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Movie Breakdown: The Hunting Ground (Noah)

March 11, 2015

Film

The Impression:

Kirby Dick and company take on college rape and higher education’s controversial methods of dealing with the pervasive problem. Sounds like I’m leaving this one with a stomach full of rage.

The Reality:

Kirby Dick has made a film aimed at exposing the severity of the rape issue on college campuses. More so, he’s made a film that calls bullshit on the absolutely horrifying way that university’s have chosen to deal with the subject. Simply put: rape is a big problem on college campuses, a bigger problem than you think, but the biggest problem is that colleges are protecting their own self-interests by shaming rape victims and purposefully neglecting to report or punish on-campus rapists. It’s a brutal subject and Dick manages to dig deep not only into the stories of a small handful of the women (which is still a pretty big handful) who’ve been victimized, but also the perpetrators of the acts as well as the culture of colleges that breeds what one woman refers to as a “hunting ground.” He points fingers at the universities, the fraternity system and college athletics, all the while showcasing the noxious entanglement of education and finance that promotes the horrifying atmosphere so many women (and men) are a part of. It’s a brutal subject and Dick manages to showcase that. Which is what makes this a good documentary, but Dick is a good director, not a great one, and the film never coalesces into the searing classic it could be. This may seem insensitive, but Dick is actually fairly heavy-handed with the material. You don’t need to play sweeping orchestral music or Lady Gaga’s It Get’s Better time and time again for the audience to know that the horrible, violent rape of our college-aged men and women is awful. Dick doesn’t trust his material though and at the times when you’re ready to throw a brick through the fucking screen because some rich, white man is telling a rape victim to go home and sleep it off, the music swells and all of a sudden it feels a little maudlin. Strangely, a few of the times when Dick isn’t beating you over the head with the topic, he’s gone in the other direction, contrasting terrifying data with upbeat music or almost chipper animation. The disparity between the subject, and the two tones casts the film into an aesthetic limbo. We live in an age of amazing documentaries about subjects broad and wide, inspirational and awful, that are near perfect examples of the melding of tone and subject. And though Dick is a seasoned documentarian (an Oscar-winning one at that) The Hunting Ground finds it subject, but isn’t able to find the film to match it.

The Lesson:

Higher education, you have a lot to atone for.

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