A Feminist Terror Film
“The Misandrists” is not a regular movie by any means and it is hard to believe that it was ever produced (but I do not mean that to be negative, quite the contrary, in fact). Every scene is an unexpected combination of cold, stilted Germanic acting and surprising dialogue filled with dark humor and self-deprecation that causes viewers to laugh and to choke in the same breath.
The story is about a feminist terrorist faction (“asymmetrical warfare”, as they call it) under the guise of a school for troubled and abused young women. The aim of Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse) is to forcefully initiate a new female world order, and her chosen tool of propaganda is homemade lesbian porn. Director Bruce LaBruce has filmed some beautiful naked women having sex, but he cleverly shows the movement’s female leaders manipulating and exploiting these camera-shy and reluctant young girls just as a man would.
With references to Isis (the Egyptian goddess of magic and fertility, of course), gender fluidity and communism, this is a very political film. It is also teeming with symbolism and psychedelic erotica.
It is an all-out horror with an explicit scene where Big Mother performs a sex change operation without anesthetic on an unlucky male prisoner (Til Schindler). This man was taken in secretly by the rebellious “separatist amongst separatists”, Isolde, (Kita Updike) who moves between feminine fragility and cold dominance in line with her unusual and very poignant characteristic.
This film seems to address the aggressiveness of modern feminism while portraying true equality in the fact that women can be just as cruel, lustful and power-hungry as men. It also questions whether equality is even possible in a corrupt, masculine world, which may be justifying such a female revolution. It could very well be that man-hating female revolutionaries do not want equality, and instead have established an alternative society of their own. I want to say that this is so Bruce LaBruce and most of you know that I am a tremendous fan of hiss movies.
We do not often see rabid females expressing their repulsion of men. The women here despise man’s odor, their presence, their proximity and their existence. They refuse to live in a phallocentric society. They do not strive for equality, as they don’t want to mirror themselves against what they see as a corrupt establishment.
LaBruce returns to the politics of sex, which he explored in minute detail in “Raspberry Reich” (2004), and here he adds a commentary on extreme feminism. The female characters seek “to reconcile the revolutionary need with sexual politics” by rejecting men and setting up their Female Liberation Army (FLA) in an unidentified remote location.
Seven young women live under the purview of Big Mother and her loyal sidekicks Sister Barbara, Sister Kembra, Sister Grete and Sister Dagmar. Until one day Isolde decides to harbor a wounded male fugitive in the basement, despite knowing that this is a gross violation of the rules. She is exposed but that’s not the only surprise she has in store. Plenty of commotion and blood will follow.
LaBruce mixes elements of pornography with Marxist rhetoric as well as throwing in a few experimental devices. Some of the most recognizable devices of extreme feminism are also present including the desire for parthenogenesis (reproduction from a non-fertilized egg, where males are redundant) and the replacement of HIStory with HERstory (despite the etymology of the word having no connection with males whatsoever).
LaBruce breaks the fourth wall and invites the audience into the movie towards the end of the film. “The Misandrists” is tribute to feminism from a male perspective. LaBruce stated in an interview about the film that working with so many women was a novelty, and that he “let the girls guide themselves, and do things the way they would do it” while making the film. He is very respectful of the females, yet his gaze is still pervasive, and this ultimately remains a very masculine Bruce LaBruce movie.
Basically this is a low-budget, high-fantasy tale of radical lesbian separatists living a cult-like existence. It’s a wild romp with all the campy noir you might expect in a film by LaBruce. For those of you who have not seen his work, let me just say that is a queer filmmaker and founder of queercore, actor, critic, and self-described reluctant pornographer. He is one of he directors who established the New Queer Cinema, but LaBruce embraced a strictly anti-establishment queer aesthetic aligned with the underground punk scene. This includes sexually explicit images, stilted B-movie acting, and cult film tropes like zombies and vampires, along with more traditional narrative filmmaking techniques. Because LaBruce gives a nuanced critique of gender essentialism even as he celebrates this male-free utopia, he raises “The Misandrists” beyond a merely satisfying rendering of a salacious premise. Like so many of LaBruce’s films , it is so much more than it appears to be.
Here LaBruce treats metaphors as paints on a palette, and the film is filled with classic erotic imagery: “schoolgirls, covens, convents, and sex cults all mingle in a dizzying array of Sapphic delights.” This could have been a mess of a film but LaBruce is too good a director to let that happen. He sees B-movie acting is crucial and he chose exquisite women to be in his cast. LaBruce takes his feminist utopia and turns it into a critique of essentialist views even as it pays tribute to such feminist ideals. Yes, this is a twisted fantasy but made by a master who knows how to do so.