Ms.45 – Abel Ferrara – 1981

Abel Ferrara and Nicolas St. John are sick puppies in the best of ways. He knows how to get under your skin, and in the most human of ways. He never leaves you without a point of humanity to access, and no matter how extremely his characters behave, one is left shaking his head thinking, “What a fucked up world you live in Abel.”

Ms.45 is a film about Thana, a mute seamstress who is raped on her way home after work by a man in a mask. Upon her arrival home, as she is gathering herself from this trauma, she discovers an intruder in her apartment. As he attempts to rape her she smashes him in the head and then bludgeons the man with an iron. She puts him in the bathtub until she can figure what to do with him. She decides to saw him up and place him in garbage bags, stowing them in her refrigerator and then dropping them off one at a time, as she normally would leave the apartment. As she is dropping one off a skuzzy man follows her with a bag and haunted by the prospect of being found out she takes a .45 from her purse and shoots the man in the head. Thus begins her serial killings. Thana leaves at night, dressed up, dressed to kill.

The men in the film are presented in no spectrum of morality. The men are uniformly awful and reprehensible as human beings. They offer money for sex, make cat calls from the street, her boss touches her on the face and neck and treats her like an animal, and the worst men, two of them in this film, actually rape her. Perhaps New York in the early eighties was actually like this, without a speck of humanity worth saving. And save them she does not. Ms.45 blows them away.

At some point though, sexuality and violence get wrapped up in her brain, warping her perception of what is and is not an attack on women. A Chinese couple make out in front of a Baskin Robbins and though they playfully fight, Thana interprets this wrongly and follows the man home for execution. The fates save this kid this night, and maybe Ferrara is exonerating youth here, for these young characters are among the few spared.

Thana’s female co-workers are a tough bunch as exemplified when the douchey photographer hits on a table of them together. “Get fucked! Get the fuck out of here! Get bent!”, come the replies. It’s hard to be a gal in the city. If you want to live here you have to have very thick skin. But as a contrast to the men, the women are affable, and at least kind to one another. They try to include Thana in group activities and are never presented alone as Thana is, suggesting a pack mentality and safety in numbers as opposed to the men who are the lone wolves, roaming the allies looking for weakness and vulnerability.

Thana meets what seems to be a sympathetic man. They share a beer and he tells her of his ex. They end up on a park bench and he tells her of how he discovered his wife cheating on him and went home and strangled her cat. This petty act of vengeance mirrors Thana’s out of control vendetta on the city. As she hears of the cat killing, she pulls her gun to kill the man. He takes it from her, and asks if it is a joke. Silence is her only reply, and the decision to make Thana mute keeps her from vocal justification of her misdeeds. We are left to fill in her thoughts for ourselves, relying on Zoe Lund’s mostly dead and vacant expressions. The man puts the gun to his head and pulls the trigger. In a wide shot we see the red mist as the shot reports into the night. This man was the most moral male figure in the story and he figures he needs to die. This is one more example of self-destruction for Thana’s brittle mind. The camera removes us from the act just as Thana is mentally removed from it.

By the time film ends in a Halloween party, Thana, blasphemously dressed as a nun, ends up firing her gun again and again into a party of masked individuals. The masks both function as echoes of her initial assailants visage and thematically underlines the fact that Thana can no longer see friend from foe, that her death fixation now clouds her mind completely. A man in a dress is shot and as he falls his wig is removed effectively changing his gender in front of us. Where she once was targeting only men Thana is killing everyone. A female co-worker eventually seizes a knife and holding it like a cock in front of her penetrates Thana, killing her, completing the sex-death association.

Thana’s name is based on the name Thanatos, the Greek god of death. Freud used the word to refer to the human death instinct, a desire that leads people to take risks, seek thrills or behave destructively in a manner that may lead to death. Thana begins her obsession with death by killing a deserving man. But with each subsequent kill it is apparent that her neurosis is not one of revenge as it started but an obsession with death itself, being near death, causing and courting death. She dresses as a nun, not as a Christ-bride, or one married to God, but as an acolyte of termination. And as obsession is prone to do, it destroys her. But not before it leaves a nasty taste in the audiences’ mouth.

And, this film really is for a very expressly crude 42 street audience. These people in the New York grindhouses in the late seventies and early eighties, these weren’t film fans. They were murderers, pimps, junkies, and rapists. These men were the victims of Ms.45. Maybe one or two of them walked out of this film looking over their shoulder.

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