SXSW 2023 Review: BLOODY HELL, What Even Is a 'Normal' Body?
A woman's body is a battleground: not for her, necessarily (though it can be), but more for a society that wants to keep women narrowly confined and strictly controlled. From the moment that the patriarchy decides that it is convenient for them to do so, a woman's body is sexualized - and we are both forced to adhere to this sexualization and condemned for it. And certainly male bodies are scrutinized as well, though not to the same extent and violence. Perhaps more suffice to say, how the human body develops in relation to sex (a large range as we learn more about it) and gender (a social construct) is so various that to narrowly define humans in binary categories is almost laughable. If a woman is only defined by certain physical characteristics and functions, if those are incomplete, cease, or are removed, is she no longer a woman?
Molly McGlynn's second feature Bloody Hell examines these issues in a very personal drama, one that mirrors her own experience in finding out what a woman's body is, what it means to be a woman in a body that is 'different' (i.e. does not conform to the patriarchy’s desired definition), and how that can lead to both heartache and freedom. Backed by a great cast and a film that forces so many tropes of the coming of age film in a new direction, it's a refreshingly honest and hopeful.
Lindy (Maddie Ziegler) seems a pretty typical 16-year-old: she's pretty, smart, has a passion for track and field, wears make-up (even when working out), and is thinking about having sex with the boy she likes. In other words, she conforms, even if there are some of these desires that come from herself. But that interest in sex is suddenly ground to a halt, when she's diagnosed with MRKH Syndrome, a condition in which she has ovaries, but no uterus, and a vaginal canal that is effectively closed off. She'll never menstruate, never get pregnant or give birth, and penetrative sex will be all but impossible.
This is a crushing blow to Lindy, who wants nothing more than to be a normal teenage girl. Her male doctor immediately starts her on a therapy that would make something of a vagina, until she's able to take a male partner. Her mother Rita (Emily Hampshire), who has lost a breast to cancer, is dealing with her own troubles in a world that expects her to conform (albeit in a different way than her daughter), is trying to help Lindy, while Lindy pushes her away. In fact, it seems Lindy is pushing everyone away, including her boyfriend (who is ignorant of Lindy's situation) and her best friend (with whom friendly competition might not be so friendly anymore). The only person who seems to understand what she's going through is Jax, who themselves is intersex and gender non-conforming.
Because these are all labels forced on us, and what we present to the world should be our choice. Since Lindy is a teenager with the normal mess of emotional and brain development, on top of which is forced this very serious diagnosis and what it means for how she understands herself, she both gains our sympathy and at times our incredulity when she acts like an asshole to her mother and her friends. And we can allow that a little, and we can allow that this huge weight on her seems impossible to discuss.
Even in a world where at least many of us know and understand that gender is a social construct and there isn't really any such thing as 'normal' when it comes to gender and sex, we know of the chasm between our brains and our bodies. McGlynn doesn't let Lindy off the hook for how she behaves, nor does she make her a source of derision. She's still figuring out who she is, what she wants, and what she can achieve.
And McGlynn does not resort to the usual sight gags, even as she shows us unusual objects that are thrust (pun not intended) at Lindy in order to make her 'normal'. Especially since Lindy passes to society, as a cisgendered, likely straight woman - this is when Lindy has to decide what she wants to be, or even if she needs to define it. Especially when those definitions come from those who would force conformity. This is nicely paralleled with Rita's struggle, as someone who has also lost part of what makes her a woman in society's eyes, especially as her age means, again, that she's not considered viable as a sexual being.
The idea of what makes a woman a woman is certainly an important and much-discussed topic, and Bloody Hell wades honestly and gently, though not over-sentimentally, into this discussion. As Lindy discovers, nature has infinite variety in what makes us human, what makes us whatever gender we want to be, and that it's the individual who must set the terms.
- Molly McGlynn
- Molly McGlynn
- Maddie Ziegler
- Emily Hampshire
- Djouliet Amara