Critical Claptrap | Letters | Chicago Reader

Critical Claptrap 

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To the editors:

Stephanie Mencimer's analysis of the film Leaving Las Vegas is utterly crass, shallow, devoid of insight or understanding of the subject, and just plain stupid [March 29]. How many campus newspapers rejected this hack before she was published in the Reader? Isn't it enough that your resident film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, chose to dismiss this film? (Which is fine. What else would you expect of him?) Do you have to publish this piece of cynical trash from a writer who seemingly would have trouble deconstructing The Lion King?

Ms. Mencimer's pomous-ass imagined superiority over alcoholics, prostitutes, Elisabeth Shue, and apparently all white, male heterosexuals is just plain absurd. Her inability to provide details of just the characters' actions, intentions, or motivations makes her terribly ill-suited to this task (it would do her good to read some Tennessee Williams). Her narrow insight into Sera's line "You should know that included with the rent around here is a complimentary blowjob," is completely ignorant and without compassion. Are you telling me, Ms. Mencimer, that this doesn't strike you as at all discomforting, self-deprecating, and a massive attempt, on Sera's part, to mask her own shame? You really think the line is straightfoward, completely without subtext? Does Mr. Cage's sympathetic, compassionate response to her line provide any context for you? (I'll give you a hint: it has something to do with pain and the walking wounded.)

At another point in her analysis she states: "One evening, out of spite, Ben picks up another hooker." Is it completely lost on Ms. Mencimer that just prior to this scene, Sera makes her only plea with Ben to seek help? At this late date in his downward spiral, can Ben really afford to seek help? Therefore, is Ben doing this out of spite, or does it seem likely that he has created this circumstance to sever Sera's attachment to him so that he can get on with his prolonged suicide? For future reference, Ms. Mencimer, as a sort of life esson: It's never really about the hooker, or in this case, the other hooker.

The analysis throughout is similarly heavy-handed and ill-informed of the fundamentals of human behavior. Ms. Mencimer tries to make some case about Leaving Las Vegas being solely about Sera's acceptance of Ben (or so, she calims, most male reviewers would have it--a gender thing, you know). Was she in the lobby playing pinball during the scene when Ben lays it all out by quite plainly stating, "We both know I'm a drunk and you're a hooker . . . "? Ms. Mencimer's determination to overlook such details in support of her politically-correct-faux-feminist-jourmalistic pose hardly gives the ilm its due. Her revoltingly odd attempt to criticize the gang rape scene for its placement in the film, after Ben leaves, as opposed to its placement in the novel, before Ben arrives, is completely inane. When you're a prostitute, Ms. Mencimer, rape, gang rape, and physical abuse sort of goes with the territory. People who deride this sequence in the film (and several reviewers and publications have offered varied opinions on the sequence, Ms. Mencimer), lack the fundamental understanding that the whole point is that Sera is not in control--that's a major problem for her, she is not in control--and that her involvement with Ben has made her vulnerable and therefore, off her game. The threat of gang rape exists every night she prostitutes herself--she is dancing with death. After all, Leaving Las Vegas isn't just about a man drinking himself to death; it's also about a woman getting fucked to death. Sera isn't "punished for defiance," and therefore gang raped. She is ready to go.

Furthermore, it is incomprehensible to me how Ms. Mencimer can say that little is offered in the film to develop or reveal Sera's loneliness. Aside from her attachment to Ben speaking volumes about her desperation and loneliness, what about all the scenes of Sera reporting about her life to seemingly . . . no one? Ms. Mencimer's rational take is that Sera has a therapist . . . oh, really? Don't you think a professional therapist would offer some kind of intervention? If she were in therapy, do you really think she would do so little to utilize that knowledge of analysis?

I'm looking at this article once again, and before I waste any more time, let me just say it: Stephanie Mencimer is a big fucking idiot. Leaving Las Vegas has nothing to do with alcoholics or prostitutes and everything to do with isolation from society. In countless scenes, the main characters are asked to leave, told never to come back, are just . . . discarded. No one in the film, or even Ms. Mencimer, acknowledges their love affair or pays it any respect. As a gay male, Leaving Las Vegas speaks to me and the relationships I have had with women as well as all the ones I chose not to pursue; Sera's commitment to Ben while he is consumed by his affliction, his disease, speaks to me as a profound metaphor for AIDS and the effect it has on a couple; but mostly, the film speaks to me as a person who has felt extraordinarily alienated from society, who must read in the papers every day how politicians are proposing bans on gay marriages as society once again discounts my existence, and my emotions.

Go fuck yourself, Stephanie Mencimer--you're a fucking idiot. Leaving Las Vegas wasn't meant for someone as cold, shallow, and absurdly--pretentiously-- cynical as you. Why can't you just say: "I just don't understand it. Leaving Las Vegas--I just didn't get it!" You're an idiot. Take it from a bona fide expert on the subject of Leaving Las Vegas--it is a haunting, intoxicating, mesmerizing, complex, soulful, and ambiguous film. "And a nice set of tequila-bathed tits," indeed. You're out of your idiotic mind. The final scene, in which Sera lays Ben to rest, is "the ultimate self-destructive redemption fantasy"? You're not in Antioch anymore, Ms. Mencimer. Get over it.

Regards,

Sean O'Neil

W. Huron

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