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April 11, 2009

Director Jody Hill on the "Observe and Report" rape scene

Here's what Jody Hill, the writer-director of the new comedy Observe and Report, told the Onion A.V. Club about the film's notorious rape scene:

AVC: Did you get a lot of studio notes on Observe And Report?

JH: Sure. It’s like anything. There’s discussion involved. That was a big difference between The Foot Fist Way, where if Danny and me and our friends were laughing, it stayed in the movie. With the studio, you have to explain it to them. There was a lot of times—like the sex scene. [Rogen has sex with an apparently passed-out Anna Faris, who belligerently moans for him to continue at the very end.] I put it in there, and they were like, “Well, this is too far.” And I said, “You know what? It’ll just be one shot. Let’s just shoot it and see what happens. Then if you don’t like it, we won’t put it in the movie.” Then we put it in the movie, and they were like, “That goes too far.” And I was like, “Well, let’s just put it in front of the audience and see if they like it.” You know what I mean? You just gotta talk to people. I feel like you can argue passionately—as long as you don’t insult anybody, it’s okay. I think that goes a long way.

AVC: In the Times piece, they describe the scene you’re talking about as Seth Rogen’s character forcing himself on Anna Faris. Is that how you perceived that scene?

JH: [Pause.] I dunno. I’ve always kind of liked scenes that you talk about how fucked-up they are. I would have been happy without any dialogue in that scene. I wanted to show them just having sex and her passed out, and I thought that would have been funnier. But I think I have a darker sense of humor than most people. So at the end, [Faris’ character] is okay with it. [Laughs.] And that was like, “I’ll shoot it both ways.” So I actually shot it both ways. I just kept the camera rolling. There’s like a line that’s “We’re okay laughing, and you’re pushing the envelope.” But you’re not really pushing the envelope until you cross that line where a lot of people don’t go along with you. I tried to do it in a few scenes in this movie, where a lot of people aren’t going to go along with the film or with what we’re trying to do. Hopefully that means we’re actually pushing the envelope. [Laughs.] You know what I mean by that? I think if you’re really pushing the envelope, you have to not include everybody, if that makes sense. Or else it’s not really pushing the envelope.

The interviewer invites Hill to say whether he thinks he shot a rape scene, but Hill doesn't give a straight answer.

His reply seems to confirm my theory that Faris' "motherfucker" line is a cop out--a ploy contrived to keep the scene "funny" instead of taking it to an even darker place. 

It's also pretty clear that Hill thinks the rape scene is funny, not merely shocking.

Rape in movies isn't inherently offensive. Even rape jokes might have a place in a dark comedy. What's really offensive about the rape scene in Observe and Report is that someone thought that having Faris wake up in the middle and act "okay with it" made the sequence funnier or more user-friendly.


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Yes, but Hill makes it crystal clear he's "pushing the envelope" here, that's what he's after, not (just) a cheap laugh. He is testing taboos and pc prescriptions, which is one thing art is good for. Exploring the murky waters between what right thinking people believe to be ideal, and how real people actually think and feel. Talking of which, have you actually seen the movie yet?

i could be wrong, tom, but lindsay's point seems to be that hill *isn't* really pushing any envelope by adding the "don't stop, motherfucker" line. that, ultimately, he's chickening out by making it "okay." contrast that w/ sarah silverman's joke about being raped by her doctor and it being a "bittersweet experience for a jewish girl."

This isn't my kind of movie, but now this isn't my kind of movie squared. "Don't stop, motherfucker." isn't a cheap laugh, it's a sick laugh. Does Jody Hill even realize what a woman-hating jerk he is? I'd wonder if I could be bothered to care enough. I do know he's on the no-go director list now.

Oh, and about pushing the envelope: the rapes in "Deliverance" and "Pulp Fiction" pushed the envelopes because they made men look at rape from the other side. The victim side. That those raped men got instant revenge is, well, another story.

We're talking here about the principles of Art, not commercial suicide. If you're going to push the envelope, you may as well go ahead and push it in the same direction the majority of your audience already wants to go. Speaking for myself, I have to say I've always found that mix of self-congratulation and easy complacency one of the most sublime experiences the cinema has to offer.

And Ginger, I'm not sure I care for that cynicism. I'm sure any of the fellows here will maintain the same philosophical outlook should a moment of vulnerability put them unexpectedly into the role of Ned Beatty.

Pushing the envelope just to push the envelope is the singular hallmark of crap art. Any damn fool can push the envelope. Doing so in a way that informs or enlightens is what makes for genuinely good art.

Pushing the envelope is trivially easy. Even pushing the envelope in ways that large numbers of people will find entertaining is pretty straightforward. There is nothing in the least bit special about pushing the envelope. Only doing so in a context where pushing the envelope serves some other purpose within the larger work is there any point to it at all.

