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8 MM: Everyman's Desire
by Christine Grussendorf

If pornography is a technologically sophisticated traffic in women then snuff by extension is a kind of high tech lynching. We face the nightmarish possibility that male viewing of films and videos of actual sexist murders could become a normalized cultural institution in the United States. -- Catharine MacKinnon

Joel Schumacher's dick flick, 8 MM, stars Nicolas Cage, some other men, plus a couple of women who are basically inconsequential to the plot. The movie features Cage's travels through the supposed "underground" world of pornography as he searches to discover if the snuff film found in a wealthy dead man's vault by his widow (Mrs. Christian) portrays the actual murder of a girl, or whether it is merely a simulation. 8 MM is a modern day Western in which the hero, Tom Wells (Cage), brawls with the villains (the pornographers) over the rights to a film of an anonymous teenage girl's murder by a masked sadist named Machine. It is a movie about the sexual desires of Everyman.

Tom Wells is a private dick (detective) down on his luck financially. He is married, lives in a suburban house with his wife and infant daughter, Cindy, whom he nicknames Cinderella. The opening scene of 8 MM is of a projector. The film spins slowly while a saxophone plays in the background. This sets the tone of 8 MM by equating film, and the act of filming, with sexiness, intrigue, mystery, and a potential lurking danger. As Everyman knows, pornography and its implicit voyeurism is sex, is sexiness, arouses curiosity, desire, domination, and power in men.

Wells is voyeuristic: he is a surveillance expert by profession and a Peeping Tom by trade. At the beginning of the movie he has just completed a job spying on a woman. The action then moves to his house; the interior is blue-gray, metallic and dark. It is a haunted house, it is a dangerous house, not a house haunted by a ghost but by a cold, hard danger. A bruising, black and blue danger. In short, his prick. In short, the power Everyman has over every woman: rape.

Wells says hello to his infant daughter. He has a small fight with his wife about his smoking. She says he has been smoking; he says it is from the spying he did at the bar. He angrily insists that he does not smoke. Their bedroom is blue, gray; it is stark and dark as if something frightening is about to happen, a fight with his wife, a beating, a porn shoot. It relates to the opening image -- dark, threatening, blue-gray, somewhat sexy as the torture of women in pornography is sexy to men. Later that night, while having sex with his wife, their infant starts to cry. Wells comforts his infant daughter, his naked torso offsetting her smallness and vulnerability with his power and masculinity. He holds her while still in a sexually aroused state.

Schumacher uses a doppelganger, or doubling of hero and villain. It becomes apparent that Wells and the murderer named Machine are one and the same. Throughout 8 MMWelles repeatedly watches the film of the murder, ostensibly looking for clues, but there is another reason he watches. In the snuff film, a man (Machine) in black leather pants, vest, and mask hits the girl, slashes her with a knife. There is blood. He murders her. The killer has a pentagram on his hand. As Wells watches he looks distressed, ill, he puffs and wheezes, almost as if he is having an orgasm. Later in the movie, Wells is in L.A. tracking down the pornographers. Wells goes to his hotel. The walls are once again dark and foreboding, these blue gray metallic walls seem to follow him wherever he goes. His wife calls. He is watching the film of the murdered girl in his underwear and looking at pornographic magazines. He stops the film and looks at the killer's masked face, he stands up by it, next to it. Their faces mirror one another. Wells and the killer are one.

Wells' daughter and the murdered girl also function as doubles. Wells is the biological father of Cindy and he becomes the surrogate/adoptive father of the murdered girl. He calls his infant daughter Cinderella. The murdered girl is what Cindy will become after Wells fucks her. Wells is the Prince, whose sexual transgressions will transform Cindy(rella) from a drudge into a Princess, his Princess, much the same as his obsessive search (as the Prince searches for the woman whose foot fits the glass slipper) for the girl's identity will transform her, even in death. Wells wants to discover the truth about the film, whether the girl was really killed, and if so, her name. Wells needs her name to fully own/save her.

This is symbolic of the Prince's desire, the kiss of death, really, because to be given life through a man's sexual desire is not freedom but subjugation. The girl in the film is dead, but the pornographers have made her death immortal by filming it. Her murder lives on forever, like the film spinning endlessly at the beginning of the movie, the murders of women and girls in prostitution are filmed and live forever -- sex in death, death in sex, sex as death. Men watch and masturbate to the murders thus making it possible for all men to have sex with the murders and as the murderers repeatedly, even after the women and girls have died.

Wells participates in the girl's pornographic immortality by psychologically masturbating to her mutilation and death. He resurrects her in the most pornographic of ways, by watching and getting off on her destruction. Therefore the torture ending in death of the girl lives on forever, as does her existence, or lack thereof. Wells brings the girl back to life by discovering her identity, digging up her grave, invading her -- in effect, having sex with her corpse, her lack of existence.

