Red Sparrow Gives Jennifer Lawrence Self-Loathing Lessons

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Egerton

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Rating: ***(three stars)

Coincidentally the female heroes in both the releases this week are subjected to sadism and self-flagellation by what we refer to as a stern rebuke to sexism, as the male gaze.

In the haunting Hindi film Pari Anushka Sharma is chained, whipped, thrown violently to the ground and made into an ideal candidate for a trauma center.  Jennifer Lawrence in this week’s big Hollywood film is a woman on the mission who gets into a torrent of emission.

And I do mean that in a  sexual way. Hard up for money and in dire need of financial help to tend to her seriously ailing mother(played by Joely Richardson, daughter to  the legendary Vanessa Redgrave)  Dominika Egoroka becomes a  Russian spy.

In case you haven’t already guess from the heroine’s name, Red Sparrow is set in the forbidding ominous politically charged Russia where, if  the movies are  to be  believed, intrigue and conspiracy are a way of life. We recently saw Charlize Theron don a steely seductiveness in Atomic Blonde. Jennifer Lawrence’s spy act is far more vulnerable. She   brings in an element of tenderness to the ongoing brutality, like an adamant chef who slips in a green vegetable dish at a meat banquet.

Dominika is introduced into the dark inescapable  world of  spying and seduction(not in  that order) at a finishing school for potential whores.Pardon the language. But “whore school” is  how Jennifer Lawrence describes her training ground for orgasmic nirvana.The guru is played by that amazing  British actress Charlotte Ramping who last stole  our hearts  in Ritesh Batra’s underwhelming The Sense Of An Ending.Here Ms Ramping seeks a different kind of ending for her  followers.

As Ms Lawrence goes through  a series of not-so-charming adventures in espionage kingdom, we get to meet some truly remarkable actors including Jeremy Irons and Joel Edgerton and the long-time-no-see Mary Louise Parker. All of these  brave actors have something to add to Dominika’s strange  and seductive story told by a director whose virility of   vision is matched by his leading lady’s proclivity to  infuse vulnerability into sadism.

 Early in the  largely-gripping plot  Dominika , injured and shunned  from her life as  a ballerina,  storms  into her dancing partner’s sex romp and  clubs both the offenders  to death. It is a defining moment of physical violence underscoring the emotional upheavals that Dominika would have to weather before she  stymies the storm.

 Red Sparrow is being compared with the silly and puerile Atomic Blonde. But this is a far  more profound study of exploitative sex and state-sponsored seduction where  young men and women are taught to lose all their  inhibitions for the sake  of  the country. Only,  the sex may not be for as noble  a cause as the State actors claim.

 There is a constant throw of throwbacks in  the narrative reminding us  that the Cold War, Kremlin and the KGB have come  a long way since James Bond embraced John La Carre. Red Sparrow is strong seductive and scintillating in its brutal candour on sexual gratification. The camera  prowls the  lush unkempt  locations with predatory urgency. While the actors act out their characters’ karma in a mood of resigned irony. In  a classroom for sex training a young man is  called up and  asked to go naked . He strips completely and stands with his entire body exposed to the camera, as Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika cowers at the sheer brazenness required  from her for  the job.

Getting naked  for the camera is nothing new for Jennifer Lawrence. She did  it in her last  film Mother!  where she was brutalized  to an insane degree. Red Sparrow is no less prone to violating the woman hero. Some  would say it’s the bigoted male gaze.  I would rather believe  it’s the sign of  the times. The  more we speak of equality of  the sexes, the more  the sex comes  in the way.

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