I Want to Feed Her Many Sandwiches
December 30, 2011 § 9 Comments
I saw A Dangerous Method yesterday, about which I felt just as I expected to feel: pretty neutral. It was certainly an interesting film, with some good acting from Michael Fassbender as Jung and from the woman playing Jung’s wife Emma, as well as Viggo Mortenson’s great turn as Freud, but considering that the screenplay took so many liberties with history, I found its single-mindedly chronological style and its choppy editing rather at odds with the fictive material, as well as with the film’s attempt at a nuanced emotional palette.
Mostly, however, I was distracted by Keira Knightley.
I don’t mean her performance specifically, though that certainly is needlessly exaggerated and over the top. Knightley has mentioned to journalists how important she felt it was for her portrayal not to be sexy, and she tries so hard to be something other than the ingenue that she leaves the audience completely perplexed as to why Jung would betray the very essence of his self — the desperate need to help others that fuels his investment in psychiatry, at least according to the film — to have sex with her, let alone betray his beautiful, kind, supportive and sane wife.
Mick Lasalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, a favorite critic of mine, noted about the film:
Only late in the movie did it even dawn on me what was intended by her [Knightley's] role, that Sabina, despite her mental difficulties, should be an exceptionally appealing young Jewish woman, capable of inspiring a man to betray his wife and his professional ethics in one swoop.
[...] Instead we get Knightley, who juts her chin, quakes, shakes and bugs her eyes, but nothing about her pain calls out to us, because nothing in it seems real. Indeed, when at one point Jung spanks his patient, you may completely miss the erotic content and simply think what I thought – that somebody, finally, was punishing Knightley for this performance.
Yikes. He did not like that performance. Like Mick, I found Knightley’s gymnastic take on her character’s madness to be melodramatically spastic, overly performative, but my main reaction to these scenes — beyond even “She’s chewing the scenery so bad I’m surprised the room is still standing” — came in the form of “Oh my gods, she’s so thin, her bones are going to snap right in half!”
Her “fits,” as Jung refers to them, include stuttering, contorting her frame, jabbing her arms (bent sharp at the elbow) into her body or the surrounding air, and jutting her lower jaw so far forward that it seems unhinged. I found myself expecting her to swallow a possum whole any minute.
I don’t mean to malign Knightley for taking a chance; Hollywood awards, as well as critics, often prefer minimalist acting these days (though Jean Dujardin’s lauded performance in The Artist is a noted counterexample). Knightley’s performance as Sabina in A Dangerous Method is courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful.
One of the reasons her over-the-top performance was such a problem for me was that it highlighted her waifish physique. And by waifish, I mean she turns to the side and suddenly disappears.
When she bent her elbows and jerked them all over the place, her arms were so thin that I was terrified her bones would tear through her tissue-paper skin like a hand entering water.
Looking at her bare arms, I could only think of Portia de Rossi at the height of her anorexia.
I recently read de Rossi’s (relentless and moving) memoir about her struggles with eating disorders — the book is terrifying – and though I support a multiplicity of female body types, I could not look at Knightley’s now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t frame and think of it as a body’s natural state*. Portia de Rossi and Keira Knightley are both 5’7″, and in the photo above, de Rossi’s weight was slightly over 80 pounds.
Remember that Ralph Lauren photoshopping controversy I’ve mentioned before, in which the model’s waist was whittled smaller than her head? Keira Knightley’s body approaches that without any digital intervention.
When I see someone that I think is too thin, I usually comment that I want to give her a sandwich. Well, I want to give Keira Knightley many, many sandwiches. (Other celebs to whom I want to give sandwiches: Posh Beckham, LeAnn Rimes, Kate Moss, and others.)
I’ve been wanting to give Keira sandwiches for a while now. Knightley’s always been thin. In 2007, she successfully sued British newspaper the Daily Mail when it implied she had lied about having an eating disorder and used a photo of her in a bikini to illustrate a story about a young woman dying of anorexia. In this case, Knightley was awarded £3000 as damages.