At the end of the movie, Wells forces one of the pornographers to take him to the murder scene. Wells asks detailed questions about the murder. Poole, a pornographer and accomplice, relates details of the murder. Poole recites what they told the girl before and during the murder. He tells Wells they buried the girls' body in the woods. Wells is there, in body, in mind; he relives the murder, the details, the horror, the sexual turn on. This is the function of pornography: pornography exists so that men may relive (in their bodies with their penises hard and eventually ejaculating) the original abuse. Wells is acting out the function of pornography: to turn men on emotionally and physically to images of female degradation, to numb men to women's humanity, and to escalate the quantity and cruelty of sexual violence in the real world.

At the murder scene, Wells tells Poole that he is going to kill him. Wells puts a gun in Poole's eye and Poole calls him a faggot. Poole licks the gun and says, "Do it, you pansy bitch, you pussy." Wells leaves Poole tied up and smokes in his car. Poole shouts obscenities from inside the graffiti-marked building. Wells takes pornography from his trunk and puts it in the building. He lights the building on fire, with Poole in it. The site of the sexual murder goes up in flames. It is a violent scene, ending in murder and arson. With the flames thrusting upward, the fire represents Everyman's sexual desires: violent raging destruction.

Wells will some day hurt his wife and daughter. Eventually, Wells' incestuous desires will psychologically or physically destroy his daughter so that someday she, too, will become the anonymous murdered teenage girl. Thus Wells has the power of god, both to kill and to bring to life. Wells is hero and villain. God and devil. Savior and rapist. He has what Everyman wants: unlimited access, both physical and visual, to women and girls, even when they are dead.

Incest and prostitution go hand in hand; neither would exist as they do now without the other. Girls are prepped for prostitution through incest, and men use prostituted women who look like girls. Baby bottles are inserted into women's vaginas in pornography. In 8 MM, Wells is portrayed both as the savior father figure and as a potential father rapist. Just as the father rapist tells his daughter that he must penetrate or fondle her for her own good, so must Wells invade the murdered girl's room to save her from anonymity. This is male supremacy at its best/worst: the female must be destroyed, possessed, owned for her own good, in order to be saved.

In prostitution, there are two kinds of tricks. One is the hero/savior trick who pretends that he wants to save the prostitute. She is dirty and he will save her by fucking her. He wants the woman or girl to be associated, emotionally connected and engaged with the abuse. He wants her to look to him and his fuck as saving grace. It is his sexual turn on to pose as savior while consuming her. The other type of trick is the villain/rapist. Like Machine, he beats and rapes the prostitute senseless, sometimes to death. He wants her to be disassociated, blank. He makes it clear that he hates her and wants to destroy her.

The bottom line of the two types of tricks, and indeed of all sexual violence, is that the female is filth, it needs to be punished. The details are up to the rapists. Either way, or rather any way, the female is a blank to the men. She must be blank to survive the death of prostitution. In male supremacy, the female exists only when consumed by or connected to the male. The female exists only through death, either physical or psychological. Ultimately, all prostitution and pornography is about men having sex with a hole, a whore, a non-entity; therefore the women and girls used in prostitution must not exist, they cannot exist, they must be an other, a receptacle for men's sexual desires. The female must be subsumed/consumed in order to exist; therefore snuff films are the bottom line basement end deal in an industry whose main themes are objectification, subordination, and consumption of the female.

Wells sexually desires his infant daughter and the murdered girl. Wells goes into the girl's room which her mother has preserved, waiting for her return. The camera pans across the dead girl's teddy bears and birthday presents and dolls. Wells goes through her room, invades it, searches through drawers and shelves. It is a sexual act. The mother is not present. He finds nothing of interest, but just as he is about to leave he turns and goes to a dirty toilet, looks into the tank and pulls out a girlish diary in a plastic bag. Now it is as if he is psychically connected with the girl. He will soon know all about her inner workings, her thoughts and dreams. He leaves the house without showing the mother her daughter's diary. He reads the diary. He discovers that the girl wanted to go to Hollywood, so she could be on TV or in magazines.

Now he knows more about the girl than the stupid mother, who did not find the diary in five years, presumably because she did not clean. She is a bad and stupid mother. He is a good and attentive father. It is probably the stupid mother's fault that her daughter, the anonymous girl, was murdered and her disappearance never solved. The good and attentive father rapist saves/resurrects the anonymous girl through his sexual invasion, dishonesty and trickery. As society blames the mother or the girl for the father's crimes, 8 MM portrays the mothers as slovenly, loose, and low class or rigid, nagging, and uptight. The girl's mother was a bad mother, and Cindy's mother is an overprotective nag. Wells invades the life of the girl's mother. He goes to her work and lies to her by telling her that he is with the FBI, gains admittance into her house and takes her daughter's diary. When he returns he steals her daughter's picture, leaving the empty picture frame on top of her diary. This act suggests that he owns her image, and therefore her personhood.

