G.I. Jane

By a happy coincidence, I finally got around to seeing G.I. Jane the same day I started reading a book by Rene Denfeld, the controversial author of two postfeminist works: The New Victorians, which challenges the modern feminist orthodoxy that defines women as victims of men; and, more germane to this review, Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall, an account of Denfeld’s training as a boxer and a study of female aggression and violence. An incisive and provocative thinker, Denfeld would have been the ideal choice to write G.I. Jane, and I wish to God she had.

G.I. Jane is a rabid piece of militaristic pulp with a crucial and commercially shrewd difference: The hero, the soft clay to be molded into a steely instrument of death, is a woman — Demi Moore, of course. Moore is Lt. Jordan O’Neil (a carefully androgynous name), a smart but frustrated officer handpicked to undergo the harshest military training in the world — in the Navy SEALs, which boast (and that’s a good word for it) a 60 percent drop-out rate. Will a woman have the right stuff? Or will she fail and set feminism back decades?

Well, we’re talking about an expensive Hollywood movie co-produced by its star, so the question is never whether Jordan will make it; it’s how she’ll make it, and what kinds of highly fetishized punishment we can watch her endure on the road to self-fulfillment. G.I. Jane was directed by Ridley Scott, a sometimes great stylist (Alien, Blade Runner, the similarly op-ed-worthy Thelma & Louise) who often sacrifices substance to style. Scott turns G.I. Jane into a heavy-breathing pictorial ordeal, an essay in eroticized brutality and masochism. A certain part of the audience may enjoy seeing Demi Moore shaved and beaten and degraded, and Scott gives them that and more. If not for its flimsy “feminist” pose, the movie would be denounced as violently misogynistic.

G.I. Jane — a stupid title befitting a stupid film — is the sort of Nietzschean service drama I thought Full Metal Jacket had bagged and tagged ten years ago. Stanley Kubrick’s chilly masterpiece told the truth about military training: that it isn’t remotely “good for building character,” that it grinds up human meat and spits out war machines. As Jordan transforms into an ass-kicking iron butterfly, the self-actualizing spectacle becomes absurd. For centuries we’ve gotten the coded message that men must be brutal to be real men. The message is no less repulsive when applied to women. Jordan says her ordeal is her choice, but what is she choosing? To be cannon fodder in a war that improves politicians’ approval polls?

Since the movie introduces a duplicitous senator (Anne Bancroft) who selects Jordan and then betrays her, I expected Jordan to see through the bullshit. But no, she stays true to her unit — a good cog in the machine. She blossoms under the cruel tutelage of the baroquely named Master Chief Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen, whose witty and sinister portrait of sadism is the movie’s saving grace); she gets to prove herself in a real-life battle that I found unwatchable — Scott fractures the action with jittery zooms that had me wishing for Dramamine. By the end, the message is clear: to be a real woman, you have to become an animal. I eagerly await Rene Denfeld’s review.

Explore posts in the same categories: drama, one of the year's worst, war

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