Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke9

It is twenty minutes before this film ends and I am already starting my review. This is not a good thing. I already know the ending of this film. I don’t need to see it in order for me to review it. This knowing the ending is an unique experience for me. When you watch the amount of movies that I watch, you can spot formulas pretty quickly. What is different about this film is that I don’t care about seeing the ending of the film. I know that everything is going to turn out okay and I could care less.

I went into this film thinking that I would like it. That is because it is by Jane Campion. But from the beginning I was bewildered by the path she was taking. It starts out with two young girls in India. One of them is Ruth, played by Kate Winslet (who has an appalling Australian accent by the way… I think halfway through the film they just sort of gave up and let her switch back to her English one.). She becomes enamored with a guru and joins his mystic cult. Her parents find out and trick to coming back to Australia. Then they employ an American whose expertise is in cult exiting. He takes her to a remote location and tries to deprogram her. She resists fervently, but soon gives in to his thundering muscles and shitty sense of persuasion. They do it and do it and do it until her parents find out.

My main problem with the film is that I don’t  believe for one moment that Ruth is a fully fleshed out character. She is only what the director wants her to be at any given point in the film. How am I supposed to believe that this young woman who is maturely feminist would fall prey to a cult that preaches subservience of women? She was never vulnerable enough to be brainwashed by the guru or else you would see that in her character when she comes back to Australia. Instead you see a bull-headed feminist who breaks down everything that he says into gender terms. The filmmaker tries to create a tension with empty phrases and pseudo intellectual banter. But the banter is nothing. It says nothing and it does nothing. What matters is her actions. She is not feminist in her actions because she is more than willing to have a man enter her (even a man who is supposed to be her caregiver) again and again. She can’t then manipulate him and tell him that she hated it. You can’t have your character say and do both of these things and yet Ms. Campion does. It is so incredibly frustrating.

I wish that this film took the reasons why she joined a cult and explored that more. Why don’t we see her at more meetings, talking more about her religion, maybe even meeting the guru? Instead it seems like the film is on a rush to get to the interaction between the cult exiter and the cult member. But that is not where the interesting parts of this story are located. They are located back in India and with a person more aware of her beliefs. Ms. Campion I demand a do over. I would suggest you get to work on it.

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