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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Linda Rader Overman is very proud of her students' critical film reviews of Mustang by director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven.




Foreplay the 13th: Mustang by Kyle Edwards
 
            The film Mustang is both a coming of age tale about five sisters and the strife they encounter through female adolescence growing up in Turkey, and a cautionary tale about freedom of expression, and the price paid for breaking the status quo. Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur, and Lale play the role of five sisters that take the audience through their journey of overcoming adversity, often without much of any positive outcome. One by one the audience witnesses their lives change within given relationships not just with each other and members of their own family, but the external conflict between themselves and society as a whole. The film sparks a conversation about the role of women in many nations where religion takes precedent over individualism. Therefore, the film Mustang is reminiscent of a teenage slasher horror movie, masquerading as a coming of age tale of female individualism overcoming adversity.
            Female sexuality is the driving cognitive metaphor throughout much of the movie. There are two basic elements of the film that guide my perspective on the film: parallelism and motif. The film begins innocently enough with the five sisters mentioned playing in ocean waters with a group of adolescent boys. Physical contact is represented in a very child-like sense, with no sexual overtone or sexual contact expressed during the opening scenes. This setup establishes the mood and characterization that carries the rest of the film. It is necessary, for its ability to show the innocence of the five sisters all living out an idyllic afternoon among friends. The motif among these scenes, the binding connection symbol, is the ocean. The ocean then represents the metaphor between nature and man’s dominion.
            The ocean is shot at a wide angle, with close ups involving the girls all laughing in its bliss and among the boys. It is almost as if the ocean acts as a barrier to the outside world around them, and a blanket that encompasses both the girls and the boys at close physical proximity. There’s already a strange feeling of tension, that part of life where girls and boys start to mature and blossom into women and men, and is represented with some of the older sisters, particularly with the likes of Selma and Sonay. They are carried atop the shoulders of boys, the ocean waters drenching them repeatedly as the men bounce them up and down above their heads with the ebb and flow of the waves. It represents the sexual coming of age between the two eldest sisters, whose physical proximity to the boys are almost natural for girls their age with developing hormones, with the sensation of dampness and the bobbing between shots giving the audience the allusion about sex.
            After their trip through the garden, the introduction of the film’s parallelism is first seen. The ocean scene and the garden scene are similar with their bliss and naïve quest to explore the nature of life around them, and thus an inner journey to search for their own identities. What separates the two is the man with a shotgun who jolts the women back into reality, of diving into areas they should not be wandering. The entire scene sets up the second act of the film, and the consequences for flying too close to the sun so to speak, and even representational of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden when they became too self-aware of their Original Sin. In this case, the Original Sin is the lack of concern for obeying status quo, and allowing themselves to partake in open public physical interaction with young boys.
            From here on out in the film, the idea of premarital sex, or any physical lewd act for that matter, is discussed openly. It allows the audience to see the main external conflict right in the open without any hesitation: Their virginity, their chastity, their bodies and their vaginas are not their own. On the contrary, they are vessels for men, for society, and for their future husbands now and forever. While the beginning and the very end of the film becomes a story of personal growth and overcoming adversity for one particular character, the main protagonist and the youngest sister Lale, it then turns into a cautionary tale for all the other sisters.
            Maureen Medved, a famed scholar who analyzed the subliminal messages of the film Mustang mentions in her article, “the innocent freedom they experienced before their imprisonment was a cruel illusion” (Medved 47). In almost every teenage slasher film, there are “tropes” commonly mixed in for the audience to analyze. A group of teenage characters arrive, stumble upon a remote area they shouldn’t have wandered, and are then systematically killed off one at a time usually because of their sexual promiscuity, drug use, tattoos and piercings, and anything else that symbolizes individuality and acts seen as negative by society and the status quo. The heroine, if there are any survivors, is always the chaste and innocent girl where through her sexual repression, defeats her antagonist by expelling all her tension through physical action. Mustang turns into a horror movie, with clever variations disguising some of the more overplayed and clichéd stereotypes and tropes.
