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Film / In the Cut

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"Campion’s film constructs certain female fantasies about sex and romance—the kind that erotic thrillers and rom-coms alike have enshrined as alluring ideals—only to allow them to sour irrevocably, exposing the ugly realities that exist behind them."

In the Cut is a 2003 erotic neo-noir directed by Jane Campion and starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh, and Kevin Bacon. It is based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Susanna Moore. Ryan plays Frannie Avery, a woman who becomes entangled with a detective investigating a series of grisly murders in her Manhattan neighborhood. Ruffalo played Giovanni Malloy, the aforementioned mysterious detective that Frannie is drawn to.

The film received a polarizing response from critics and audiences when it was released. In the years since, In the Cut has been reassessed as a feminist erotic thriller and praised for its subversions of common thriller tropes.

This film contains examples of:

  • Acceptable Feminine Goals and Traits: This is embodied by the charm bracelet Pauline gifts to Frannie. The charms represent traditional milestones in a woman’s life—marriage, babies, home ownership, and so forth.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The New York City seen here is decidedly not a glamorous one, but a grimy one where danger seems to lurk on every corner.
  • Blood-Stained Letter: Variation. Cornelius, one of Frannie’s students, turns in a paper on John Wayne Gacy that has blood stains on it.
  • The Charmer: Deconstructed. Malloy is charming and knows how to please his partners, but he can also be vulgar and kind of a prick.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Early on, Frannie comes across a man in the shadows receiving a blow job and notices a 3 of Spades tattoo on his wrist. This comes back up multiple times.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The missing charm from Frannie's bracelet. Actually a Red Herring.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Malloy takes Frannie to a secluded wooded area near the river where she practices shooting at some floating garbage bags.
  • Color Motif: The color red recurs throughout the film—it is the color of the murder victims' blood, and when Frannie is watching the anonymous man getting a blow job in the dive bar basement, the man's figure is shadowed by red neon light. Red also shows up in the dress Frannie wears at the end and the lighthouse that Frannie is taken to.
  • Crying After Sex: Frannie cries after having sex with Malloy the second time because she realizes she's actually falling for him.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Frannie manages to kill the murderer when she's alone. He tries to murder her before Frannie shoots him dead and thus saves herself.
  • Deconstruction: The film deconstructs tropes of neo-noir and erotic thriller films. Usually, these films feature dangerous femme fatales who use their sexuality to ensnare the fall guy. That's not what happens in this film.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Practically everyone who comes into contact with Frannie is a possible suspect. Frannie herself could be a suspect, since the murder victim’s severed limb was found in her garden.
  • Exiled to the Couch: Malloy is divorced, but is still sleeping on his ex-wife’s couch.
  • Fan Disservice: Frannie handcuffing and then dry humping Malloy the second time they sleep together could be either this or fanservice.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: When Frannie calmly tells her ex-boyfriend John, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” on a busy New York street, John abruptly lashes out at her.
  • Happily Ever After: Very much averted and deconstructed. Frannie’s romantic idealization of how her mother and father met and married is shown in charming fantasy sequences. Later, when Frannie’s paranoia about the murderer heightens, the sequences become disturbingly darker.
  • Immodest Orgasm: Frannie achieves this during sex with Malloy many times.
  • Intimate Telecommunications
  • Ironic Echo: Frannie is an English professor who is lecturing about the Virginia Woolf book To the Lighthouse to her class. Later, she is taken to where the killer murders his victims, The Little Red Lighthouse below the George Washington Bridge.
  • Killer Cop: Frannie suspects that Malloy is the serial killer who he's been trying to catch. She even outright asks him multiple times. It isn't him, but his partner Richard Rodriguez.
  • Laugh of Love: Frannie immediately goes from crying to laughing after having sex with Malloy.