"His reply seems to confirm my theory that Faris' "motherfucker" line is a cop out"
So the real problem is cowardice and hypocrisy. And as the review I quoted made clear, that applies apparently not just to the scene but the movie as a whole. But then taking the movie to an even darker place would have been in a sense even more disturbing.
"Because it is fictional therefore it makes it OK."
It's never either/or. In a better world such movies- wheither cheap and cynical or subtle and disturbing- would never be made.

How about a comment on determinism and Tarantino. His moral philosophy is straight out of the 1300's: The Bride is a natural born killer, as is her daughter. And they're the heroes.
Is such an art defensible on moral grounds in the 21st century?

It appears he wanted to make a scene that was "fucked up" and, apparently, succeeded. I guess I'm a little perturbed with the outrage here -- I'm more upset with what Rogan said than this.

Honestly, I keep thinking about a post you wrote a few years ago defending Polanski's art despite his status as an actual rapist and comparing them to this and am left wondering about the disconnect between here and there.

As if it matters that she came to and 'acted okay with it' after he forced himself on her. Passed out drunk people are in no position to give sexual consent. The fact that Hill and his fellow writers even had a discussion about how adding the bit of dialogue (from a drunk character apparently awakening from being passed out) somehow transformed it from a disturbing rape scene to a funny one demonstrates their ignorance. And am I correct in surmising that Seth Rogen's character plies her with the alcohol in the first place?

"Oh, and about pushing the envelope: the rapes in "Deliverance" and "Pulp Fiction" pushed the envelopes because they made men look at rape from the other side. The victim side."

Wha? But, rape of men is the rape we can all still laugh about. Sure, there were widespread protests and outrage about that implied man-on-man rape in "There's Something About Mary", and about that harrowing scene in "Dumb and Dumber". And, nobody would dare say "Yoo got a purty mouth" as a sly reference, much less sell a T-shirt with that implicit horrible threat. But still, the only thing funnier than a kick in the nuts is man-on-man rape. (Especially the anal variety, but YMMV.) Rape of a man by a woman is also funny, like in "The Wedding Crashers" (despite the outrage about it here, that went on for *weeks*), and there it turned out OK anyway, because they got married.

RE "And am I correct in surmising that Seth Rogen's character plies her with the alcohol in the first place?

Posted by: Donna"

I haven't seen the movie, but in the trailer, Brandi seems to eager to drink.

a scene where she wakes up and jams a nailfile into the side of his neck would have made me laugh.

i'd pay to see that shit.

I saw the movie this afternoon. Ronnie (Seth Rogen) takes Brandi out to dinner. As they're sitting at the table, he takes out a pill bottle and tries to discreetly swallow a tablet. She immediately asks what the meds are and whether she can have one. "Don't be stingy!" Her eyes light up when she learns that Ronnie's got a bottle of clonazepam (a tranquilizer similar to valium). Visibly impressed, she tells him she didn't know he liked to party like that. In one of the funnier lines of the movie, Ronnie says, "Yeah, I party like that every four to six hours." He doesn't understand why she's so excited about these pills because they're just medicine to him. So, he gives her the entire bottle. She immediately downs a handful of them, followed by six shots of tequila and at one giant frozen fruit cocktail.

Some commenters said that Brandi was obviously getting wasted in order to psych herself up to have sex with Ronnie, but there's no evidence of that from the movie. As far as the viewer can see. she's getting wasted because a) she loves to drink and do drugs and b) she hates being around Ronnie. Earlier, we saw how he pressured her to go on the date, basically refusing to let her get off his security golf cart until she agreed to go.

After dinner Ronnie practically carries Brandi into his house. She throws up all over herself and two seconds later she can't figure out why her mouth tastes so bad. Ronnie kisses her and more or less carries her inside. The door slams behind them. Cut to the rape scene with Ronnie grinding away on top of an unconscious Brandi. Her eyes are closed and there's fresh vomit in the pillow. Ronnie stops momentarily, as if conscience-stricken, but Brandi stirs and mutters, "Who told you to stop, motherfucker?" The audience in my theater thought that line was hee-larious.

Lindsay Beyerstein -

Was Brandi unconscious when he carries her inside?

And if he'd raped her and she hadn't woken up some people would still laugh.
Comedy is when bad things happen to other people but we're brought close enough that we begin to empathize even as we're grateful it's not us. Laughter is the simultaneous expression of fear and relief.

There's a scene in Goodfellas when the DeNiro Pesci and Liotta are driving and keep hearing thumps from the back of the car. They know the reason, the audience doesn't. They stop and walk around to the back and draw their guns. One of them opens the trunk finds their victim still alive and stabs him to death. The opening of the trunk and the murder move so quickly that the audience' recognition comes as a shock. It's played as black comedy and when I saw it the audience cracked up. Murder was funny. I still laugh at that scene. The timing is perfect.

