Hard Candy: my thoughts on the film

It’s funny how I’ve had this blog for just 4 days and my second post is already another movie review (I guess I’ve been on a movie kick lately!).

The last film I watched was Hard Candy, a drama/thriller-type movie that left me with so many bigger picture questions at the end, and even got me in a heated discussion about revenge & forgiveness. I’ll try to summarize the film as quickly and accurately as possible (skip down to the arrow if you’ve seen it):

*SPOILER ALERT* This young 14 year old girl named Hayley (Ellen Page) meets an older man named Jeff (Patrick Wilson) online and agrees to meet up with him. Long story short, Hayley pretends to be interested in him so she can really just expose him for being a sex offender with pedophilia and get revenge on him (she did her research beforehand to conclude he is a pedophile). Although Jeff never really makes a move on Hayley, Hayley ties him up early on and pretty much tortures him throughout the whole movie. It’s bad. Perhaps the most memorable scene is when she very convincingly cuts off his testicles, before you (and Jeff) find out she just made it look like she was. BUT Hayley also finds pictures hidden in Jeff’s house of a young girl Donna who went missing, convincing Hayley that Jeff was involved in her murder.

The hell Hayley puts Jeff through builds up throughout the movie until the very end, when she essentially gives him an ultimatum: he can either jump off the roof to hang himself, or Hayley will expose the fact that he is a pedophile sex offender. She promises him that if he jumps, she’ll destroy the evidence. But when he takes the fatal step off the roof, she says “or not,” and runs away.

–>Crazy movie. One thing I liked about it was how you don’t know whose side to take. It seems a natural human tendency to always want to be rooting for one side, but does that keep us from seeing things objectively? What’s weird is you kind of find yourself sympathizing with Jeff throughout the movie, but then you remember that everything Hayley is doing to him is just like everything he has done to young girls. So isn’t the revenge justified?

When Jeff hung himself in the end, I instinctively felt that it was too extreme of a punishment and that he didn’t deserve it. But I also felt that throughout the whole movie. Before Hayley (seemingly) castrates him, he breaks down and tells a story of how he was abused as a child, and how that was the root of his pedophilia. Hayley shows zero emotion in response.

I thought maybe the makers of the film were trying to convey the message that although Jeff seems innocent, he’s still a sex offender who may or may not have killed a young girl. It seems pretty clear at one point in the film when the script goes like this:

Jeff: Who the hell are you?

Hayley: I am every little girl you ever watched, touched, hurt, screwed, killed.

And then after Jeff says how pleading guilty and going to jail would ruin his career, Hayley says, “Well, didn’t Roman Polanski just win an Oscar?”

Boom. The filmmakers here seem to be making the point that sex offenders like Jeff rarely get the punishments they deserve, seeing that Polanski raped a 13 year old girl yet still won an Oscar. Doesn’t Hayley’s treatment of Jeff seem more justified now?

Doesn’t matter- we still end the movie feeling like Hayley went too far, or at least I did. And I think it’s important to think about why we feel that way.

In the beginning of the film, we don’t know much about Jeff, but that he’s interested in young girls. Throughout the film, however, Hayley really brings out his true self, and at one point he even expresses gratitude for it. I think the biggest way Hayley brings out Jeff’s true self is by constantly reminding him that everything she is doing to him is comparable to what he has done to young girls. The fact that Jeff realizes who he really is thanks to Hayley is extremely significant in this film. It’s almost like without Hayley, he would be ignorant to the harm he has inflicted on others. And when he basically admits that Hayley’s view of him is accurate, her actions against him seem much more acceptable than if she were to just torture him like she did without us knowing why (what did he do to deserve this? we might think to ourselves).

All in all, Hayley treats Jeff in a very inhumane way throughout the film, and it will make you cringe. BUT, she treats him this way because she is a symbol of all the people who Jeff has treated inhumanely in his life. Throughout the film and especially at the end, you are challenged to question the morality of harsh revenge (and I encourage you to). For me, it was nearly impossible to choose sides in the film, which I think is one of the most valuable aspects of it since you’re forced to look objectively at the situation and question any preconceived beliefs you might’ve had. Or, keep your mind as (what John Locke would call) a blank slate.

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