Alexandra’s Project (Australia, 2003) – Wrath of a Resilient Soul
Marriages are made in heaven, may be. But certainly most of them are messed up on earth. The happy families that we happen to see in our lives might well not so be, but made to look that way by the woman in them. Men often wear the ‘boss hat’ in the family wanting everyone in the family to act according to his will. The home violence that he shoves on his mate is often received with mute resilience by the sufferer. The woman is the one who is to bear the brunt all the way in families.
A husband lives the life of his wife on her behalf, designing her days, throughout her life. Alexandra’s Project is a bold black psychological thriller by the Australian director Rolf de Heer that arrests us not just with its plot but more precisely with the truth with which it spits on our face. The malicious claws of male chauvinism are buried deep into the brains of the mates. The worst part of home violence is the politeness with which it is inflicted.
Steve a man with a successful carrier, and a happy family feels contented. On his birthday he receives presents from his kids and a hint from his wife Alexandra about the surprise gift by the evening. The office throws a surprise birthday party and greets him with promotion. An elated Steve gets back home, finds no one but a tape. Hoping that it might be the special present hinted about, he plays it. It begins as a cute personal gift where Steve sees his wife arousing him with a strip tease. With further progress of the tape Steve learns that it is not a tape to please him on his special day, but a well planned psychological scheme of torture, conceived and conducted by Alex, which makes his life chaotic forever. Alexandra, who even hates him calling her ‘Alex’, spit volcanically the subjugated anger over her husband’s dominance since marriage.
For a husband who never listens to her, and zips her mouth with his negligence, Alex identifies a better way of letting her talk with him, uninterrupted. I’ve never experienced a feministic film to adorn such a ferocious tone, that even nudity leaves you flummoxed, hardly make you choose it as a source of carnal pleasure.
In the opening scene that shows Steve doing his exercising routine naked, his naked body doesn’t seem to represent his masculinity but rather symbolizes male dominance. The ways that Alexandra opts for punishing her husband might be cruel, even uncanny. But it is equally true with the treatment that she had been receiving ever since her union with him.
The characterization of Alexandra is the embodiment of the suppressed women folks around the world. Men often misunderstand the real needs of women, and just assume money and materialistic sophistication would make them happier. Men never understand even the poorest waif is much better than a wealthiest slave.
Both actors Gary Sweet as Steve and Helen Buday as Alexandra have rendered a convincing portrayal of their characters. Buday in the film finds her locked inside the television screen and perplexed Gary glued to the seat. His facial expressions in reaction to the charges that Alex levels against him, with his eyes delivering the most of his acting, are commanding. Buday on the other hand brings forth the perfect portrayal of a woman bursting out her angst on her husband, who had so far abstained it may be for her kids.
Her punishment to Steve is carefully designed and pre meditated of all the alternate possibilities, which are indeed taken due care of. She carefully sinks the entire house into darkness removing all the bulbs and I felt it as a symbolic representation of the light her life had lost. All she had been asking for was the mutual recognition from her mate, all her life, through her mute cries. She had wanted nothing other than the freedom to be herself, which she seldom finds. She wants her freedom of choice and insists on her consensus during sexual acts but never gets it. Men in general often see the marital relationship as nothing more than a license to access his woman’s flesh at his will.
Rolf de Heer seems to have looked for a final piece with a menacing tonality and merciless way of delivering the message, right from its inception and through the making. He deliberately wants his work to be harsh and terrifying. In the starting sequences Alexandra’s soliloquy in front of the wash room mirror, “I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry. Don’t be sorry. Never be sorry”, can be considered as a directorial touch rendering the maker’s intention. He wants his film to be profoundly shocking, gory, uncanny and irreverent.
The home violence due to male dominance is something that millions of women around the world face all their lives. Her reaction might be ruthless, eccentric and all the way exceptional. Yet, what she had been receiving all her life was nothing short of it in any way. Though the film mentions about the affair that Steve possibly has (it is shown very briefly in one of the passing moments in a road side cafeteria) but Rolf intends to leave it that way and pass on to the main course. This movie is not for everyone. It is for those who are prepared for confronting the truth that is certainly unpleasant.
The character Bill perchance speaks the mind of the ideology of the entire film when he disagree Steve’s comments on his wife as a mad woman, “ Some years ago, my wife left me and I was certain that she was mad. There is no doubt about it. But then later I understood… I drove her mad but she was not mad”. This also means that this entire film we have experienced is just the reaction of a resilient soul, though freakishly exceptional.