American Mary (2012)

American Mary
Director: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Writer: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Cast: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas, John Emmet Tracy, Twan Holliday, Nelson Wong, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Russ Foxx
Seen on: 4.7.2021

Content Note: rape, whoremisia

Plot:
Mary (Katharine Isabelle) is a promising medical student but she struggles to make her student loan payments. Hoping for some quick cash, she decides to apply for a job as a stripper in Billy’s (Antonio Cupo) club. Instead he asks her for an impromptu backroom surgery. At least the compensation is enough to keep Mary over water for a while. When Mary is contacted by Beatriss (Tristan Risk), one of Billy’s employees, for another kind of surgery, she isn’t willing to participate at first, but she can hardly afford to say no to the money Beatriss offers. Soon Mary is deeply involved in the body mod scene.

American Mary has been on my watchlist since about forever, and I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did, even though I didn’t like everything about it.

The film poster showing Mary (Katharine Isabelle) surgery tools in hand, wearing a mask and an apron over a business outfit.

[SPOILERS]

American Mary approaches the body mod community with a lot of respect which is nice. Despite their attempts to explain what moves people to work on their bodies in ways that seem outlandish to most people, there is still a bit of a freak show vibe to it, though. They do have some people who are actually body modders (Russ Foxx, for example) but the bigger roles all went to people who needed make-up and special effects for their roles. This seems a bit like a missed opportunity.

The film also touches on feminist issues that are handled equally ambivalent for me. It is clear that bodily autonomy – a core feminist concern – lies also at the heart of the body mod community, making for interesting parallels (especially in the reaction of Ruby’s husband who feels so very entitled to her body). Also, the way that things change for Mary once her teachers (all men) think she is a sex worker, is heart-freezingly accurate. No amount of competence can make her part of the men’s club.

Mary (Katharine Isabelle) meeting with prospective clients. We can only see their backs that have rope threaded directly through the skin as if it was a corset.

These things are offset, though, when Mary’s rape is explained with “well, they thought you’re a sex worker”. I would have desperately needed a moment here, where somebody just quickly acknowledges that it would have still been fucked up and rape if she had been a sex worker for real. (There is generally a slight contempt for sex work notable throughout the film.) In addition to that, there are several scenes where Billy fantasizes about Mary, and the film gets super male-gazey which I found very irritating.

And finally, there is the ending itself where we a, get the implication that all would be well if Mary rode off into the sunset with Billy (despite him being a MAJOR creep about her). And b, it ends badly for Mary when I actually wanted her to ride off into the sunset (on her own). So that didn’t sit well with me, either.

That being said, American Mary is a stylish and intriguing film that had my interest and made me want to think about it. Katharine Isabelle is great, and there is definitely something about American Mary (pun slightly intended) that hooks you.

Mary (Katharine Isabelle) finishing an operation.

Summarizing: worth a watch.

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