This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Will Walker’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
We’ve already touched a bit on the similarities between characters in Showgirls and Death Note (2017) We’ll get back to them later. For now, I want to discuss the thematic material linking the two films together. Let’s start with how both films touch on romantic love, particularly the romantic love demanded of by the audience it’s mocking.
PART TWO: “You can fuck me when you love me.”
The Tragedies of Mia Sutton & Nomi Malone
Love and the pursuit of conditional love are crucial to narratives that both Showgirls and Death Note convey. In the case of Death Note, we have Light’s disturbing conditions of a girlfriend who never questions or undermines him. We also have Mia’s conditional love of a boyfriend who genuinely respects her. For Showgirls, we have Nomi’s conditions of a partner representing benevolent power (notice how quick she is to be millionaire Zack Carey’s mistress while condemning the unemployed James for his own infidelity) True, Mia’s motives are more sympathetic, but Nomi is more a combination of Light and Mia.
Every potential partner of Nomi’s wants ownership of her as a mindless possession. The heights of these films are straight out of the fantasies of a teen in love for the first time. It’s awkward and funny to watch, but also twisted and uncomfortable. When examining the subtext of both films more, it’s touching on darker ideas than the hyperbolic and “cartoony” styles (as Verhoeven himself would describe his direction, we’ll get into this more later. Adam Wingard even credits Verhoeven as a creative inspiration on his other films) would suggest, but it’s not going to be accepted by people with set expectations for what these movies should be (we’ll get to this later too)
I think it’s appropriate to try and compare the characters of Mia and Nomi, after doing the same with Nomi and Light in Part One. If Light is more demonstrative of Nomi’s unflattering qualities, Mia is oddly more demonstrative of Nomi’s more positive ones, even when the latter is undeniably a villain. I suppose that can be a testament to just how slimy and monstrous Light is, but I do think Mia is a more redeemable character.
Mia and Nomi at their best are fiery ice queens and I mean that in the best way. Sticking up for the little guy (something best seen in the beginning of Wingard’s Death Note when the tragic and doomed villain Mia righteously confronts a bully terrorizing her classmates before Light decides to play hero and seen on an admittedly infinitely larger scale at the end of Showgirls, when the redeemed antihero Nomi avenging her best friend’s brutal sexual assault) , self aware enough to try and fix their faults (this gets Nomi a happy, if ambiguous, ending. Mia’s redemption is stolen from her by a boyfriend who she made the tragic choice of trusting in the end, which we clearly see as tears stream down her face to her boyfriend’s only sincere words), and assertive of their value. “You can fuck me when you love me” Nomi tells James. Mia’s most vulnerable moments are in complete silence at her boyfriend’s disrespect and condescending nature. Never once does Light ever tell Mia he loves her, Mia says it 2 times, 3 if you’re counting when she was under the Death Note’s spell, which I am not. Showgirls may have a better script, but I’d argue Death Note has even better direction (no small feat considering I think Showgirls is one of the best directed studio exploitation films ever)
Speaking of, the directing of the “romantic” scenes in both films is so gleefully (and cleverly) campy. Nomi and Carey’s thrashing in a pool like noodles, Mia and Light’s literal tongue petting to a montage of hilariously hyperbolic violence, both played to some lovely 90s synth. Nomi and James making out to Nomi’s period, Light and Mia kissing in a disgusting, brownish rain, these are all awful and horrible and not at all sexy, despite both characters being beautiful and convincing seductresses. People using this as a criticism are losing the point. Paul Verhoeven does not like misogynistic social constructs and the grossly eager desire to feed them, Adam Wingard does not like incel culture and its desire to see a power fantasy fulfilled. It makes sense that neither feature many “sexy” scenes.
TO BE CONTINUED