This 80s Movie: Ms. 45 (1981)


(spoilers ahead)

Ms. 45 is an example of a vigilante movie, although it goes even more absurd than most of them are. It is one of Abel Ferrara’s first movies and is crude, violent and absurd. I couldn’t call it good convincingly but in a way it was better than I expected after the first ten minutes of the movie. The acting is mostly bad, the dialogue too, the music is torture for the ears, but there is a certain fascination for a movie that mostly does what you assume it would, but sometimes goes along paths that are totally unexpected. And for a movie that deals with a female vigilante (or “misandristic spree killer” as Wikipedia proudly sets right), it sure says many things about men and women. I’m not sure it knows exactly what to say, but it’s interesting to take a look at the messages it conveys. It also works as an era representative for the 80s: a mixture of fashion world and crime infected New York, both typical 80s memes.

The movie starts out in a fashion world that seems to be ruled by women. We see models, seamstresses and a female fashion designer who is treated like a queen. Only the boss of the fashion company we are introduced to is male, but even he is quite effeminate (but not gay as we find out later, in a defiance of stereotypes). It’s here that we are introduced to our main character Thana (Zoë Lund), a mute, shy and inconspicuous woman. She looks slightly deranged even before anything happens to her. In one of her early scene, she walks down the street with two of her co-workers and every single man they see, looks at them, talks to them, touches them or says things like: “You wanna sit on my face?” This is basically the portrayal of men in this movie, right from the start. And a scene like this, so over-the-top, begs the question of the intention: all men are pigs? It’s hard to think anything else.

Ms. 45 - Men

But this hasn’t been bad enough, because Thana, now alone, is pulled from the sidewalk in bright daylight to an alley where she’s brutally raped by a masked man. She manages to get up, walk to her apartment where a burglar awaits her to rape her a second time in five minutes. It’s really painful and incredible to see this turn of events. And highly problematic I think. There is so much discussion nowadays about the use of rape in fiction, so to see a woman getting raped twice in such a short time is highly discomforting. And you have to wonder what the audience is supposed to feel, especially as the second scene goes on and on forever. Is that necessary? Is one rape not enough to trigger the events that follow? I mean, it’s so unrealistic and delves even more into the “men are predators”-stereotype that is not seen so often, but here it is just too much. And by today's standard, the use of rape as a trigger seems far more questionable (unless you ask Mark Millar or Brad Meltzer).

Ms. 45 - Rape

Thana attacks the rapist with an apple paperweight (is that some original sin metaphor?) and kills him with a flat-iron (is that some women housekeeping metaphor?). She’s traumatized and then, at a point where you think the story goes, she goes home and saws the dead rapist into pieces and puts him in her fridge. Throughout the movie she gets rid of bags of rapist pieces, even going so far as turning some of it into dog food. To give the movie credit, she’s not cold-hearted as she struggles with it afterwards and as the movie progresses, it takes its time with her metamorphosis into a serial killer. It’s not “I’m Ms. 45 now!” all of a sudden.

Ms. 45 - Apple
Ms. 45 - Creepy
Ms. 45 - Circle

A man runs after her (we saw that he is disgusting already) and she shoots him, still startled at it. Her boss becomes creepier towards her. There’s a guy making out in a restaurant and then hitting on Thana and her friends. She kills him. Next there’s a pimp hitting a prostitute. Shot. Up until this point it’s a pretty standard vigilante movie. Something wrong happened to her, now she goes out to seek justice by herself. This is even true for the ridiculous moment where four guys circle her in a circle at night and she shoots all four of them. And a sheikh and his driver in their car.Only then she changes into a straight killer that is out for men’s blood. Though it is interesting that the first innocent victim, where the audience would turn away from her completely if she killed him, is actually saved by sheer luck. The movie is not ready to demonize her yet. When she meets a guy in a bar, who holds monologues about his wife who cheats on him, again, we feel some sympathy for him. He might be talking a lot, but he never tries anything with Thana. And when she pulls out her gun, he takes it away from her and, without a word, mute like her, shoots himself. Before he pulls the trigger, he looks at her with a certain sympathy. But why does he take over for her? To punish himself? Because he sees no point in life anyway? To teach her a lesson?

Ms. 45 - Suicide

But in the last act, she now does become the relentless killer. She prepares for a Halloween party, dressed as a nun (this movie really never misses a symbolism opportunity), and there leads her boss upstairs. She had flirted with him before, basically setting a trap for him and once they’re alone and he starts kissing her feet, she eventually pulls out the gun (leaving a dangling crucifix – this movie might work with a symbolism drinking game) and kills him. In an endless slow motion scene she goes downstairs to shoot every man (even one dressed as a woman) she sees, until her friend intervenes. Okay, enough symbolism jokes, but her friend takes a knife which she holds weirdly in front of her crotch until she stabs Thana. Phallic symbol much?

Ms. 45 - Crucifix
Ms. 45 - Knife

As I said in the beginning, I’m not sure what the movie is trying to say. Men are shown as sexist, dirty, dangerous pigs for most of the movie, which turns Thana into a victim, but once she becomes strong by killing them, they are portrayed with more diversity and sympathy. Thana on the other hand undergoes a transformation from passive victim to active killer, who is eventually impaled by the knife like she was earlier by the rapist. In a way, though, either active or passive, she has it wrong. When she’s too passive, she is raped, when she decides to become active, she goes too far. The same with the phallic symbols. They are everywhere, but boil they down to more than: “Men and their penises are dangerous”? Still, I have to say, after looking at the movie more closely, I appreciate it more than during my first watching. It’s still too exaggerated, but if you look closely enough, you see the care that went into putting some meaning into it.

Ms. 45 - Thana
Ms. 45 - Transform 2
Ms. 45 - Transform 3
Ms. 45 - Transform 4