            Our five main characters are all introduced, each with their own personalities and yearnings for personal growth and freedom. Each are thrown into naïve amusement during the opening scenes at the ocean and through the garden. As the film progresses, they are marked by an elder neighbor who spills the beans and begins to change the course of their lives forever. Uncle Erol, their guardian along with a multitude of elderly aunts and female relatives, scorn them for even thinking of unleashing their sexual promiscuity. They are all locked up in a house that slowly but surely becomes more and more securitized, like countless infamous tales of a Haunted House Story where no one can leave. Their sexual promiscuity ends up being their downfall when the elders think it is time to sell off their girls to the highest bidders, with not even a word of consideration from the sisters themselves.  
            The wedding scene represents an excellent example of parallelism, where one sister Sonay is beyond overjoyed to be engaged to the man of her dreams, while another sister, Selma, is openly displeased. Her “virginity check” is a time for catharsis for herself and for the audience, to analyze why she states her message of how she has slept with many men even though her hymen seems to say otherwise. It’s as if she’s wondering why she is being punished with this miserable life and circumstances outside her control, and why she simply cannot enjoy life and individuality. She is already dead, “killed” on the inside and has been for some time. Sonay seems to believe that she has “won,” that because she is with the man of her “dreams” she will be just fine and “we” as an audience never know what ends up of her fate and whether a happy marriage is in the works and maybe that is all she needs. But then again, how do any of us know if a happy marriage to a loving spouse is all we’ll ever need as the years go on?
            Ece is the next sister on the chopping block, who suffers the ultimate doom. It is revealed that Uncle Erol has been molesting her, stealing away her innocence. In rebellion, she allows herself to have sexual relations with another boy in the backseat of her Uncle’s car very dangerously and in public. Her exposure to sex has always come at a negative, and soon enough, she ends up taking her own life with a gun. Since sex is taken by force, and innocence is robbed, the effects on Ece are devastating and comes at a heavy price, along with the burden for those suffering that hardship. Maral Erol, a researcher on Turkey’s medical arena, states that, “Nearly half of forensic physicians in Turkey conduct virginity examinations for social reasons despite beliefs that such examinations are inappropriate, traumatic to the patient, and often performed against the patient's will” (Erol 55). Even if the girls get away with certain acts of promiscuity, society will always find a way to keep them in check, scaring them into forever forcing them to be pure, or suffer the consequences beyond your imagination.
            Lale’s last sister in the house, Nur, is also being taken advantage of by Uncle Erol. Through a cunning plan, the two sisters finally act against society and their elders and find a way to escape the horrors and trauma of what was to be their futures. Lale is in control, as the innocent and still a chaste girl who takes over the wheel of a car and drives off – somewhere…anywhere. Our main protagonist, our heroine, our leading lady who defeats her monster ends up escaping and even manages to survive with one of her sisters, but do they drive off into the sunset? Is it a happy ending to know that all of Lale’s other sisters, except for Sonay who accepts her fate to be a housewife for better or worse, are doomed one way or the other and punished more or less by the use of either sexual desires or sexual misdeeds? How far can they go behind the wheel of that car, at their age, in an entire nation designed to shackle them? The movie has another classic horror movie inspired ending; our main heroine has survived, for now, but the boogeyman is still out there lurking and stalking. And if it’s not their Uncle, it’s their aunts, or their neighbors, or the police, or anyone at all in the country of Turkey.
