Already we've witnessed… unprecedented scenes at the United States Capitol, stormed by folk, some dressed up as for a grotesque medieval masque, some dressed down in white supremacist T-shirts. The insurrection will be televised.
In the spirit of peace and reconciliation, I've resisted asking a question of people who have endlessly sneered at their Facebook friends' "Trump Derangement Syndrome": who's deranged now? Upside: watching the heads of the commentators on Fox News explode as they try to maintain that it is in any way tolerable for a President to tell followers they need to march on a seat of government to "save America"; that he won an election he lost; that, "if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
He didn't join the march as promised. He casually threw his followers under the bus and his Vice President to the wolves. In his quest to discover what most people learn as children — how far is far too far — Trump has now been impeached twice. Un-Presidented.
Fortunately not everything going on right now is such a Trumpster fire. In a world far from his, one that is not an evolutionary cul de sac where rich men can do what they like, we accidentally found ourselves seeing three movies in a row featuring strong stories about women, directed by women. One was a devastating masterpiece.
Wonder Woman: 1984 was not that one. It was a bit of a duty call, a sad sequel to the 2017 Wonder Woman that, for some reason, I walked out of fighting tears. Maybe it was because I grew up thinking the world could only be saved by slightly paunchy men in tights. Seeing a lifetime of sexist tropes — and some Nazis — efficiently upended by Gal Gadot as a woman warrior turned out to be moving. But by 1984, Diana Prince is lying low in 80s business attire, mooning for her lost boyfriend. And flying around — she can ride air currents, apparently — like Superman circa 1952. Sorry, no.
Pieces of a Woman is a tougher proposition, unflinchingly exploring the limits, under-recognised in the age of wellness culture, to the control you can have over the body you inhabit. It's no spoiler to say the movie centres on a home birth that takes a tragic turn in one of those scenes through which, as with the real thing, you have to make a conscious effort to breath. The harsh light of trauma reveals cracks in a web of relationships which has something to say about how people survive, with women at the centre. It will leave you in pieces.
Warning: Promising Young Woman might never entirely leave you at all. Cassie still lives with her parents, works in a coffee bar and goes out at night to feign drunkenness in order give the sort of men who take advantage of vulnerable women a short, sharp, lesson on consent. Buckle in.
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The tone starts satirical. "I thought we had a connection," whines one predator when Cassie turns out to be less conveniently comatose than he thought. "What's my name?" she asks him. Silence. "Too hard?" But this is no exhilarating Tarantino revenge fantasy. The kind of damage this film explores comes without a happy ending. It is a movie for the times. Times in which a man who boasted about how he could manhandle woman any way he wanted could become President and go on to demonstrate how much of a mess you can make when no one has ever told you that, even with all the wealth, privilege and patriarchy in the world, there are things you simply can't get away with. Unprecedented.