When most people hear the name Jennifer Laurence, they probably picture the image of teenage her “volunteering as tribute” or discussing pizza on the red carpet. However when I think of little J, only mass propaganda and gendered sex culture comes to mind. Lawrence’s latest film solidifies these concepts in her latest film Red Sparrow.
When I walked into the theater for a late night screening of Red Sparrow, I was expecting a gender role breaking action thriller with just a hint of capitalist feminism and poor yet entertaining Russian accents. The movie dragged on, and my expectations were nowhere near met. Posters and trailers on my favorite television channels clearly misled me to disappointment.
The plot follows the astonishingly climactic life of a renowned Russian ballerina, Dominica, (played by Lawrence) and her struggle to take care of her sick mother. After Dominika injures her foot during a performance in front of the country’s most elite elites, the Russian government rescinds her healthcare and general financial aid. This includes payments for the mom’s medical bills and their apartment, all because Dominika can no longer be of entertainment use to the state. Her uncle, Uncle Vanya Egorov, (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) who also happens to be high-ranking member of the Russian secret intelligence agency, offers her to work for the government via a sexual seduction and intelligence program. Dominika quite accurately describes this institute to be a “whore school”, in which the Red Sparrows are trained to harness their sexual assets and use them to Russian benefit. It is also no coincidence that her uncle looks like Putin’s long lost younger brother. The similarities are uncanny.
Once Dominika begins her program at this weird sex boot camp, she starts struggling right off the bat. It’s hard for her to get used to the radical Russian approach of teaching spies to seduce their prey in order to drain information out of them. This is because, according to the American film makers of Red Sparrow, Russians are a bunch of sexually driven robots that can’t resist their pleasures.
Dominika goes on an entire two hour journey long journey in which she basically fools the Russian government and starts working for the United States as a mole; the glowing irony here is that she was hired by her country’s government to discover the Russian mole in the US in the first place.
The young Red Sparrow falls in love with undercover spy American Nathaniel Nash. He tells her all about how Dominika should join his American team because “Americans don’t play dirty” and “The US knows that there are some things you can’t sacrifice”, some golden rules that savage Russians supposedly can’t adhere to. Throughout the film, the Russians take part in gruesome and unusual torture methods, while the humane Americans take a high road of paying off people and requesting kindly. However, our history of foreign policy is not so black and white.
Injustice is a two way street, some people are just better at hiding it. Red Sparrow proposes a notion that America is some amazing super power country that perpetuates no evil and plays by the rules. The only foreign policy rule book the US follows is sewn together with Machiavelli’s hair and stamped with an illusion of supporting democracy.
Red Sparrow’s sex culture lays a blanket over the present rape culture in the US and instead holds it as a “foreign issue”. Rape culture is a universal problem and pinning it on a single ethnicity makes the filmmakers of Red Sparrow down right stupid.
If I had a dollar for every time a woman’s body was objectified or a cis male was presented as nothing more than a desiring machine, I would have enough dollars to buy every single ticket for Red Sparrow being sold in my local theaters to make sure that no one else is exposed to its agony.
At first glance, Red Sparrow’s bloody sadist lure can be amusing, but make no mistake, there is much more to it. As my mother always taught me, you’ve never really seen a film until it’s been dissected from every angle. In the case of Red Sparrow, these messages are hidden behind a Putin doppelganger and a couple of ballet slippers.