            Analyzing the movie therefore is like summarizing any teenage slasher film. A group of young adolescents think they are all alone, with the freedom to express themselves any way they see fit. They are soon “found out” by a force, an unstoppable entity that stalks them at every turn. They are isolated, secluded from others in a physical “location” they cannot escape from and weld shut from the outside. One by one, sex proves to be their downfall until finally a brave chaste heroine makes a daring escape that expels the antagonist once and for all out of their lives. Before the film concludes, and as they are driving off into the unknown, it highlights their emotional growth and spiritual journey, and hints that the audience shouldn’t necessarily assume a “happy ending” if all of Lale’s sisters are gone or negatively affected, and the Boogeyman is still out there in some form or another trying to catch them. The title of Mustang, is in reference to Lale, the brave steed who gets away by finding her inner strength to confront the evil fate that stands before her. The one, lone chaste warrior who at least for a brief while, has the chance to get away.
Works Cited
Ergüven, Deniz Gamze, director. Mustang. Cohen Media Group, 2015.

Medved, Maureen. "Mustang." Herizons Summer 2016: 47. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 7 Nov. 2016.
 
Erol, Maral. "From Opportunity to Obligation: Medicalization of Post-menopausal Sexuality 
in Turkey." Sexualities, 17.1-2 (2014): 43-62.


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Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang and the Fight for Control Over Women’s Bodies 
by Colette Meade

In America, mustangs are feral horses that have escaped captivity are adapted to the conditions of the wilderness (Schafer). Mustang is a 2015 Turkish film directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven where young women also fight to escape captivity. The film centers on the story of five orphaned sisters growing up in rural Turkey in the early 2000’s. The film stars Güneş Şensoy as Lale, Doğa Doğuşlu as Nur, Elit İşcan as Ece, Tuğba Sunguroğlu as Selma, and İlayda Akdoğan as Sonay. At the beginning of the film, the sisters are shown playing innocently in the ocean with male classmates. Unfortunately, this is interpreted as a sexual offense by members of their community, and their surrogate parental figures, a grandmother and uncle, Because of this incident, the older sisters Ece, Sonay, and Selma are subjected to “virginity tests,” all of the girls are not allowed to return to school, and their home is converted into a prison that they are rarely allowed to leave. Meanwhile, their grandmother begins cooking and sewing lessons with the sisters as they are set up in arranged marriages one by one. In addition, it is revealed that their uncle is molesting first Ece, and then Nur.  Ergüven intended to convey a powerful feminist message against patriarchal oppression in her film Mustang; she conveyed this through strategic plot points including the reaction to the girls frolicking with their male classmates, Nur’s molestation, and Ece and Lale’s acts of rebellion.
There is a powerful message regarding women’s role in a patriarchal society in the film Mustang. Patriarchy is defined as “a social structural phenomenon in which males have the privilege of dominance over females, both visibly and subliminally [which is] manifested in the values, attitudes, customs, expectations, and institutions of the society” (Darity).  Turkey has a long-standing tradition of being a rather patriarchal society despite some modern improvements over the years. The Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures describes this by saying “While women have access to the public sphere as citizens equal with men in modern Turkey, the private sphere is still held to be the appropriate place for women, since their roles as mothers and wives are prioritized by the prevailing patriarchal mentality” (Özman). As recently as March 2016, Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in a speech that a woman “is above all else a mother” (France-Presse). Places like Turkey are able to maintain patriarchy through control over female bodies. Power over bodies is an extremely important way to perpetuate social hierarchies as famous French philosopher Michel Foucault explains in his work “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” Some feminists, such as poet Adrienne Rich and activist Andrea Dworkin, also discuss power over bodies and how it is a way that males maintain dominance over women (Bordo). What makes Mustang such a unique film is how it skillfully presents ideals similar to Rich. Foucault, and Dworkin’s without ever once mentioning politics or feminism. As Adile Sedef Dönmez states in a review of the film, “The movie explores women’s issues by focusing on social and private life, rather than structural and legal problems, and through this delineates the way these oppressive structures are recreated within the family and society.” The politics of a nation are often an abstract concept to many people and the ways in which they affect the family unit is where they truly play out. Thus, the focus on the family in the film puts the issues of control and dominance over women’s bodies’ in the viewer's face in a very real and approachable way. 
