Two nights ago, I ventured out to Vanderbilt, for a film called XXY. It was a about a transex teenager named Alex who identifies, for the most part, as a girl, though she's beginning to wonder. Her mother asks a surgeon to come, which complicates matters, as it seems she's suggesting something be surgeoned--a course of action neither Alex, nor her father, are entirely comfortable with. Also, the surgeon complicates things because he brings a son.
XXY is a very beautiful, very quiet film. It takes place far away from anywhere, near an ocean and some trees. Alex spends a lot of her time wandering about the beach, and the woods, and only occasionally hiding under the porch, peering at incoming surgeons and their sons, looking for all the world like a bright-eyed, oddly thin, troll.
Alex is curious about herself, about visitors, and, being a teenager, about sex. She approaches the surgeon's son on the beach and discusses masturbation with him. She asks if he jerked off recently, and when he asks how could she know, she says she can tell. That she jacks off, too. The boy seems baffled a bit--though, to be fair, he possesses the sort of long, indrawn face that projects a sense of constant befuddlement with the world--but, eventually, he finds himself taken with this long-limbed, thin creature, who is not afraid to discuss masturbation with strange boys.
Alex's father is named Krakken. The movie begins with a person stalking the woods with a sword intercut with images of sea creatures. There is a subplot of giant sea turtles being caught in nets and sometimes killed (illegally) or mutilated (one presumes this is illegal, too). The movie lets these things be. It knows that much of the world, and Alex, too--who says as much at one point--believes people like her to be monsters. The sort that have been chased into hiding, sometimes killed, sometimes mutilated, because people would very much prefer things to be normal.
The movie has few true villains, though. There is the surgeon, a man dedicated to fixing people's flaws, whether they be crooked noses or scarred lips. He does not mind cutting people up, in response to Alex's question, because, he says, "It's my job." He later says something to his son that perhaps cements his being possibly an asshole, but the movie does not make a point of this, either. It is content to show people as people, more or less, who sometimes act like human beings and sometimes act, in the case of the surgeon's callous remarks to his son or a mob of boys on the beach, like monsters.
After the film, there was a long discussion led by Monica Casper, former director of ISNA, current teacher at Arizona State, about monstrosity, identity, sexuality, shame, the frequency of oddness, and what we mean by terms such as "condition" or "normal." When a student mentioned the father's name, Krakken, and wondered whether the movie wanted us to view Alex as a monster, Monica asked if he was a religious studies major. "Philosophy, actually." Monica said, "That makes sense."
It was a good discussion.
At some point, I think, I had meant to mention in this post something about Montreal's stop-motion film festival, and, perhaps, something about possible cinnamon rolls. Maybe next time.