When movies begin with a child going through trauma, it normally means the viewer is in for a heartbreaking ride. It doesn’t matter what the trailer sold them. If the movie begins and there’s a child in tears, it’s going to pull at all the empathy and feeling a person has available. If the child is female. It’s an easy seven to ten bet that trauma will be the loss of her bodily autonomy. This trend in modern cinema is possibly my biggest problem with several female led fils. It’s frustrating when it feels that all you see is women being physically taken advantage of, and that loss of power is the key to the plot and her character development. This is not to say that having films that deal with the discussion of sexual violence or rape aren’t important especially when they’re done well. Yet it’s frustrating as a woman to be broken down to this one thing being the most valuable thing I have, and having that taken away is the only trauma many think a person like me can go through.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by the film The Dressmaker. The film follows a woman named Tilly Dunn returning to her small town in the Australian outback after being exiled as a kid because she apparently murdered another child. The conflict resides in the fact that she can’t remember doing it and no one else can either. She’s come to the conclusion that this murder is why she’s cursed. So she returns home to talk to her now crazy mother and see if she can find a way to remember and also to get revenge on those who wronged her by making herself the town’s indispensable dressmaker.
When the movie begins and in several other moments, if you watch or look for as many female led films as I do, it pulls a huge red herring of Tilly’s trauma being what I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Now when I write I try very hard to avoid spoilers but I need it known that Tilly’s trauma is not any sort of loss of physical innocence or struggle, and I was so relieved and happy I started laughing at a rather serious moment of the film.
This isn’t a critique of films that tackle sexual violence against women as a topic, but it’s something I’ve noticed as motivation for many women in movies where, it didn’t necessarily have to be. It could have been literally anything else. So when I watched The Dressmaker, I was so happy to see a woman go through something that had nothing to do with her losing her bodily autonomy by force.
This also isn’t to act like this is my favorite part of the film. Kate Winslet and Judy Davis give incredible performances that are funny but nuanced and still have the bite that they need to play these outcast characters. Liam Hemsworth is delightful as the love interest, and the writing is distinct but still follows a sort of comfortable formula that makes the film perfect for viewing with friends or adult family. If you want something to compare it to but not really, think Chocolat; but it’s still very distinct and really only has the tent pole of a strange woman comes to town to shake up the status quo. It’s available on Amazon Prime, so if you have it watch it, and enjoy it with the security that you don’t have to watch another woman who is written to be carrying this terrifying trauma at her back.