The catalyst for all the action throughout the film is the scene where the sisters play in the ocean with the school boys. The reaction to this incident shows how the town, the girl’s uncle, and their grandmother all attempt to exert control over the sister’s sexuality. According to Rich, denying women their sexuality by means of punishment is another method by which “male power is manifested and maintained” (1596).  After the ocean incident, the uncle is angry with the grandmother for allowing the girls to interact in a potentially sexual way with the young men. The grandmother keeps trying to reassure him that they have done nothing wrong to which he replies, “If they’re sullied it’s your fault!” (Ergüven). Thus, the sister’s sexuality is deemed to be under the control of the uncle and the grandmother and not the young women themselves.  Foucault discusses the modern invention of institutions that discipline the body. He mentions a French prison named Mettray as an early model for these types of institutions. He explains that one of the hierarchical models in which inmates were divided at Mettray was a ‘family’ structure. The prison’s task was “to produce bodies that were docile and capable” using family models among others (1491).  In a similar way, the sister’s family hierarchy is an institution that controls their bodies. Their grandmother is expected to produce docile young women that adhere to patriarchal norms. The grandmother reassures the uncle that the sisters are still virgins despite their play in the ocean by saying “I’ll prove it to you” (Ergüven). Again, it is the grandmother and uncle’s decision to subject the three older sisters Ece, Sonay, and Selma to a “virginity report,” which is a direct violation of their bodies.  According to the article “Virginity Examinations in Turkey: Role of Forensic Physicians in Controlling Female Sexuality” these tests are “gynecologic examinations that attempt to correlate the status of the hymen with the occurrence of sexual intercourse” because “rupture of the hymen is considered evidence of loss of virginity” (Frank). This article also goes onto to assert that “premarital female virginity is considered an important social norm that may serve to control women's behavior” (Frank). Thus, at the beginning of the film it is established that the young women do not have much control over their own person due to the patriarchal control that the authority figures in their life exert over them in a prison-like fashion.
Another demonstration of how male patriarchy maintains control over women is conveyed in the film through the uncle’s molestation of Nur. The film tackles this somewhat delicately by not showing any actual molestation, but strongly implying it. Lale sees the uncle quietly sneaking into Nur’s room at night, and then the next scene cuts to Lale waking up to her grandmother and uncle arguing. The grandmother exclaims “What were you doing? I asked you a question! Stop that! Stop it right now!” (Ergüven). This scene makes it clear that the uncle feels he has complete control over the sisters, which includes sexual access to them. Rich describes this type of behavior as forcing male sexuality upon women by means of rape or incest (1549). Rich sees this as another form of power that men hold over women to enforce patriarchy.  Their grandmother’s reaction to the molestation only serves to reinforce this power structure. Their grandmother does not turn their uncle into the authorities despite being appalled by his actions. Instead she begins plans to arrange a marriage for Nur since she, “is a young woman now” (Ergüven).  The grandmother is again acting as an agent of patriarchy and using the sisters as “objects in male transactions” (Rich 1595).  She is transferring ownership of the young women’s bodies from the uncle to another male. Their grandmother is not encouraging the girls to embrace any personal control. Dworkin explains the behavior of women like this in her speech “Terror, Torture, and Resistance.” She discusses how some women accept as a basic premise of life that women are “things” that must be sexually pleasing to men to survive. Thus, women in oppressed situations are often brave people, but they use their bravery to make deals that compromise their freedom in the name of survival “instead of fighting the system that forces [women] to make the deal” (Dworkin). An arranged marriage to protect a young woman from rape is an example of this type of “deal.” The grandmother feels she is being brave when she is an active participant in the young women’s oppression.