In the end, your sense of moral indignation is as shallow as Rogen's contempt. And that contempt is the subject of Dargis' review, not the rape. But for you as for Rogen the point is that whatever happens, your hands are clean. And I called bullshit.

But if you want to have a laugh google "vanity fair seth rogen". The women posed naked but the flabby slackers didn't have the guts.

Lauren, Hill is basically saying that he would have liked to have shot the scene with just Ronnie screwing Brandi and no dialog. That would have been better, IMO, because it would have just been horrifying.

The pseudo-consent is offensive. If you're going to brag about fucked up the rape scene is after the fact, then make an unequivocally fucked up rape scene.

Having now seen the movie, I can see how the rape scene might have been darkly funny without the dialog.

The problem with the movie, as a work of art, is that it won't commit to unsettling and alienating the viewer. Hill gives the viewer an out. He carefully preserves the logical possibility that this is just a yucky drunk sex mishap scene, as opposed to a rape scene.

I think my view of Polanski and Hill are perfectly consistent. Polanski was, generally speaking, a great artist and a terrible person and the political of his movies are a mixed bag. Jody Hill is probably a nice enough person, Observe and Report is a lousy movie, and the political content is offensive because it substitutes a crowd-pleasing rape joke for real pathos.

what if the scene hadn't ended after the "why are you stopping, motherfucker?" line, but had gone on and shown Faris verbally humiliating Rogen, e.g., demanding that he not come too soon, etc.?

What difference would that make? We've established that her short-term memory is fried to the point where she doesn't know what happened two seconds ago. Waking up in the middle, she wouldn't remember whether she consented or not. Nothing she says in that state carries any weight.

i was offering a thought experiment regarding the filmmaker’s judgment.

the “motherfucker” line gets a laugh because - “oh, she’s awake afer all!” and the subsequent “oh, it’s ok to joke about rape after all!” that occurs in the minds of the bro-demo.

by continuing the scene, it would perhaps have further subverted the audience’s expectations - this time about gender itself by portraying Rogen as a victim. at that point it could be realistically assumed that Faris’ character consented to what had happened to that point.

as it stands, that is not the case.

Honestly, I keep thinking about a post you wrote a few years ago defending Polanski's art despite his status as an actual rapist and comparing them to this and am left wondering about the disconnect between here and there.

Posted by: Lauren | April 12, 2009 at 01:06 PM

That's an interesting point. As far as we know, Hill isn't an actual rapist, he just thinks rape is funny and throws it into a film for laughs.

Polanski never portrayed rape as funny, as far as I know. He WAS a rapist, but never claimed rape was humorous.

Who is the bigger douchebag, Polanski or Hill?

Does Hill get more douchebag points because his work isn't considered high art?

Lauren, Hill is basically saying that he would have liked to have shot the scene with just Ronnie screwing Brandi and no dialog. That would have been better, IMO, because it would have just been horrifying.

I agree and think my review is probably going to be similar to yours, though I'm surmising that our opinions on whether he's redeemed in the end will differ. It's going to be awhile before I see it (on cable, free) so I'll let you know when I do.

Haven't seen the mvoie, but to me, it seems the scene would induce a laugh because the audience believes she is being raped and becomes more and more horrified as the scene progresses. The line makes it funny becuase the audience's horror is abruptly altered with the knowledge that not only is she awake, but she is enjoying herself.

Of course, if the scene clearly shows her waking up DURING sex, then I would imagine the laugh comes out of the nervous relief she was not emotionally injured by the rape.

How is making fun of rape pushing the envelope? It's actually retreating to the world of 13 year old boys. If anything it's reactionary, harking back to the "good old boys" when rape was not taken seriously and it was the subject of tons of jokes. This isn't pushing the envelope, this is finding an envelope in a time capsule. Hill is kidding himself. He should smoke an joint with his male friends and hang out in a van and joke about rape all he wants, that wouldn't hurt his ticket sales. This will.

have any of you actually seen this movie? because if you haven't seen it, you are not allowed to comment on it. The main vehicle of comedy in this film is making people laugh, but also making them realize that what they are laughing it is not really funny at all. Seth Rogen's character also *SPOILERS* kills like five guys in the middle of the street with a nightstick, does a whole lot of drugs and beats up numerous skateboarders in violently graphic ways. Why is none of this is being discussed? You all like your contreversy so much that you throw your point in with no actual frame of reference. Go see the damn movie, and then comment on it, but if all you are basing your opinion in is hearsay and what you heard happened in the scene, then please, shut up.

I have seen the movie. So, please shut up.

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