"You Look Tense"

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS A SPOILER FOR THE FILM HIGH TENSION.

A coworker recently explained to me that one of her friends ardently believes all gay porn films begin with the phrase, “You look tense.”

Which may explain why, as a whole, the French/American film High Tension revolves less discreetly around lesbianism than serial killing. In the film, French student Marie (channeling Maria Falconetti of Dreyer’s classic The Passion of Joan of Arc) travels with gal pal Alex to her family’s remote farm estate in the French countryside. Marie’s a little on the butch side of things, but be warned: the girl is hot. Lithe, sinewed, with cropped blonde hair and tight jeans, she’s basically sex with opposable thumbs.

The sexual tension between Marie and Alex becomes palpable. Alex, who is a bit horsey, seems not to notice Marie’s desperate desire. But when Marie turns out to be the dangerous serial killer who has slaughtered her family (knowledge which Alex knows from early on but which is kept from the audience through a simple, stupid cinematic device), we’re reminded again of just why lesbianism is such a danger: desire that cannot end in marriage ends in murder.

Marie’s cinematic alter ego is a fat, hairy Frenchman with an eerie smile and who communicates through a series of grunts. This is who we see commit the murders and who Marie ultimately “hunts” in order to save Alex. My problems here are many. I can understand the natural, foolish impulse of heterosexuals to characterize the dangerous desire of lesbians as a male killer, but why is he a fat Frenchman when Marie is such a thin hottie? Why isn’t her own self-visualization on her desire for women appear as, say, a shirtless Christian Bale?

Secondly, when heterosexuals express desire through homicide, they don’t have to sacrifice their gender identity to do so. The confusion of Marie’s sexual identity with her gender identity is a fundamental misrecognition of heterosexuals to understand same sex desire. Marie’s desire for Alex masculinizes her, yet Alex herself remains unaffected. The impulse toward masculinizing lesbians reinforces a female-object/male-objectifier dichotomy that does not exist in same sex desire. Heterosexuals of the world are uncomfortable when desire becomes a level playing field. This begs the question: can a woman objectify another woman? And if so, what is the resulting power dynamic when the object objectifies the gazer right back? The desire might be considered oppositional were it not so fortutious for both parties. Love (or its physical expression) results.

High Tension ultimately reserves its violence not for the victims of Marie’s chain saw, axe, straight razor, or shotgun, but for the lesbians in the audience. As representations go, I’m not sure we’ve seen something this horrific since Silence of the Lambs‘s Buffalo Bill. Oh, but who am I kidding? In horror films, gay folks are always on the right end of the knife. Heterosexuals beware: per your worst fears, we are not afraid to use it.

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