This kind of body-shaming as performed by the media falls more often to celebs dubbed “fat” than those seen as overly thin, but the latter certainly also get their share of attention. Knightley certainly did not “kill” anyone with her thinness, and to imply that she did is irresponsible journalism and ethically abhorrent.
However, no psychoanalyst worth his or her salt would think constantly viewing images of celebrities like Knightley, in concert with her praise as an incredible beauty (her bio page on imdb lists too many “Sexiest Woman” awards to count), has no psychological effect.
I have less of a problem with Knightley’s being scary-skinny than I do with her continual comments that she never works out and her assertion that (because she’s 5’7″) she’s an abnormally large actress. I’m tired of hyper-skinny models and actresses saying that they never work out or diet, that they eat cheeseburgers and donuts and whatever they want, that their only exercise is running after or picking up their kids, that their bodies look like this because of good genes and pixie dust.
Kudos to Elizabeth Hurley, among a few others, who are straight-forward about their staying (or getting) slim: it takes a hell of a lot of work! To lose her pregnancy weight, according to the Daily Mail, Hurley “revealed she was down to just one meal a day whilst trying to lose her baby fat with the occasional snack of six raisins.’The only meal I have is dinner. I’m on a good old-fashioned low-cal diet. I’m going to bed hungry,’ she said.”
Knightley is not on the same “tell it like it is” train. She says, “Weight is a big issue in Hollywood because I’m twice the size – height and everything else – of most of the girls who are going in to see the director for a part. When you realise that I am, at my size, one of the largest actresses there, you start to think, ‘I don’t think it’d be healthy for me to stay here much longer’” (emphasis added).
Keira Knightley thinks that saying she’s “twice the size” of the Hollywood actresses she’s competing against is stating the obvious. The rest of us call that Body Dysmorphia.
Knightley is the extreme of Hollywood’s skinny ideal, but the adverse effect of her thinness is her lack of breasts. Her chest is essentially concave. While we as a society might expect this from runway models, we want our movie stars and print models to have some lady flesh.
Luckily, CGI comes to the rescue in print portrayals of Knightley.
Photographs of her were selectively retouched for the King Arthur posters, though apparently only in the U.S. (Britain has less of an obsession with giant tits? Then how do you explain Katie Price?)
There’s been suggestions that she also had some boobage photoshopped onto her Chanel advertisements.
After watching A Dangerous Method, in which she’s topless, I can tell you that this is not what Keira Knightley’s breasts look like. And how convenient for her nipples to have taken a holiday so that there’d be no nip-slip worry with those teeny suspenders.
So what’s my point? I find Keira Knightley’s extreme thinness distracting. Rather than musing on the ethical implications of Jung indulging his patient’s masochistic sexual bent, I’m worried that she’s going to snap in half when he smacks her on the ass.
Rather than considering what a dystopian society that raises human clones as organ farms has to say about modern day America, I’m comparing Knightley’s supposedly healthy physique with her appearance in the scenes when she’s dying, concluding that she looks the same.
Rather than reveling in maybe the most romantic movie gesture of all time, I’m thinking about how thin Knightley looks in that sweater. (Okay, this distraction only lasts for half a second because, hello, Love Actually, but still, I think it every time I watch the movie.)
While watching A Dangerous Method, I found Knightley’s body continuously distracting, and not in the same way that I found Michael Fassbender’s body distracting.
Knightley is a perfectly adequate actress — I like her in Love Actually (though her clothing is heinous) and I’m even okay with her in Pride and Prejudice, though I have quite a few friends that abhor her in that movie — and I think she does have quite a striking face.
I simply don’t want to worry that her face is wider than her waist.
Next time I see a movie that features Knightley, I’m going to have to keep a stack of sandwiches next to me and throw them at the screen whenever she appears. I probably shouldn’t watch any more of her movies in public.
*Note: I don’t want to engage in body-shaming of a particular body type or of Knightley in particular; I have known people whose natural body weight renders them extremely thin, and that could conceivably be the case here. However, I have also known many women who have pushed their bodies to be unnaturally thin, and I think that a cultural proliferation of images of “beautiful” women who are unhealthily slim is something that bears being pointed out and put up for discussion.