Why So Serious? – XXY

xxy1“Delicious,” I thought to myself as I watched the mother cut up the carrots. She was doing so with a fair amount of anger, and sadness both at the same time. “Absolutely delicious.”

That may appear to be misleading, for I am not actually saying that the dish is delicious. Mind you, I don’t recall ever having tried Argentinian food in my life. Ever. Which is strange, because I do get adventurous every once in a while with my food. Perhaps it is delicious, perhaps it isn’t. Much like a film review (hah!), I suppose it depends largely on one’s tastebuds, and how destroyed it has been by years of curry abuse. But I digress.

I wasn’t talking about the food.

I was talking about the irony and the metaphor that I am very sure was incredibly deliberate in this scene. You see, ‘XXY’ is a title that doesn’t really explain much as to what the film is about, unless you’re well-versed in medical and/or genetic lingo. Apart from the obvious thing that jumped to mind (I admit I thought of porn: what did you think of?), I almost literally had no idea as to what the film is about as my teacher popped it into the DVD player. The DVD box synopsis is also in Spanish, from which I can discern almost immediately that the story is about a young girl and her parents having some problem. “That seems pretty normal,” I thought to myself.

Little Red had a lonely childhood.

Little Red had a lonely childhood.

I couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘XXY’ tells the story of a fifteen year-old girl named Alex (Ines Efron) who, as it turns out, is actually a boy. Or not. Alex is an intersex person, someone born with both male and female genitals. Since young, he (she?) has been using medicines to suppress her masculine features, but she stops taking them for a while.

It is a cause for concern for her parents, Nestor Kraken (Ricardo Darin) and Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli). Nestor is a marine biologist, and they invite some friends from Argentina to stay with them for the summer. They bring along their son, Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky), who Alex takes an interest in. They embark on an awkward journey of sexual discovery, causing more concern for Nestor. When people of the town slowly but surely got wind of Alex’s issue, it causes even more problems for them.

So now you can see why I thought the irony and the metaphor was absolutely delicious. The mother had been discussing with her friend as to what to do with Alex. Ultimately, a choice must be made, I suppose. That is the premise of the film, and as she cut the carrots, she accidentally cut into her finger, causing a wound. It bleeds, it hurts, it suggests what might happen, the kind of hurt that would be caused, by cutting off Alex’s male genatalia (to put it in a a low-brow, crude manner. Forgive me).

02xxy.xlarge1

With less beds, Raya wasn't as comfortable anymore.

This scene actually followed on immediately from a scene where Alex’s father is in deep conversation with a gas station attendant. He had been ‘checking him out’ from afar from the earlier scenes, but now we know why. The attendant himself had also gone through the same thing, and it was something that the father wanted to know. Of course, you couldn’t get what it is that you want if you weren’t sure what it is that you know to begin with. Throughout the conversation, he fumbled a few times, dropping the ball when he couldn’t really decide whether to call his daughter a girl or a boy.

Never forget, though, where the main perspective is at. We are constantly reminded of the difficulty of Alex’s condition, and their consequences. It is hammered home what Alex’s condition is like, and of the difficulties that she goes through. Some of the more harrowing scenes include the local boys harassing her, wanting to find out what the fuss is all about. It is almost like watching a rape scene. No, quite frankly, it is like watching a rape scene. Know how that feels like? That’s the level of discomfort that the film reaches for, and achieves half of the time.

I do, however, have two big issues with the film. Issues, rather than problems. I struggle to understand why it has taken them all this while to confront the issue. Yes, Alex is now at an age where she is discovering herself, and decisions must ultimately be made. And yes, it is not exactly an easy issue to tackle. Nevertheless, they’ve had pretty much 15 years of practice, didn’t they? It struck me as strange that after 15 years, Alex’s parents are still finding it difficult to look at the issue. One case in point is one of the examples I mentioned above, when Nestor couldn’t even make up his mind as to whether he should say he or she when discussing Alex. Once again, not an easy issue, but one that I would have expected the parents to have more confidence in when discussing. It flies in the face of the logic and the tension that is built up.

Despite driving all night, he couldn't find a shop that sells Mach 3 blades.

Despite driving all night, he couldn't find a shop that sells Mach 3 blades.

