In the enthusiasm over movies that celebrate and elevate strong characters of diverse gender and race right now, Assassination Nation stands out as a movie that underperformed expectations. Its reviews—both viewers and critics—has been decidedly mixed.
I saw it Sunday night, after re-entering reality and the news and social media and my cell phone after four idyllic off the grid at our women’s only retreat. It was…a lot to handle on top of a country that saw an entirely credible witness talking about sexual assault and still looks likely to name the alleged predator to the Supreme Court. Oh, and a country led by a man who would later mock that credibly survivor for political entertainment.
Assassination Nation is visually painful to watch, not just because of the subject matter, which it openly acknowledges is brutal with a mashed up (somehow?) tongue-in-cheek trigger warning that includes everything from “transphobia” to “sexual assault” to “male gaze.” But it’s so visually rich and blaring; the way the film is produced makes it hard to watch, subject matter aside.
But it’s also what makes it so d*mn real. That’s the world these girls have been raised in. As several critics have noted, it’s an angry movie for angry times. But it’s more than that: It’s the anthem of the Teen Vogue generation. A young generation of women who are already intersectional feminists decrying the patriarchy, decades before earlier generations of women go there. A generation of women who have been sexualized not only in the real world with the cat calling and leering that we’ve all endured since puberty, but online in even more aggressive and exploitative ways.
A generation of women—and men—who have almost mutated into an ability to weaponize the very thing that’s also made them a victim. As we saw in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, this generation can social media rings around old white power.
If the recent Kavanaugh tide of “men are the real victims in this” hot takes disgusts you, there is some hope in this movie. Younger generations are more angry and taking more action than Gen X white women who we all keep hoping will wake up.
Sallie Krawcheck started her comments at our retreat by saying she was “incandescent with rage” while noting sardonically that she isn’t “allowed to be angry” as a woman in our society. These girls respect that about as much as the whole white-after-Labor-Day thing.
But while there’s hope in that young, awakened, ferocity, there’s also tragedy in it. We shouldn’t be passing the buck to them because they’re more enraged, more badass, and more social media savvy. Any more than it’s fair to expect “entitled Millennials” to demand more parental rights in the workplace. Teens finding their political voice because they are watching friends get gunned down in high school may be a silver lining but it’s a silver lining on an atomic mushroom cloud. We failed them. Colossally.
Where were we? Where are we now?
The parents in this movie aren’t all wearing masks and hunting down teenage girls, but they mostly don’t come out well. Kicking a daughter out of their house for sexting rather than embracing her in her pain. That was one of the more shocking things, even if the least violent. I had a lot of emotions as the mother to a gender creative son and a badass daughter watching this film. They hewed more towards “I want to lock them in the house and never let them go into this world” than locking the door behind them for engaging in the world they were given.
The killer—devastating—knockout punch of dialog came at the end: “This is your world. You built this. Don’t take your hate out on me. I just got here.”
What kept this film from being more of a Kill Bill-like ride where you could enjoy the revenge was how long the movie went before the women took up arms to defend themselves. It was necessary to make the point of just how much young women endure in our society. But, for me, it kept the film from being what one of its stars Hari Nef called, “the fun of the movie.”
In an interview about the intense themes of Assassination Nation, she said this: “Can we not abandon the fun of this movie? This is a fun midnight movie for you and your friends and your large popcorn and your slushy. It is a social critique, but it’s all wound up in an action movie that’s fun.”
I didn’t find anything about this movie fun. Maybe it’s being a mom, maybe I’m too old, maybe I’m just too triggered by a lifetime of being a girl and then a woman. But I’m glad I saw it. And I’m in awe of the strength and power of the Teen Vogue generation.
– Sarah Lacy