“You’ve got all the skank you need right here,” the sexy love interest of footy kicking protagonist Tom Dunn (Oliver Ackland) seductively intones as she yanks her shirt off in the bedroom.
“You’re the only goal I haven’t scored,” says fellow Torquay Tigers team member Franky (Angus Sampson) to a female umpire.
“How big is your dick?” a young child yells mid-game, joshing from the sidelines.
Welcome to Blinder, Australian writer/director Richard Gray’s small town footy drama produced by AFL greats Glenn Archer, Adrian Gleeson and Sam Kekovich. The film is a mixture of morbid “what happened that night” mystery and “win at all costs” ra ra ra.
Featuring a huff-and-puff performance from veteran Jack Thompson, returning to the cinematic oval as a coach three decades after Bruce Beresford’s The Club (1980), Blinder is a celebration of the wonderful things that make Australian football culture what it is today.
Training with your mates. Kicking around a funny shaped ball. Lunging into the air to take spectacular marks. Celebrating victories and mourning losses. Drinking heavily. Consuming drugs. Getting into fistfights.
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And sexually abusing teenage girls.
The poster tagline for Blinder reads: “Play hard. Give everything. Never cross the line.”
More than a mite ironic, then, that in the misogyny sweepstakes the characters and filmmakers of this morally reprehensible production didn’t just cross it. They turned around. They threw up on it.
This bit of dialogue from Love Story is a famous one, immortalised in the film lexicon. It could have been the inspiration for a more appropriate tagline for Blinder, which may have read something like: “Statutory rape means barely having to say you’re sorry.”
The film’s opening reels show Sampson in a yellow clown wig. He drinks, licks the walls and falls into a swimming pool. Cut to the next day and Tom, the team captain, crashes his car when he sees the front page of the local rag.
The newspaper reveals pictures of him slumped in a seat with a woman on his lap, and another of his team mates having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Tom and his friend are 18.
Instead of informing viewers what happened that fateful, drug-fueled, rape-full night, Gray and a handful of screenwriters tease it out and treat it as a mystery. In the meantime the story jumps between Tom returning back to the town ten years later (when he hears news Coach Chang is now bellowing pep talks in that great big oval in the sky) and the season leading up to that Big Incident.
There are exercise and training montages. Mateship and camaraderie. A smattering of cliche “give it all you’ve got” motivational speeches.
In one scene the primary perpetrator of the abuse of the young girl, who is warned off making a move but nevertheless approaches her with the sick gleam of a butcher eyeing a juicy hunk of meat, is literally lifted up by his peers, celebrated as the bloke who won the match.
Excuse us for not wanting to barrack from the sidelines.
Without a trace of self-awareness, Blinder stakes its claim as one of the most perverse twists on sports movie conventions you will ever see, earnestly inviting the audience to join the on field “excitement” and — wait for it — to egg on suspected sex offenders.
Did the cast and crew honestly think viewers would want to chant “win, rapist, win!”?
A more enticing proposition would have been to have us cheering in a different place, for a different team. Like, for example, in court. For the prosecution.
Last year, in the thick of a national debate about misogyny, some commentators accused Andrew Dominik’s male-dominated gangster drama Killing Them Softly of sexism, linking characters and context to the film itself — a brutally honest criticism of the depraved sexist state of an economically and morally vulnerable America. If you “want” real on-screen misogyny, you’re unlikely to find it in social allegory.
But here it is, laid bare in Blinder, a film that not only features misogynistic characters but, by way of its structure and dramatic emphasis, is also deeply misogynistic as a work of art.
A bizarre amount of weight is devoted to the question of why a young woman had the nerve to leak controversial photographs to the press. More, in fact, than the question of why a 15-year-old girl was sexually abused in the first place — and the culture that allowed such a thing to happen.
The screenplay cares deeply about who submitted photos to the media, and the damage done. There is an ongoing implication of guilt on the young woman’s behalf, even a scene in which she apologosies for compromising the footy career of a sex offender. A considerable chunk of the story revolves around the question: why did this girl leak the story?
And, of course, how dare she?
The message to any footy player who has been caught out sexually abusing somebody and has the gall to complain about how their career has subsequently suffered should be simple: “screw you.”
One might be tempted to add: “for a change.”
In one of Blinder’s many inane pep talks, spurring his team mates on to raise hell on the field, the protagonist speaks of “experiencing pain like you’ve never felt before.”
Indeed, these blokes have almost certainly never felt the pain and anguish that lingers at the heart of this unconscionable coastal-set drama. It’s the young lady who was drugged, taken advantage of and ridiculed as a slut who felt something they never will. The girl who wasn’t, unlike her rapist, lifted up and championed by her peers. The wretched creature who submitted photos to the paper.
Last month, interviewed by the Herald-Sun, Glenn Archer said Blinder was “an important story in the end to say if you take drugs, shit can happen.”
The AFL great saw a different film to the one that opens in Australian cinemas this Thursday. If you thought Archer understood the themes of the production he partly financed, you’d be wrong.
In Richard Gray’s defence, despite a horrifying end result, the three-time filmmaker did not make a black and white “drugs are bad mmmkay” propaganda film. Nor did he tell a narrative as trivial as “shit can happen.”
Blinder is about rape and loss of innocence. It is — or rather, it should have been — about how the stains of some crimes, moral or legal, can never be wiped away no matter how hard you scrub at them. Moments in life when you realise the only way to move forward is to be contrite. To acknowledge you’ve made a mistake.
Although Gray clumsily attempts to give his protagonist a pass-card (aka a deus ex machina) for that fateful night by having him drugged by his mates, thus apparently absolving himself of responsibility, he and the cast and crew have shown courage in tackling complex issues head on. For that they deserve acknowledgement.
But with that courage should come the conviction to admit they got it wrong. That their exploration of guilt, oddly married to a “yee-haw” sports movie, ended up misogynistic. The audience deserve that much. More importantly, so do victims of sexual abuse.
Blinder could have been a powerful and condemnatory drama that acknowledged the many virtues of football culture while slamming its seedy underbelly, praising the positive elements of the game while tsk-tsking the morally dubious culture surrounding it.
Perhaps the film could have been a game-changer in terms of public attitudes — or, at the very least, a conversation starter. But that film wouldn’t have been produced by AFL luminaries. It would have had to come from the outside.
On the other hand, perhaps Blinder is the greatest representation of the sick machismo sweltering at the heart of AFL culture, in the sense that it comes from a culture so deeply misogynistic nobody even realised they were doing wrong.
Blinder isn’t exactly what a sport beleaguered by an endless smattering of scandals involving drugs, violence and sex needed to help clean up its image: a sports film in which the female characters are served up like cheap fish food and sex offenders are celebrated.
Oh, and in case you were worried whether Lady Luck would ever again bat her eyelids at the protagonist of Blinder, don’t be.
He gets the girl in the end.
Blinder’s Australian theatrical release date: March 7, 2013.