Pornography is the ownership of women by men. It is not a "natural" display of human sexuality or simple nudity. At best, the pictures are scripted, morphed, and air- brushed images of naked women in sexually subservient positions. At worst, pornography is the pictures of rape and murder. Pornography devastates the women and girls used in it. They are bound, raped, cut, splayed, burned and whipped during the making of the pornography. After the abuse an unknown number of men will enjoy it by masturbating to pictures of it or by acting it out on other women.

Pornography is the theft of the victim's dignity and self, and of all women's humanity. It is a public display of women's hurt and shame, a public loss of control which leaves all women, but especially the women used in it, with no sense of privacy or unabused interior space -- psychological or physical. The victim has no control over her body or sexuality during the original abuse; and she has no control over that abuse multiplied by the sale and distribution of the pornography. She is abused each time a man masturbates to the pornography. For her the abuse never ends, the pain never ends. Her self is a blank frame.

At the end of the movie, the girl's mother sends Wells a thank you for caring about the girl, now their girl. The mother tells him they are the only people who ever really cared about the girl. He dupes her. One can only hope that this time the stupid mother will find the diary, the blank picture frame and get a clue, now that the savior/rapist father has figured it all out.

Wells is constantly on the verge of becoming violent toward his wife. She nags him. She questions him about smoking. She is portrayed as an uptight bitch when her husband is absent for days or weeks at a time. He does not answer her telephone calls, or tell her what he is doing. Her bitchy attitude justifies any violence the hero, Wells, may choose to inflict upon her. At the end of 8 MM, Wells' wife looks haggard; she is filmed against the blue-gray metallic background as if she is about to become the victim of a snuff film herself. It has become obvious that Wells, after his long descent in the underground well, or world of pornography, is even more capable of sexual violence than he was at the beginning of the movie.

8 MM is about the supposedly taboo sexual desires of men, including rape, pornography, incest, bondage and femicide, desires which the movie makes quite clear are "locked away" in upper-class men and blatant in lower-class men. The Christians lived in a mansion. The vault where the snuff film was found is behind a larger-than-life size portrait of Mr. Christian. His sexual desires, including femicide, were unknown to his wife, who is repeatedly shown standing in front of the overbearing portrait.

The class divide that says wealthy men are not involved in prostitution protects white, middle class/wealthy pimps and tricks while portraying men-of-color and poor white men as the only abusers of prostitute women. 8mm, in its portrayal of a wealthy man as a trick, ostensibly breaks down the classist assumption that wealthy men are not involved in prostitution, but it does so only to sensationalize wealthy men's involvement. By portraying Mr. Christian as the man who ordered and paid for the snuff film, 8 MM shows that pimps and tricks are Everyman; but it does so to normalize male use of prostitute women and pornography.

The class divide creates tension between sexual taboos (myth) and what Everyman does (reality), so that rape and the use of pornography or prostitute women is exciting, an adventure, a breaking-of-the-rules. Rape both is and is not the norm. Everyman both does and does not abuse women. The illusory split between public and private, myth and reality, male and female spheres enhances the intensity of the abuse as it is experienced by men. It also creates a respectable front for male supremacy by creating a good guy and a bad guy, a savior and a rapist. This illusion of good men and bad men keeps women naive, childlike and focused on the men in their immediate lives as heroes and protectors. Splitting men into good men and bad men achieves socially and politically what the doppelganger does in 8 MM, it leads the female audience to believe that Wells is safe, the hero/savior, sympathetic to women and girls. It does not allow the female audience to identify with the "slovenly" mother or the "nagging" mother. It keeps women focused on the hero/savior man who will protect them from other "bad" men. It keeps women in a loop of denial and ignorance and danger. It keeps women separate. It keeps women stupid.

At the end of 8 MM, Wells flies back to NY to look for Machine. He finds him. His name is George Anthony Higgins. Wells watches his house. There is women's lingerie on the clothesline. Wells looks through it like a predator. There is an old woman talking to her son in the house. She leaves on a church bus. Wells goes into the house via the basement. There is distorted music playing. He walks through the house. He finds the record spinning noiselessly. He walks into another room, the music starts suddenly. Machine appears with his mask and he and Wells struggle into the graveyard, conveniently located next to the house. They tussle. Machine gives detailed reasons why he loves to murder. Machine takes off the mask. He looks like George from Seinfeld. George, aka Machine, says, "What did you expect, a monster?" George says he is what he is. He does the things he does because he likes them. He is Everyman.

Christine Grussendorf is a feminist speaker, writer, poet, artist, and activist. She has spoken nationally and internationally on issues of violence against women and her work has appeared in numerous publications. She is a graduate student at Minnesota State University.




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