Which leads nicely to the next issue: the tension. Dammit, it permeates almost every cut of every scene, and it renders the film almost totally, utterly humourless. Of course, one could argue that there’s nothing too wrong with that. But quite frankly, I want change. I want difference. I am the kind of guy who, if I sit through three high-quality, artistic movies back to back, I might well enjoy certain aspects of the films, like the acting, the scriptwriting…but I’d be bored out of my bloody mind. I can’t stress enough how much I tried not to fall asleep throughout this film. Since it basically banged on the same issue over and over again, endlessly and without respite, I can almost guess the subsequent scenes. I can imagine the reactions before they occur. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but it is to say that, quite frankly, it can be utterly boring.

So…should you watch this film? I suppose that depends on how much of a stake you would have in such films. It may or may not appeal to your political, social, religious or sexual leanings, but I do believe that you really need to be in the mood for it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Delicious though the irony was.

Fikri wished his teacher would show porn instead in class.

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4 thoughts on “Why So Serious? – XXY

  1. “I do, however, have two big issues with the film. Issues, rather than problems. I struggle to understand why it has taken them all this while to confront the issue. Yes, Alex is now at an age where she is discovering herself, and decisions must ultimately be made. And yes, it is not exactly an easy issue to tackle. Nevertheless, they’ve had pretty much 15 years of practice, didn’t they? It struck me as strange that after 15 years, Alex’s parents are still finding it difficult to look at the issue. One case in point is one of the examples I mentioned above, when Nestor couldn’t even make up his mind as to whether he should say he or she when discussing Alex. Once again, not an easy issue, but one that I would have expected the parents to have more confidence in when discussing. It flies in the face of the logic and the tension that is built up.”

    If the film is about an intersexed individual exploring their sexual identity, I think it was pretty wise that the parents waited *that long*. Because really, far too many people who were born intersexed have damaged lives because right after their birth their parents or doctors have decided for them what gender to be. At 15-16 seems an appropriate enough age to know whether one likes boys or girls and expressing clear enough idea what they would like to be, i.e. a man or a woman.

    Fifteen years of practice does not legitimise a parent’s decision over a future adult. It’s like saying your parents have had 25 years of raising you and therefore understands you better than you do yourself.

  2. Hi,

    I did not say or mean to imply that the parents should have decided for Alex, or anything of that sort. Of course, you are probably right in saying that that sort of decision can and will damage lives.

    What I did say is that I thought they would have been more comfortable in looking at the issue. I thought that they would have been more confident in how they approach and handle the situation. The decision, of course, is Alex’s. But the parent’s approach seems a little off, for me. I thought that after having lived with Alex day and night for 15 years, I figured that they would at least have a degree of comfort in describing her as a girl, boy, both, or neither (or something else I haven’t listed here). The hesitance in their approach suggests to me, at least, that the parents didn’t not confront it as much as they probably should have. It makes for an interesting movie, but it also made me wonder how they dealt with Alex in the past 15 years of her life. Did they deal with it head on? Or did they sweep it under a carpet?

    So no, I am not suggesting that parents know what’s best of their children. In the context of this film, however, I do think that the character of Nestor and Suli would have benefited from being more comfortable and more confident in their approaches.

    Fikri

  3. Good insight on the scene. I had the the same feelings, and it was a very important juncture of the movie where it discloses what both parents have been feeling about their child.

    And throughout the film I got the sense that Alex was portrayed as a girl. I believe that it is the circumstance of the visiting surgeon at the very time when Alex is starting to come onto her own that creates a sense of confusion as to whether Alex is a boy or girl. As I remember, the only time where the father falters on this is when he’s explaining to the gas station attendant why he is checking him out from afar – that his child is a boy and a girl. To complicate the matter, the father is not exactly the extroverted type where something like this might be more openly discussed.

    I do agree that the movie was little drawn out, however, I did not see this as a negative for the film. Instead, it helped keep me in the moment and added a level of mystique. I can imagine that if I was in that situation then I might be a little tense as well. So to show that in the movie made sense… for that movie anyway.

    In a deeper sense though, I felt the movie was also about how the two families dealt with their children’s differences, and similarities…. they are both coming of age and exploring their sexual orientation. Hers just happens to have a physical aspect to it. The one family, who had a very real issue of physical uniqueness that definitely affects how the child (Alex) sees herself, was very concerned about the welfare of their child and gave her freedom to explore and experience life in her own way, even though she seemed defiant in ways (but then what 15 year isn’t). On the other hand, the visiting family were not open about their son’s issue of sexual orientation, which becomes apparent in the beach scene with his dad. Very deep subject matter that was handled very well in a manner that is rich with metaphor and meaning.

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