Khrushchev in love

40 Days and 40 Nights: A feminist commentary?
September 10, 2007, 11:54 am
Filed under: feminism, film, heteronormativity, romantic comedies

The film 40 Days and 40 Nights culminates in a rape scene. The protagonist, Matt Sullivan (Josh Hartnett), having gone nearly 40 days without masturbating or having sex, is tied to his bed in the hope that he can make it through the final, difficult hours. His ex-girlfriend enters, mounts him, and as he deliriously mutters “no!”, has sex with him. Two quick points: First, for most people, this doesn’t seem to register as rape, despite the fact that if the characters’ genders were reversed its classification as such would be unarguable. Second, the scene was intended to be, and for most people seems to be, funny. Having failed in his goal, Matt then is forced to apologize to his current girlfriend, for getting raped.

To backtrack, Matt’s goal is, effectively, to temporarily remove himself from the heteronormative order, to step back from our society’s near-compulsory, near-constant obsession with heterosexual sex. And this is continually reinforced in the film, with references to his upsetting the “natural” balance of power, with his friends’, coworkers’, and even his brother’s (who is a priest) constant attempts to reintegrate him into the sexual order. And just at the point where he has nearly reached his goal, he is raped, forced to apologize for it, and immediately reintegrated into society as a fully-fledged, though now perhaps monogamous, heterosexual.

The only interesting thing about this film is the reversal of gender roles, which effectively translate what would be a drama about rape and our society’s treatment of women into a romantic comedy about a man who finds himself and a new girlfriend. What is curious, and a little scary, is the ease with which this translation was achieved.


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