  • Look Both Ways: Trying to evade her mugger, Frannie runs into the street and ends up colliding with a taxi cab. She is not seriously injured, but the cab driver comes out and emphasizes the accident was not his fault; he does, however, offer her a ride home.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: A brief shot of Rodriguez's penis can be seen in an extreme close-up as a woman performs oral sex on him.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Frannie masturbates while thinking about Malloy, the detective who came by her apartment earlier to tell her about the murder investigation. In her fantasies, she also suspects Malloy could be the same man she observed getting a blow job from the murder victim—in other words, the murderer himself.
  • Monochrome Past: Frannie's dream sequences that supposedly show how her parents met and fell in love, ice skating on a pond with snow falling around them. The sepia tones emphasize how much Frannie idealizes her parents' meet-cute. It is later revealed that Frannie's father left another woman for her mother, using the ring he was going to give to the other woman to propose to her. After marrying Frannie's mom, he would eventually leave her for another woman, going on to marry three other times (Pauline's mother not among them).
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Frannie is a creative writing teacher who is also working on a book about slang, which she consults her student Cornelius on. A wall of her apartment is covered in paper notes of spoken language she hears on the street and poetry that intrigues her.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Malloy is a handsome, muscular man who's shirtless at length while having sex with Frannie.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Frannie is shown nude at length while having sex with Malloy, mostly topless though bottomless too very briefly. When she's receiving oral sex from him it's especially erotic.
  • Neverending Terror: Not only does Frannie have to contend with a serial killer on the loose, but she must deal with a stalker ex-boyfriend and a mugger.
  • Off with His Head!: Part of the killer's MO. Poor Pauline winds up a victim of this in the end.
  • The Peeping Tom: Frannie observes the anonymous man receiving a blow job for a beat too long.
  • Red Herring: Both John Graham and Cornelius are suggested by the film as potential culprits behind the killings. While the former is clearly disturbed and the latter is outright shown to be dangerous, neither turn out to be The Killer. And of course, Detective Malloy winds up being this in the end as well.
  • Sanity Slippage: As Frannie gets closer to Malloy, she increasingly becomes suspicious of not only the detective, but everyone she knows.
  • Secret Test of Character: Frannie handcuffing Malloy to something, straddling him in a chair, dry-humping him fully clothed and then bursting into tears because the act just confirms that she is obsessed with him.
  • Serial Killer: The NYPD is seeking a brutal one loose in New York City who murders young women then cuts them apart. One woman's leg is found in Frannie's garden, and thus she gets connected with the detectives. She comes to suspect that Detective Giovanni Malloy is the killer, but also starts having sex with him. It turns out to be his partner though, Richard Rodriguez. Frannie's kidnapped and nearly murdered by him, but kills Rodriguez in self-defense near the end.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Half-sisters Pauline and Frannie. While Pauline is free-spirited, outgoing, and loves being in relationships, Frannie is more reserved and cautious. Pauline is also more traditional than Frannie in that she’d like to get married and start a family.
  • Stalker with a Crush: John Graham (the character played by Kevin Bacon) is an ex-boyfriend of Frannie’s who stalks her.
  • Straw Misogynist: Detective Rodriguez, Malloy's partner. Rodriguez talks about women and gay men crudely. He also abused his wife, which is why he is temporarily relegated to desk work.
    Rodriguez: I had to park on Christopher Street. Must have been 100 faggots looking to suck my dick.
    Malloy: I’m jealous.
    Frannie: Are all cops homophobic?
    Rodriguez: What are you, one of them feminists?
  • Tattooed Crook: Malloy's spade tattoo is the first thing that leads Frannie to suspect him of being the killer. As it turns out, she wasn't too far off the mark; the killer winds up being Malloy's partner Rodriguez, who has the same tattoo.
  • Visual Title Drop: As a sepia-toned scene plays of people ice skating on a pond, the film’s title fades in just as a man makes a sharp turn on the ice with the blade of his skate that leaves behind a trail of blood.
  • Wham Shot: The reveal that Rodriguez has the same tattoo as Malloy.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Pauline urges a hesitant Frannie to go out with the detective.
    Pauline: You didn’t say no, Frannie? Frannie? You gotta go. Just for the exercise, you gotta go.