Disgrace (2008)

Disgrace is Steve Jacobs‘ adaptation of J. M. Coetzee‘s book, starring John Malkovich, Jessica Haines, Eriq Ebouaney and Antoinette Engel.

Plot:
David Lurie (John Malkovich) is an ageing professor at the University of Capetown. When he coerces a student (Antoinette Engel) into sex and is caught, he rather leaves the university without even defending himself than apologise. He leaves Capetown and moves to his daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines), who leaves at a remote farm. For a while, things seem to look up and David seems to find his balance but then Lucy and David are assaulted and Lucy is raped, while David is unable to protect her.

I’m gonna put this plain and simple: This movie sucks. It sucks mostly for its politics, but surprisingly, John Malkovich sucked as well.

And just so you’re warned, this review will be one huge rant.

[SPOILERS]

The movie fails on so many levels, I don’t even know where to start. Probably easiest, though, to start with the most obvious thing: John Malkovich absolutely sucked. His South African accent was ridiculous and he played the role like he was an emotionless robot, who was a long way away from the events. I honestly have never seen him do such a bad job in a film. It was like he couldn’t act at all. And it was even more emphasised by Jessica Haines being absolutely brilliant in her role.

Unfortunately, the movie really didn’t deserve her. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a rape victim treated with less empathy than I have in this film. Lucy stays completely alien to the audience, there is no attempt made to understand why she would choose to keep her rapist’s child or why she would stay at the farm even though it was clearly not safe.

Instead, we live the story through David’s eyes. And it is not necessarily a catastrophe to tell a story about rape through the eyes of somebody not directly involved, but holy fucking shit, people. This movie totally blew it. David, a rapist himself, is completely judgemental of his daughter’s way to handle her own rape and you always felt like he was telling her how to heal better. Not good. [Also, it was pretty much ignored that he raped his student – you can go through this movie thinking that the “fuss” was kicked up because he slept with a student, not because he fucking raped a student.]

And apart from the rape issues – which are plenty – there was also the fact that everybody was white except David’s student, and her family and boyfriend, of course, Lucy’s rapists and Lucy’s neighbour who covers for one of her rapists because he’s family. So, black people are either victims or perpetrators in this film, they are never just people. And that is fucking bullshit right there.

Summarising: Don’t watch it. Just… don’t.

I had originally planned to read the book, because I really liked Coetzee’s autobiography Boyhood, but now I’m not so sure anymore that I want to. But maybe the book is very different? It only remains to hope.

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7 thoughts on “Disgrace (2008)

  1. The point of “Disgrace” (the book) is that blacks in South-Africa were victims and everyone is somehow used to that and Lucy feels the disgrace of the black people of the country and the guilt of being white and living in a whiteys-world in a black country (the cast is all white on purpose because that’s how a certain part of the South-African upper-class still lives). It is white Lucy who gets raped by a black man, thereby suffering disgrace from being a victim.
    The focus is on the black/white victim/victimizer thingy.
    You should give the book a try.

    … Though, honestly, I totally dislike Coetzee (still recognizing his greatness and al) because his characters are always rather gharstly, oftentimes academic old men seeing the world thrugh their eyes only.

    • It sounds like the book is better than the movie. Because the movie has practically nothing left of that message.

      And what you say about hating Coetzee (which might as well be said about Roth) is very true for this film: we only get the arrogant, white old men’s point of view.

  2. Yawp. “My life as a man” made me sincerely dislike Roth event though he wrote “the human stain” which was really great.
    This total not getting women and not seeing them as anything but objects was totally unbearable. Not to mention that Zuckerman (the protagonist) is an asshole.

    I had mentioned Roth in my un-edited comment (then deleted it because it was off-topic), funny thing you mentioned him, too.

      • True.
        You know, there are some authors where I can’t really draw the line between author and protagonist. –> dislike for the author because the protagonist is such a whacko.

          • Yawp. But the author could be so nice (or think himself so nice) that the character is likeable.
            Pe Peter Hoeg’s “Peter Hog” (Borderliners) is a twisted character with a lot of issues and a certain affinity to law-breaking. And still… he is nice.

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