'Showgirls': The film's disturbing, violent rape scene touches more than just a nerve, but was it necessary?
A woman of colour is brutally assaulted by three men to propell the white lead's arc. Need we say more?
Before there was WB Weiss and David Benioff's joint collaboration to give the audience some of the most graphic and gruesome portrayals of sexual violence against women in 'Game of Thrones', all the way back in 1995, director Paul Verhoeven shocked and rattled the entertainment industry with his frivolous yet ambitious stripper-erotica 'Showgirls'. Featuring Elizabeth Berkley as the driven young dancer who bags her top spot as the Stardust Goddess by hurting the reigning queen, the story is about Nomi Malone's rise and fall along the ranks of an exotic dancer.
With gratuitous sex, nudity and dark faux vigilantism where Berkley overacts to the point of the film becoming one of the most bashed ventures of all times, there is however only one respite: Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera.) Molly is easily the most likable and well-reasoned mind in the story, yet she is the one who is granted the most brutal fate. Held captive by security guards, Molly is beaten up and raped by her musical idol Andrew Carver at a party Nomi invited her to. And it is probably this rape that also turns a new page in Nomi's arc, helping redeem her story somewhat at the end.
Shot terribly enough to make it unbearable to sit through if the violence wasn't a total put off already, Molly's rape scene sees her bound by burlesque security guards who bend her over a table and proceed to force themselves on her upon Andrew's encouragement. Molly puts up a fight and ends up getting beaten up so brutally that she has to be carried to the hospital right away. A slew of slaps and punches land upon her before she is finally unconscious and practically thrown outside on the foyer - bloody and blue. There are rape scenes, and then there are rape scenes exploring frankly uncalled for violence against women on screen. What might come off as artistic liberty just looks like a shoddy attempt to make an impact in a world full of tastefully scripted and sensitively explored sexual assault sequences for the camera.
The fact that Molly is an absolute sweetheart throughout the movie helps fuel our rage against this plot development and the way it is portrayed so brazenly. Ravera's deafening screams as her character is being assaulted by three men are unnerving and before hitting a nerve, is a cringefest at first glance. The actors overact their fair bit for a rape scene that was really not necessary for the shock value to propel the protagonist's arc.
In simpler terms, Molly was the first one to give Nomi a roof over her head and food to get by, always showing her support, cautioning her whenever necessary throughout the plot. Why the conscious decision to torture a woman of color just to spur the white lead's arc was made is a whole other discussion, but it does serve as some moiety of content when Nomi finally avenges Molly's torture by kicking more than just 50 shades of black and blue out Carver right before she leaves Vegas for good. We're thrilled for Nomi finally finding a way out, but maybe that rape scene wasn't really the most necessary development to propel her arc of redemption. At least not shot in a manner that would make one rather hear nails scratching on a chalkboard.