Ece and Lale both rebel against the patriarchal structure of Turkish society in very different ways. Ece takes control over her body by committing suicide. The scene begins with the three youngest sisters eating dinner with their uncle and grandmother. The uncle is intently watching a television program. The audience does not see the television, only the uncle’s face as he is absorbed in the program. The voice on the television states, “Women must be chaste and pure, know their limits, and mustn’t laugh openly in public, or be provocative with every move. Women must guard their chastity!” (Ergüven).  The faceless man on the television is explicitly encouraging the control over women’s sexuality that Rich has described.  Ece makes fun of the program by putting up her middle finger in front of her face where the other two girls can see, and they all begin giggling. As a result, the uncle demands that Ece leave the table. When she goes into the room, she shoots herself. It is clear that Ece is fed up with the patriarchal attitude of both her uncle and the surrounding society. She feels that the only way she can exert control over her own being is to end her life. Ultimately, Lale exerts control over her situation, much like Ece did, but in a much more constructive way. At the end of the film, on what is supposed to be Nur’s wedding day, Lale initiates a daring escape from the house with Nur. She locks the entire wedding party out of the house while her uncle bangs angrily on the doors and windows trying to get in. The two girls manage to escape and eventually make it the more cosmopolitan city of Istanbul where they find their female school teacher and show up at her door.  Lale’s daring escape echoes the words of Dworkin in “Terror, Torture, and Resistance” when she says: “ I'm asking you to fight…I'm not asking you to get caught. I'm asking you to escape. I'm asking you to run for your life” (Dworkin). Dworkin is encouraging women trapped in violent and oppressive situations to stand up for themselves through escape rather than death, and this is exactly what Lale does. Lale exerts ultimate control over her body by getting away from both her uncle and the arranged marriage. She does not compromise her freedom by allowing herself to be transferred to another male in order to avoid molestation from her uncle. She then seeks out the help of an educated woman in a metropolitan city as her final act of defiance in the film.
It is clear that Ergüven wanted to discuss feminist issues with her film Mustang. Ergüven explains in an interview that she “had long had an abstract desire to tackle the question of what it is to be a woman in Turkey” (Cooke). Ergüven brilliantly conveys a powerful message regarding the enforcement of patriarchy through control over women’s bodies. These ideas are reminiscent of the work of great writers like Foucault, Rich, and Dworkin. A mustang is a wild free-roaming horse, and the film’s title acts as a symbol for the free spirits of the sisters that authority figures attempt to tame throughout the film. However, at least two of the sisters are able to break free from their oppression thanks to the untamable strength of the youngest sister Lale. This strength is a powerful role model for women dealing with oppression that encourages them to fight and to escape. 
Works Cited
Bordo, Susan, and Monica Udvardy. "Body, The." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 1, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005, pp. 230-238. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 11 Dec. 2016.
Cooke, Rachel. “Deniz Gamze Ergüven: 'For Women in Turkey It's like the Middle Ages'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 May 2016.
Darity, William A."Patriarchy." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed., vol. 6, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 173-174. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 11 Dec. 2016.
Dworkin, Andrea. “Terror, Torture, and Resistance.”Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme, fall 1991, Volume 12, Number 1.
Dönmez, Adile Sedef. "Mustang (2015)." Nidaba 1.1 (2016): 84. journals.lub.lu.se/ojs/index.php/nidaba/article/download/15853/14340
Ergüven, Deniz Gamze, director. Mustang. Cohen Media Group, 2015.
Frank MW, Bauer HM, Arican N, Korur Fincanci S, Iacopino V. “Virginity Examinations in Turkey: Role of Forensic Physicians in Controlling Female Sexuality”. JAMA. 1999; 282(5):485-490, 
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. Ed. Peter Simon. 2nd ed, New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.
Schafer, Elizabeth D. "Mustangs." Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 5, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, p. 504.
Özman, AylIn. "Turkey." Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, edited by Suad Joseph, vol. 2: Family, Law and Politics, Brill Academic Publishers, 2005, pp. 670-671. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
France-Presse, Agence. “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: 'A woman is above all else a mother.'” The Guardian News and Media Inc.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. Ed. Peter Simon. 2nd ed, New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.