Trigger Warning – Rape, Body Modifications, Genital Mutilation
From the outset, American Mary, the second feature from Canadian twins Jen and Sylvia Soska, appears to just be a copycat “I Spit On Your Grave” style revenge thriller where a woman manages to inflict some kind of pain onto men who have previously done her wrong. But in fact it is a much deeper story, as it draws parallels with how women are treated in most industries, and throughout their life. It could also be commended for its entirely positive and emotive representation of the body mod industry.
Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) is a student at a medical school, where she is constantly reprimanded by her male superiors for things the male students would be allowed to get away with. For example, Mary’s phone ringing in class ends up with her tutor launching into a hugely personal tirade about her motivation to become a Doctor. And to make ends meet, she applies for a job as a stripper, using one of the few things she knows – her sexuality – as a way to live comfortably. This engages one of the first turning points for Mason’s character, when she gets her first experience of performing real surgery on a man the strip joint owner has tortured (for reasons unknown throughout the entire film). Although she is initially disturbed by what she had to do, she realises that it is something that can give her power, and she can make money from it. One brilliant part about this character is that she uses both her brain and her body to get what she wants, she is a very intelligent woman in book smarts and she’s wise to they way of the world.
This initial surgery gets her noticed by the underground body modification community, who start coming to her asking for certain procedures that are not usually permitted for licensed artists to do. I would also like to congratulate the Soska twins on their amazing development of supporting characters. Beatrice and Ruby Realgirl are brilliant examples of this. The pair approach Mary when Miss Realgirl decides that she would like her nipples and labia removed, as she wants to “be idealised, not sexualised”. Both of these characters are given fully realised reasons as to why they have modification’s (as are all the modified roles in the film), and they are not seen as “freaks”, they are simply changing their outer selves to match their inner.
Whilst Mary is slowly becoming more and more involved in body mods, she is congratulated on her bedside manner by her professors, and invited to a party by Dr Walsh, and is promised a great networking opportunity with people in her field of expertise. Finally feeling she has some respect from her tutors, she decides to go, yet arrives at a sordid after hours sex party, where she is drugged and raped by Dr Grant. This scene has been described as the most disturbing throughout the entire film, due to usage of POV camera from Grants perspective, and the dominant sound of breathing, and the dominant visual of his hands touching Mary Mason. This scene is not your usual gratuitous shocking rape scene, it actually is a huge part of the story and of Mary’s character arc. It is not over dramatised, it is incredibly true to life and the sordid and grotesque nature of sexual abuse. Also, like many people who are victims of rape, she does not approach the police about it for fear that she will not be believed, told to get over it, or to be told it was her fault.
Mary Mason decides to take her recovery, and revenge, into her own hands. She drops out of medical school to pursue a career in the body modification community, earning herself the nickname “Bloody Mary” – another horror story about a strong female who has the power to kill – and a great way of explaining the person Mary is about to become. She practices her body mod skills on Dr Grant, subjecting him to teeth filing, amputation, genital mutilation and suspension, all to make sure she can do the best for her clients and further her reputation. We see very little of the actual surgeries, so we are unable to sympathise with Dr Grant and feel his pain, the audience is made to see him as a sexual predator who deserves what he is getting.
Mary continues with her surgeries, performing a bizarre arm swapping procedure on two twins ( a brilliantly Tarantino-esque cameo from the directors). And this leads up to the finale of the film as we see Mary’s attitude getting darker, and it culminates in Ruby Realgirl’s husband stabbing her for what she has done to his wife. She has taken the sexuality from Ruby, and made her a doll, and her husband look at her as something more than just a tool for sexual pleasure.
Ultimately, this is a film about females taking control of their life, despite how men try to dictate their reality to them. Mary wants to be a surgeon, so she finds her niche, and does it to the best of her ability. Beatrice and Ruby take control of their appearance, and they don’t seem to care how others will judge them. Most of the girls in the strip club want to be there, and they are capitalising on mens needs for constant sexual stimulation. The film is also making a statement about rape culture, and how it is normalised, and made to seem part of “how things are” for any woman who is concerned with her career. The Soska Twins themselves said that part of their motivation to make this film was the roles they had been given in past films which were all overtly sexual, and how when the idea was pitched to studios, a question they would be asked frequently was “So when’s Mary gunna get her tits out?”. I feel like every woman can relate to this film to some degree, and feel empowered by the females taking action against what hurt them, and making that last stitch to create their lives.