No matter its wit, and peppered bits of comic relief, it’s still not easy watching Bombshell if you have ever been in a situation where you were sexually harassed or assaulted. And chances are that if you are a woman, you have been in this predicament, in one way or another – and probably not just once. Abuse can happen to absolutely anyone in a vulnerable position, no matter the gender or sex, as it is a corrupt power dynamic, but Jay Roach‘s timely film depicts that particular vulnerability of women, still being raised i.e. conditioned to please (and appease), juxtaposed with a constant inner and outer pressure to be appealing. Which moves the exit door in this type of attack further than it would in others, especially in situations of straightforward physical violence, where purely basic survival is at stake.
It’s a heartbreaking fact that most people that go through this viscous assault on one’s human dignity, and psychological integrity, don’t report it to their circle of friends and family, HR, or the police, as they are most probably truly wishing only one thing – for it to go away. To move on from this trauma, recover in peace. Another reason is the complicity of the ones that should be there to protect them, a conspiracy of silence. And their lack of trust in their environment is sadly founded on truth.
This burden then follows victims like an invisible poison, toxic air, not only do they have to come to terms with a horrible situation they’ve survived, but sometimes equally traumatically – with underhanded, manipulative people that will do anything to keep that situation a secret, and their reputations intact. Lives are often further destroyed by preemptive action of the perpetrators. Sexual harassment and abuse are always part of a spectrum of pathological behaviour, and its common traits are dominance, intimidation, and control.
And if the truth does come out, there is always ‘a reason’ why women, in particular, are attacked – take a misogynist pick. This damage is often done by an entire society, with different motivations, but with the same end game: it ends up as, somehow, the victim’s fault. Where they were, how they dressed, their ambition, sexual attractiveness, seductiveness, boldness of speech, old-fashioned sorcery even, and when all else fails, the weakness of the male… Then it is frequently filed under a covert transaction, of sorts.
Therefore, some never speak of their experience, and often remove themselves from the environment where it occurred, to their own detriment. Some go through the repetition of similar trauma, their visible vulnerability bringing on more abuse, falling further down the well of a perpetual cycle of shame and pain. Or into a numbing out, in various manner of ways, which takes over the rest of their lives, removing them from healthy relationships. Finally, some take it stoically, talk about it, report it, stand up and face the inevitable scrutiny, and then go through a legal process often equally harrowing as the assault itself. Justice is done, but not the healing. No one really moves on if they are not supported by others, with a full understanding of the damage caused.
Inevitably, it took a grassroots revolution to demand a change in an entrenched way of dealing with sexual harassment and assault, especially on women, something that would always make victims feel exposed and grasping for shelter, as it diminishes their softest, and therefore most vulnerable space. Their intimate realms. The only way forward was to rebel furiously, collectively. Thus #MeToo was born. With all its inconsistencies and contradictions. And what a curious gestation place it had, the very epicenter of bullish conservatism – Fox News.
All of this is present in the women the script by Charles Randolph depicts – the ways they coped, the ways they were dismissed, and the way they fought back, accusing CEO Roger Ailes, host Bill O’Reilly, and other Fox News heavyweights of various kinds of indignities, suffered for years, in an atmosphere of paranoia, company loyalism, constant surveillance, and fierce female competition, carefully maintained by the puppet-masters. Only when one women came forward, show host Gretchen Carlson (a zen Nicole Kidman), prepared and determined as she was, did the monolith of silence begin to erode. Everybody involved believed they were alone in their humiliation. It took another to help topple it, news anchor Megyn Kelly (magnificent Charlize Theron), someone equally determined, opinionated but with a spine of steel, famously questioning Donald Trump on his behaviour towards women – who built a strong interpersonal and professional relationship with Ailes (sadly, often the complex case), but turned on him, in order to expose the injustice that happened to her, and to so many. Bullies are fundamentally cowards, and when that pent up fear is uncorked by an unyielding, intelligent opponent – mistakes ensue, making it much easier to bring them to justice. Also, when situations reach boiling point – companies take action. As did Fox.
Bombshell is full of committed performances, not least John Lithgow, as Ailes, a Molotov cocktail of shame, cunning & belligerence, Connie Britton as his submissive, loyal wife Beth, Kate McKinnon as a Fox News producer keeping her homosexuality secret, yet painfully aware of personal costs – all actors giving their all to depict a story that is both of the times, and inherited, as patriarchy, itself.
Is it a good film, though? It fails in some of the usual politically engaged true-story tropes, caving to the Hollywood showbiz need to force-feed a point that had already been digested twice-over in the narrative. Exemplified in the final scene of the ‘you go girl’ exit of a composite character that an otherwise pitch perfect, multi-dimensional Margot Robbie inhabits in a pretty fierce performance. Kayla, the evangelical millennial, presented with warmth and depth, deserved more than a shallow moralistic final stance, mere posture, rather than radical politics.
Otherwise, it is a story well told, good enough in itself to make the audience indignant. And ready for change.
But that is a minor point. It’s where we take it from here, in RL, that matters.
This was never going to be a simple review. #MeToo