Soderbergh’s Unsane

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Part I: An office job

It just so happened that I was reading about beauty pageants on the way to the movie theater, so I was already primed to think about what I might call “the expectation of charm.” It’s the sort of expectation that compels people to tell young women to smile. I always found this request oppressive and I was thrilled to see it play out in the workplace scene that opens the movie. Sawyer is competent in her work and no-nonsense in her phone call with a client, but gets chided by her co-worker Jill for not being sweet. “I just hope that he likes vinegar more than he likes honey,” says Jill. “She,” retorts Sawyer. “Oh,” says Jill.

The exchange with Jill is followed by Sawyer being called into her boss’s office (via a ting in her computer). The office-with-a-door is in sharp contrast to the open office plan. If we were to mentally overlay a work environment with the domestic realm these office-rooms have the intimacy of bed-rooms. This is specially so if we think about the current #metoo exposure of how the (mostly male) office dwellers call in their (mostly female) subordinates for sex. Sawyer’s boss sits her down and proceeds to compliment her work and to proposition her; she is singled out for this one-on-one exchange away from the rest of the underlings. She gets out of that situation best she can, and we are left with a view of boss-as-man-in-suit, bringing his hands to his hips and parting his jacket open, as if offering a dressed full frontal while muttering “good, good-good-good-good-good-good.” It’s an image of man in control ogling woman in a subordinate position, although the quintessential image of this belongs to Godard in his Contempt, when the American movie producer character is shown oozing lecherousness as he watches women swimming naked (for more on this see my upcoming entry “Godard’s Brechtian Sex”).

This scene of Sawyer’s job is brilliantly written and made, the cubicle life perfectly captured in the style of Office Space, both The Office series, and Soderbergh’s own Schizopolis. Soderbergh knew, perhaps, that we would all be coming to the the film wondering what great new film experience he would manage with the iPhone and this first scene delivers in spades. For example, there’s the efficiency of the shot from the bosses desk as Sawyer walks in, a landscape of framed photos at the bottom of the screen, a “picture perfect” family life as backdrop to his overtures and promises of nice hotel rooms (which is itself a domestic space, albeit temporary).

There’s also the moment, when Sawyer walks from her desk to see her boss, when we imagine the iPhone is hanging from something in the ceiling, from one of the luminaires perhaps, and we are looking down on Sawyer making her way through the maze of office cubicles. The shot might make us think of Jack looking down on the representational model of the hedge labyrinth at the “Overlook” hotel in you-know-what old Kubrick flick. Is her boss the Minotaur here or is it her stalker that may or may not be circulating through the office maze? And later, when she’s running through the labyrinth of hallways in the mental hospital, do we hope that she finds her way out the way Shelley Duvall did because we want, nay, need a happy ending right now?

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