Hard Candy is a challenging film to write about for a couple of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious one is that it’s about torture and really intense, terrible things, and so not only did I have to focus on such topics while watching the movie, but now I have to bring those topics back to the forefront of my mind in order to articulate my thoughts and feelings about them in writing.
The second reason is simply that this is a thriller with various twists and revelations along the way that cast a changing light on certain aspects of the proceedings, and it’s very hard to comment on all the things I believe are worth commenting on in this film without including even more spoilers than I usually do.
This is a female revenge movie, loosely in the tradition of Farrah Fawcett’s Extremities I suppose. It also resembles Death and the Maiden in certain respects.
A 32 year old man and a 14 year old girl strike up an acquaintanceship online that over the course of three weeks becomes increasingly flirtatious until they decide to meet at a coffeehouse. They are a bit more careful and on their best behavior face to face, especially the male, who even mentions that if anything were to happen between them, they’d have to wait four years.
Mostly at the girl’s initiative—though it’s possible the guy has manipulated the situation to make her think it’s at her initiative—they end up back at his house.
By the way, I guess people do this, but I would be scared to death to meet an underage stranger from the Internet like that. Whether I was a pedophile, or had zero sexual interest in minors and had purely some friendship or mentoring role in mind, I’d think there are very, very, very few things you can do in life as an adult—especially a male adult—that are more risky than meeting up with an underage girl from the Internet. (First of all, I’d think the chances that it’s really a 14 year old girl I’d been interacting with online, rather than a 40 year old cop looking to entrap me, were pretty close to nil.)
At this point of the movie, I’m sure 99% of the audience is thinking, “My God, how can even a 14 year old be stupid enough to put herself in jeopardy like this?” but even at this stage I’m out of step by seeing things more from the perspective of the guy and wondering how he can be so stupid.
At his house, he doesn’t overtly try anything—he’s still a lot more respectful and arms-length about things than when they were flirting online—though he does give her liquor.
He is a photographer. Part of his work is shooting models, and most of the models are teenage girls. His home is also his studio, and he has many photos of the girls on his walls. None are pornographic, though plenty are in bathing suits and such, as you would expect of models.
Before we get to see just what he has in mind with this girl, if anything, she drugs him, and when he comes to he is tied up.
She apparently is quite confident what he intended to do, and she has acted preemptively to forestall it.
She is a vigilante, who has appointed herself to punish those who would do such things as finagle meetings with 14 year old girls from the Internet. Pretty much the remainder of the movie consists of her physically and psychologically torturing him.
I mentioned that this is a tough movie for me to write about. Another reason I’m feeling resistance to expressing myself is that to the extent I take sides at all, I side with the guy in this film. But I’m conscious that the current state of opinion in the country makes it absolutely taboo to take any position other than whatever presents itself as the most “anti-pedophile” position. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about someone who has mistreated minors, someone who might have done so, someone who is suspected of having done so, or someone who is accused of having done so. There is no treatment for such folks that will be deemed too harsh by public opinion. I feel like even to contemplate going against the emotion and zealotry that exists on this issue will bring mobs with torches and pitchforks to my door.
But pure and simple, the girl in this movie is a monster. Maybe the guy is too, but she definitely is.
The scariest part of her is not her sadistic behavior, but the fact that she’s convinced of the righteousness of it, and the fact that that enables her to enjoy it.
I’ve made this point many times in my life in one way or another, but one of the things that makes me most firm in my nonviolent moral principles is that whatever people say, and however cases are argued in the abstract in philosophy classes and such, violence in real life is rarely treated as something to be used as a last resort, as a necessary evil to counteract greater evil.
We flatter ourselves that that’s why we use violence, but in fact we use it because it’s fucking fun and exhilarating. It’s a removal of restraints, it’s freedom, it’s power, and people relish it.
Not only does she get to lie, torture, kill, and anything else, but she gets to feel self-righteous about it. Her premeditated cruelty is something in which she visibly takes delight.
Again, he may be a monster also, but just not have an opportunity to manifest it here. Part of the mystery of the movie is indeed determining just what he’s been guilty of.
Does he just like taking pictures of suggestively clad underage girls, and enjoy their company socially? (Granted, that by itself would be sufficient for 99% of the population to want him tortured.) Does his interest in photos and videos of minors extend to material that clearly crosses the line into the pornographic? Has he had consensual sex with underage girls? (I know, I know, legally there’s no such thing. But that just means consent doesn’t have the legal consequences it normally would, not that it doesn’t exist.) Has he had non-consensual sex with underage girls? Has he committed murder? (A girl he admits having met is missing and presumed murdered.)
The movie obviously wants you to think those things matter in assessing the rightness or wrongness of what this girl is doing to him, and it’s easy to get caught up in that, but I frankly don’t want to get caught up in it. I don’t want an excuse to hate to that degree, an excuse to do what she’s doing. I don’t want to unleash that part of me, and it terrifies me when I see how eager most people are to indulge that part of themselves.
Because this whole thing is a setup, by the way, and she’s created a fictitious persona in order to put herself in position to do what she’s doing to this guy, it’s not certain—in fact I’d say it’s highly unlikely—that she’s 14. Once she has him tied up and can step out of character and speak in her own voice, she sounds nothing like a 14 year old, but more like a feminist college student. It may be that she is an 18 or 20 or at least 16 year old who can pass for 14.
Ellen Page plays the vigilante in the first major role of her career, and whatever you think of the character, she’s certainly a mesmerizing presence. Though I have to think that for males especially, when someone spends a good portion of a movie threatening or performing castration on a guy, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’re going to get your undivided attention.
There’s actually far more I’d vaguely intended to say about this movie and the issues it raises when I set out to write this piece. Like I say, though, it takes a certain toll emotionally for me to spend a lot of time focused on these matters. I’m not sure I even could articulate my thoughts on all these matters, as they involve complex and emotional hot button issues of civil liberties, violence, sex, childhood, feminism, the criminal justice system, etc., etc. As I contemplate making further points, I sense I would need to go deeper and deeper, and wider and wider into related areas, to have any chance of formulating a position I could feel comfortable standing on. And I just don’t have the ambition—or the willingness to concentrate for the necessary extended period on such negativity—to write a sixty page essay or whatever it would take.
So I feel I need to more or less arbitrarily stop here.
Hard Candy certainly drew me in and kept my interest. It made me angry at times. It made me question myself and my own reactions. It made me contemplate how most people respond to these issues, and what I think of that.
To some extent it may be attention-grabbing in the way that seeing a horrible car accident with mangled bodies makes you inclined to slow down and look, which is obviously not a very positive or healthy kind of attention-grabbing. For that reason I hesitate to recommend this movie too strongly.
But on the whole it’s probably also attention-grabbing—and thought-provoking—enough in the right way to be worthy of a recommendation.