Visual representation of Rape/ PTSD in Jessica Jones.
In my video essay, I will be discussing the ways in which Jessica Jones represents the subject of PTSD in relation to sexual assault, and how it separates itself from other popular media culture representations.
The depiction of rape in these other media forms perpetuates images of explicit violence towards women. The rape is treated as an isolated incident, and the lasting effects on a survivor is rarely explored within these narratives. In some cases, the graphic violence is included with the intention of creating unsettlement and discomfort amongst the spectators. In particular, the use of explicit violence against women in The Accused coincides with this notion. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas writes that the film was one of the many films that paved way for the “revenge rape” genre in the early 80s, as it accomplished the ability to “aggressively express the notions of spectatorship in regards to rape and revenge”. It emphasises the point that a women is not responsible or deserving of sexual assault, even if she’s dancing or dressed provocatively.
Additionally, the infamous rape sequence in Irreversible also attempts to draw the viewer’s attention to the horrors of rape by making it excruciatingly uncomfortable and disturbing. On the other hand whilst the use of graphic violence is argued to present an anti-rape perspective, showing images of women being violently assaulted only perpetuates this violence against women in media representations.
I argue that Jessica Jones presents a refreshing perspective on the subject of rape, as it chooses to not show the rape itself but instead, the effects it has on the survivor following the traumatic event. It does not treat the rape as an isolated event that is used as a set up for a revenge story, rather it integrates the complexities of PTSD into the narrative and constantly reiterates it to the audience.
This is achieved in several ways, the most prominent example being the use of ‘The Purple Light’. The significance of the light is that it serves as an indicator for the viewer, indicating that Jessica is experiencing a flashback due to her PTSD. It also works with a dual purpose, both as a reference to the original comics and as an illustration of her PTSD symptoms. In the original comics. Kilgrave (Jessica’s rapist and archenemy) is referred to as “The Purple Man”, as his entire body and clothing is purple. Therefore the purple lighting is representative of Kilgrave and illustrates how he is constantly present within Jessica’s mind.
During these flashbacks, Kilgrave isn’t clearly shown- only through his silhouette. This particular depiction of the character is reminiscent of the monsters/ ghost characters in horror films. The allusive visualisation of the figure of Kilgrave makes him far more threatening and frightening than that of showing the rapist.
Another significant mode of representation of PTSD is showcased through ‘Moments of Marked Subjectivity”. Jessica Jones uses visual techniques to present Jessica’s PTSD to the viewer.
Examples of moments of marked subjectivity in the show include: rapid alteration of lighting, motion blur, jump cuts. They create the jarring and unsettling tone of these scenes. These visual elements enable the viewer to understand and experience the character’s inner turmoil. The use of moments of marked subjectivity blur the binaries between reality and the subconscious as they reflect Jessica’s fears, bringing them into the domestic space. The merging of the domestic safe space with Kilgrave also alludes to the invasive character of the rapist. This coincides with
Modleski’s argument about uncertainty in horror films, and how by the viewer sharing the position of uncertainty with the film’s heroine, we also are just as powerless as the heroine. By incorporating these moments of marked subjectivity, the show creates a sense of uncertainty. I find that the ominousness of Kilgrave in these scenes allows the audience to share Jessica’s fear and trauma.
Jessica’s PTSD is explored throughout the series and it’s explicitly reiterated across the narrative through her drinking, incapability to sleep, pushing her loved ones away and lastly “Birch street, Higgins drive, Combalt Lane”. These three words are said in the pilot episode after Jessica experiences a flashback of Kilgrave. This is an actual technique used by sexual assault victims as a coping mechanism, this would be familiar to a lot of victims of sexual assault watching the show. This becomes a recurring mantra across the series, which emphasises to the audience that Jessica is constantly haunted by her trauma.
Finally I conclude that Jessica Jones depicts the subjects of rape and the issues surround it in an ethical yet realistic way- contrasting from other popular media representations. Whilst other popular media representations such as The Accused, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Game of Thrones etc. present graphic images of rape with the intentions of showing the horrors of rape, they “inadvertently contribute to those backlash representations”. Jessica Jones however chooses not to show the rape itself but to focus instead on the effects following it and how the victim tries to overcome it. The show makes the viewer viscerally feel the damage it does to a person. The show doesn’t shy away from discussing issues that most other media representations neglect or gloss over. The rape isn’t treated as an isolate incident or a set up for a revenge rape story, it is an integral part of the narrative and doesn’t allow the audience to forget that.
Interview with Dr John Mundt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbXbLtuF28Q
The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan, USA, 1988) , I Spit on Your Grave (Stephen R. Monroe, USA, 2010), Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, USA, 2011), Game of Thrones (David Benioff/D.B. Weis, creators, USA/UK 2008-2013), Watchmen (Zack Snyder, USA, 2009), Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, France, 2002), Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, France/Italy, 19720 and Jessica Jones (Melissa Rosenberg, USA, 2015)
Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra. Rape-Revenge Films. 1st ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2011. Print.
Projansky, Sarah. Watching Rape. 1st ed. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Print.