It’s extra icky now.
In 2008 I wrote, directed and produced a short film based on a short story of mine. The story was inspired by a dinner I had with a relative and, after it was over, I went home entirely unsure that I had not been through a portal into a parallel universe. It was an evening that upended everything I thought I knew about this man, whom I had always seen as an avuncular, innocuous, if overly chatty guy.
Recently, while rummaging around in my digital content, I came across my short. I had not seen it in quite a while. Once you’re done with birthing such a project, after the shoot, the post-production, the festivals and the screenings, you think you know it all too well, and you can’t bear to see it one more time. It’s out in the world, and has a life of its own. I imagine it’s like when parents send their kids to college. They have become their own person, and they’re gone.
What compelled me to write a fictionalized version of my experience and then adapt the story to film was exploring what happens when subtext overtakes and upends a conversation. You think that you are talking about a certain topic, and it dawns on you that you’re not only talking about something completely different, but utterly unrelated. It’s not overt, and the real gist emerges in bits and pieces, popping up into the main conversation like buoys bobbing in the sea.
In short, you’re talking about your family, and he is fixated on sex. It’s so disorienting that you don’t know if you’re hearing things and hallucinating, because:
1) You never expected him to bring it up, since there has been absolutely no invitation, whether conscious or subconscious on your part for him to do so.
2) He is related to you, and he’s in his eighties.
3) He’s not really doing or saying anything that can be cited as concrete evidence of anything untoward. It’s an uncomfortable blob, like swimming in slime.
Back then, I could not put my finger on it. I was grossed out, but what had he really said or intimated? He never directly propositioned me. He didn’t do anything. All it was, was this heavy handed, ridiculous nuance. The only word I could think of was “ inappropriate”.
Back then, it did not occur to me that this film was an exploration of unwanted sexual advances. It was not a feminist call to arms. I was more into exploring subtext, the shapeshifting of language, and the feeling of finding yourself in a bizarre alternate reality. I did not feel like a victim or an object, nor did I want to portray myself as such. But at every festival, women came up to me at the end of the screening and told me they had male relatives just like that. There’s one in every family, a woman said to me.
Today, as we debate Joe Biden’s overly exuberant, well-intentioned warmth, which seems to be directed exclusively at females, and after learning of incident after incident of grotesque male propositioning, from the pathetic, to the abusive, to the criminal, we can recognize these patterns. They’re as clear as day. Now they have names. They can be called out.
Here’s the short: