Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

Guilt, Rage, and Love – Examining Karyn Kusama’s DESTROYER and Claire Denis’ HIGH LIFE

Historically, the depiction of female emotion on film has been constrained by how palatable it is for the male gaze.   Women can laugh, but not at the expense of their poise; they can feel anger, but not if it contorts their face into something unappealing; they can experience sadness, but not before first offering emotional comfort to a man in their orbit.

After viewing both Claire Denis’ HIGH LIFE and Karyn Kusama’s DESTROYER at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was immediately struck by their similar themes: exploration of the most base and atavistic human emotions, including parental love.  Although Denis’ film is distilled into the claustrophobic, hot-box environment of a spacecraft, and Kusama’s is condensed like a black kernel inside the heart of one woman, the skill both directors exhibit in their ability to withhold and release emotional tension is unique.

Navigating a patriarchal world requires a perilous balance of outer calm warring with the inherent resentment in such an arbitrary societal constraint.  Our inner lives are complex and tumultuous, lurking underneath a placid exterior.

Both HIGH LIFE and DESTROYER utilize flashbacks as a mechanism for the protagonist to process past trauma, and moments of almost disarming tenderness to punctuate brutality—a jarring but effective vacillation.

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