SWALLOW, a poignant independent film, is currently available on VOD and definitely worth a viewing for its sensitive depiction of sexual trauma on the female psyche and the damage it can wreak on future generations of women. The film is a noteworthy addition to the “women on the verge” genre which has given cinema some of the most interesting and complex lead female characters to behold and ponder.
The film revolves around Hunter, said leading lady, a young woman who wanders passively through the motions of her sterile suburban life within the shadow of her self-involved husband and domineering in-laws. When she asks her husband, “do I make you happy?” it’s more of a plea than a question, demonstrating her disregard for herself in lieu of serving his own needs and is now only living for her husband. She is much like a STEPFORD WIFE, initially a difficult character to embrace given that she has chosen to lead a limited life and displays no ambition, opinions or interest in exploring the world beyond her beautiful home. It’s reminiscent of that other film about bland homemakers who have no interests outside of their cleaning agents, THE STEPFORD WIVES. But Hunter, our female lead, is no STEPFORD WIFE; she is still very much alive and there is more to her story than that of a submissive wife, a fact that becomes clear as her back story unfolds and shapes her future.
SWALLOW centers around a question that is central to the identity and experience of women: What happens to us when we lose our autonomy? When we become so broken that we are reduced to having no identity outside the limited role of wife? Hunter’s case provides us a glimpse of such a woman and it soon becomes impossible not to ache for this young woman who resorts to extreme acts of self-harm in a desperate attempt to exert some control over her life. After she learns that she’s pregnant, she engages in graphically depicted compulsive behavior. The film leaves very little to the imagination as it portrays her self destructive behavior. These scenes aren’t for the faint of heart, but nor are they gratuitous. We see for ourselves the depths of her self-hatred, the disconnect and lack of regard for her body.
Hunter soon learns that there is a word for what afflicts her, but this knowledge doesn’t initially empower her or liberate her from this condition. Knowledge doesn’t always equate power. Only when she is finally pushed to the brink that she discovers enlightment. And anger serves an important purpose in that it can be the catalyst that motivates a person to change their circumstances. Anger is a powerful tool that many women fail to exploit for fear they will be labeled as aggressive, bitchy, unlikeable or hysterical Feminist types. And Hunter is no exception-that is until Hunter releases a dark secret regarding her mother that finally liberates her of the patriarchal system that now threatens to swallow her entire existence.
SWALLOW serves as a poignant reminder that the ramifications for violence against women make victims of us all when society fails to step up and stop it. Her attempt at self-determination is met with resistance from those who seek to keep her in a state of bondage. This resistance includes an explicit threat of violence. But she is not dissuaded. And that is what makes it so satisfying to watch Hunter discover what she is truly made of in an attempt to reassert her independence. It’s the evolution of her character that makes Hunter a heroine and this film so compelling.
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