Arts & Culture

Why Jessie Kahnweiler Is A True Artist

The comedian can bridge the gap between the horrifying and the humorous Read More

By / October 9, 2013

Over at Jewcy, we are big Jessie Kahnweiler fans, so when she released her new video Meet My Rapist, Romy Zipken covered the “dark yet humorous” film immediately. The piece is a masterful work of comedy and tragedy that changes the discourse about rape irreversibly by forcing the viewer through a mosh-pit of all the feelings, rather than one.

The conceit of the film—but do watch it—is that as Kahnweiler goes about her daily life, she is dogged by the silent specter of her rapist. I won’t ruin any of the lines—they are too good. Her delivery and those of the supporting cast is flawless, but suffice it to say that the responses of her friends and family and even herself serve as a hilarious critique of the way rape victims are treated, even by themselves.

The ending inspired in our office a little discussion: Was it a happy ending? Or was it a drug-infused ironic send-up of happy endings?

This week on The Hairpin (which we at Jewcy also luuurv), Jessie Kahnweiler weighed in on the ending she chose in a lovely interview with Emma Carmichael:

Jessie: It was also really empowering because I am the one who imagines this guy—I created my rapist’s persona. I only knew him in my real life for about three hours total. But I knew that if I could imagine him, I could also maybe say goodbye to him in my own way. It’s not that he is ever fully gone from my life, but I think it’s possible to reach a healthy level of detachment, and making the film gave me just that.

Emma: Right, so you could sort of create your own version of a happy ending?

Jessie: Yea. And to me, what’s so happy about it is that it’s an ending that’s dripping in beginnings—with my sexuality, my identity, and my confidence. It’s not that there is this big mega shift in me, but there is maybe a moment of like, “Yeah, this girl’s on her way.” And that’s so how life is. Any big change happens in a billion seconds over a trillion years.

But Kahnweiler’s little film is important for another reason: she reminds us of what good art is capable of. Good art can move while mocking; it can stir while being satirical. From the choice of the rapist’s appearance to Kahweiler’s own physical comedy to the therapist’s hair to the montage’s music, Kahweiler’s craft is wielded with the sharpness of a knife, and to great purpose. She reminds us that not only can a woman take back an experience that was forced upon her by an assailant, but that good art can change both artist and audience. And I felt myself changing as I watched this video. I emerged from viewing this brilliant seven and a half minutes a person who thinks about rape differently. It’s not that I feel politically altered—it’s hard to imagine where I would go on that front. It’s that Jessie Kahweiler has turned rape into a different thing, a thing that is funny and sad and pliable. A thing that is ugly and horrific but also a thing that can become the fruit of something beautiful, like heartbreak and death and trauma and loss.

Kahnweiler becomes more herself as the film goes you feel like you’re seeing a part of her that her other films don’t quite access. As she tells Carmichael, “the film deals a lot with my frustration and trying to reconcile being a “strong/ badass feminist” with a “hurting victim,” and being a sexual being as well. There is such a certain amount of guilt and shame around my own body with this experience, and the film was a chance to confront all these lurking fears.”

Kahnweiler is a true artist, for her experiences become our enlightenment. What happens on the screen alters us and therefore the kinds of encounters we will have and the kinds of encounters we will tolerate. Kahnweiler’s choice of a mash-up of humor and horror ends up being so much more powerful than a straight-up sob fest, for by engaging the viewer on both levels at once, Kanhweiler forces the viewer to be her—to encounter the material, as Kahnweiler does, as both horrifying and humorous.

Testify, Jessie Kahnweiler. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

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