On Portraying Sexual Violence

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The Millions has an essay on sexual violence and its literary and cinematic representations. Is it better to represent sexual violence through a code of silence, through allusions and subtlety or explicitly? Books and films that portray sexual violence diverge in these ways. There is an often-unspoken tension when it comes to praising representations of violence—it’s a difficult thing to appreciate the artfulness in something while acknowledging its graphic darkness.

“Even for those with the determination to endure these films and find value in them, the experience, whatever the intellectual payoff, is inevitably tinged with a feeling of troubling complicity and fallenness: Am I self-hating? A misogynist? A sadist? A pervert? Is human nature really so ugly, so capable of ugliness? Did I enjoy that? Does having gotten something out of that movie make me a “a bad person”?

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Sam Riley is an adult who works at McSweeney's. More from this author →