Sexual abuse is not only a sickening crime of undignified dominance and perverse cowardice, but traumatizing scars are usually left in the form of crippling mental anguish. Someone, at their most vulnerable, is robbed of their innocence by an act that echoes the most primal, animalistic desires of man. Walls of civility are broken down, and victims are left to go about their lives after being submerged in the darkest, seediest, most vile reaches of mankind’s take-what-I-want greed.
That horrible scenario is the very core of Felt, a Jason Banker film that summarizes a sexual victim’s lament through alter-egos and one woman’s struggle to overcome the male stranglehold on society. And my, what a brave, unflinching, and bizarre ride it is.
The provocative nature of Banker’s “feminist superhero” stems wholly from actress/artist Amy Everson, who plays a fictionalized version of herself. After traumatizing sexual experiences steal Amy’s life away, she begins to express her grief through constructed costumes that re-appropriate the male form. She flees from the public eye, dons a phallic suit, and embraces an alter-ego that allows a sense of power to flow through her veins once again. But the more she dives into this world of masculinity, the farther she strays from reality. Her friends begin to fear for Amy’s sanity, until a seemingly comforting boy named Kenny (Kentucker Audley) gets Amy to open up in healthy ways – but will this only lead to another scar left by the male gender?
Felt is a movie that requires complete digestion from beginning to end, which may be a chore for some viewers. Banker doesn’t shy away from the ambitious nature of Everson’s personal artwork, yet these rustic and disgusting appropriations of rape culture are what add the proper notes that play throughout Amy’s unsettling journey. There’s a distinctive scene where Amy and Kenny spark a connection, hinting that Kenny now understands why Amy acts so distant, but they do so while surrounded by grotesque imagery. Amy shows off her aborted baby Hitler fetus piece, a ceramic dish she decorated with a man’s exposed rectum, and a few wool penises she can poke with needles. There’s no hiding her obvious emotional stripping, but Kenny doesn’t run at the sight of such knick-knacks – he embraces her pain, and offers a shoulder.
Vulnerability – the unmasked freedom of Amy’s emotion – is what allows Banker to pack tremendous amounts of stinging, torturous humanity into his character’s situation. Felt is raw, like a burger that’s still mooing, and Banker addresses the many forms of sexual abuse, some that have even become common-place in today’s society. There’s an unjust view that believes “sexual abuse” and “rape” are one in the same, when things like groping, cat-calling, and verbal harassment still haunt women who become victimized by the “hunter” mentality. Amy’s life is now a “fucking nightmare,” reminded on a daily basis of the misogynistic overtones that permeate modern thinking, and as stated, there’s a “power in the penis” whether we like it or not. “The trouble with being female is that you’re constantly objectified,” and with wage discrepancies, smutty advertising, and celebutante worshiping, Felt evolves into a movie that speaks more to a general objectification problem.
The image of Amy standing almost naked in a sun-kissed forest, wrapped in tight spandex materials that remove her feminine features, stands a gut-wrenching testament to the true crime at hand – innocence robbed. Amy is a beautiful specimen of femininity, yet because of her belief that woman stand no chance in today’s society, she’d rather erase any existence of her soft femininity with the addition of a gigantic strap-on that gives her the comfort of harnessing the same power that struck her down. Banker’s shots mimic the emptiness that Amy feels, both in her seclusion and costume obsession, slowly uncovering a depressive state that’s twisted into a cynical, uncaring view on “getting better.” Banker never makes Felt about the singular act that ignited Amy’s “creative” flame – only the messy remnants that linger after the case has been closed.
Amy Everson is a self-proclaimed “feminist superhero” for baring her soul in Felt, but her on-screen character is not. Fabricated Amy is a scared, jaded woman who is a victim in the greatest sense. She’s no Wonder Woman, lassoing no-good-nicks who whistle at passers-by, but a wounded, limping, shell of a human who only feels safe with a powerful stick hanging between her legs. Fabricated Amy is no hero, but a victim, driven madly insane by a culture that provides no safety. A culture that reduces women to cup sizes and Photoshopped imperfections. A culture that could allow a woman to feel broken, beaten, and struggling to cope, with no signs of getting better.
Alas, Felt is the aggressively poignant movie that cinema needs, in the most exploitative way possible. Despite the soul-crushing sincerity of Banks’ story, there’s also a brightness in Amy’s artistry that’s channeled from the darkest places. Out of the depths of Amy’s grief come her most creative outbursts, and while it’s certainly not a trade-off for sanity, there are plenty of moments that support a victim’s ability to once again embrace emotion, love, and most importantly – trust. Sure, it’s laced with obscurity, vaginal curtains, and plenty of fake dong shots, but the insanity becomes mesmerizing over time. Amy Everson is a hero for exposing her most intimate feelings, tearing away her protective shield, and shaming society for the gross double standards that plague us all, and while that’s not a hero in the traditional ass-kicking sense, it certainly makes her one untraditionally ass-kicking chick.
Felt bravely explores a messy "after" that so many other films neglect to acknowledge, which fearlessly addresses rape-culture stereotypes head-on and without restraint.