Perhaps the gender politics of a rape-revenge film are never that clear, but Abel Ferrara’s masterpiece of the genre, Ms. 45, seems particularly muddled. Every man our mute heroine, Thana, comes across is presented as a potential rapist, or at the very least sexually predatory. Even her boss, who is set up at the beginning to be either gay or just a really nice guy, begins rubbing her neck suggestively while reprimanding her about her recent work ethic. In a follow-up scene, the discovery of a boss/secretary tryst across the way in another building prompts her boss to give Thana a rather lascivious glance. Now in full angel of vengeance mode, she returns the gaze with a knowing smirk, already planning his murder in her head.
The female characters aren’t let off the hook here either. Unlike such precursors as Pam Grier’s Coffy, who remains level-headed and in control throughout her murderous revenge spree, Thana is just plain nuts. Her victims soon verge from violent predators to any male at all. Even the dog, Phil, gets targeted, and he doesn’t even try to hump her leg. Thana is surrounded by other male-derived stereotypes of women: the nosy old shrew, the sexy chick who is so tough she might as well be a dyke, the prostitute who cries when the pimp that was beating her gets shot.
At the film’s climactic Halloween party, Thana—dressed as a nun—starts blowing away any man in sight. She refuses to shoot any of the women, even when one of them comes at her with a knife. Our chick-so-tough-she- might-as-well-be-a-dyke (who, in two separate scenes, makes a big show of repelling men’s advances with “fuck off” and “go screw”) takes Thana down with that knife, but not before waving it around at crotch level for an inordinate amount of time, basically beating the audience over the head with the notion that this is a phallic object being wielded by a woman. And being used to fell another woman.
In a scene a few minutes earlier, all of the other girls at her work laugh and joke, excited about getting off early and going to that night’s Halloween party. Thana doesn’t join the revelry. She stands apart from the others, observing them but not seeing them. She is framed with the gold, all-capital “MEN” nameplate from a men’s room door floating just above and to the left of her head, almost as if it were a thought bubble. Ultimately, Thana is punished for this single-mindedness. Her view of relations between the sexes is hopelessly reduced to seeing the opposite sex only as perpetrators of violence. She becomes so fixated on eliminating their threat that she forgets all about the other women in the world. She is not doing this for her “sisters” (as one of her early victims refers to the tough chick that ends up killing her.) In the end, Thana is killed because of her narrow view of gender politics. Can we say the same about Ms. 45?