That Lana Del Rey/Eli Roth Rape Scene, Discussed


Editor’s note: This is a conversation between our staffers on the disturbing Eli Roth/Marilyn Manson/Lana Del Rey video that surfaced this morning, which Manson’s representatives claim he had no part in. As can be expected, it contains graphic content.

SARAH: Torture-porn impresario Eli Roth (of the Hostel franchise) had previously told Larry King about a video he filmed with Lana Del Rey and Marilyn Manson in 2013 that was “so sick, it’s been locked in a vault” since being finished. Now, a sliver of film that appears to be from this very project has leaked online, and it’s indeed disturbing. But at least to me, it was messed up beyond the manner I expected, which was a gory “dismemberment and shrieks” kind of thing.

Instead, sandwiched amidst a shifting, grainy canvas of imagery — uncanny dinner guests in masks, blurred out faces that look skeletal, a bloody woman beneath the water and a man standing with a gun above a highway — is a graphic rape sequence with Del Rey as the victim and Roth as the perpetrator (the fact that it’s him is confirmed by the mole on his arm — see images below). This is followed by a close-up of her tears.

As they say in grad school, there’s lots to unpack here. I’ll start by simply stating that I have no blanket objections to depictions of rape in any form of art, from cartoons to ballet, so long as those depictions serve a real purpose that doesn’t actively promote rape culture.

But in this case, juxtaposing the scene with a variety of stock “creepy signifiers” simply designed to shock suggest that the rape scene is similarly merely designed to shock. And that’s fucked up, as far as I’m concerned. Rape doesn’t belong in the same category as weird masks and underwater bloody ghosts. It’s not your trope to casually utilize, Eli Roth. By the same token, a girl crying after her rape shouldn’t be viewed on the same register as a woman shattering dishes at a dinner party.

But of course, I haven’t seen the rest of the video. And maybe I’m being simplistic. What do you guys think?

JILLIAN: Lana is no stranger to loaded imagery (the trucker fetishism of her “Ride” video, for example), but she’s never experimented with something quite so triggering before. I’m disturbed by a few things that seem to glamorize the rape scene in question, and the subsequent scenes:

– The way “Rape” is written on the balloons in the freak-show party scene, as if it’s something to perversely celebrate.

– LDR’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre t-shirt, virginal white panties, and Cross necklace.

– How the scene is shot with regards to Lana’s traditional beauty: her long, glittery nails pressing into Roth’s arm — an action that could go either way in indicating pleasure or pain.

– The tearful close-up Sarah mentions manages to make sobbing look pretty on Lana; slow-motion blinking with fake lashes, plus perfectly glossed pout, helps with that).

Sarah, I don’t disagree with what you say about not having blanket objections to rape in art, so long as they do not promote rape culture in any way. Yes, these images can be triggering to the legion of women who have experienced sexual abuse, but they portray the ugly truth of a common reality. This clip doesn’t feel truthful — it feel like a glamorization of rape that is clearly not OK.

I will add, however, that we don’t know what follows next what appears to be an unfinished video: Mason is portrayed as a sniper on a rooftop, so maybe the plot involved him gunning down Roth as revenge for what he did to Lana.

MOZE: I agree that the intention behind the video seems (and again, we don’t know where it was going) half-baked on the parts of Roth and Manson: and depictions of rape just, as a rule of thumb, shouldn’t be half-baked. Everything that’s been said thus far about the throwaway shock value of an issue that shouldn’t be equated with the rest of Manson’s stock-in-trade lazy grotesquerie is wholly apt: Manson’s imagery is, at this point, so familiar and tired as to begin to have about as much impact as stock photos of office pencils. Rape is not stock photos of office pencils, nor should it be easy fodder for shock.

However, intentional or not, I come away from this video with just as much annoyance aimed at the creepily meticulous criticism of Lana Del Rey’s image and body (and lips, and whether daddy bought them, and soundscapes, and whether her producers imposed them, etc.) on the part of the media, especially around the time the video was made, in 2013, as she was readying Ultraviolence. The pervasive discourse of the dangers of her “he hit me and it felt like a kiss” masochism, her “sad girl” beauty, and her inauthenticity always seemed to suggest that someone embodying hyperbolic tropes of vintage femininity, that someone who toys with a performative submission, that someone who’d been verbally violated by the press and who was thereby lyricizing ideas of romanticized violation, was actually asking for a culture of sexualized violence. I’ve always taken issue with this line of thought.

Her work, heavy-handed as it often is, plays more into the realm of fantasy: it’s campy and BDSM-y, and while she may lyrically pine after powerlessness, her dominance over pop cultural discussion and the fact that she still remains an enigma suggests a studied control on her part. And I wonder, shuddering: Do critics want this — this horrific scene — to be the endgame? To prove the harm of her message? Surely in participating in this video, Del Rey was directly responding to critics’ “she’s asking for it” discourse, hidden as it always is beneath florid verbiage.

Perhaps we shouldn’t take issue with the fact that she appears glamorous in the video, that while she’s being raped, her black nails and jewelry stand out as sultry “Del Rey” signifiers. Perhaps we should get more upset about the idea that critics have suggested this glamour could bring something like this about. We shouldn’t deny Del Rey’s complicity in the making of this video, but I’m holding onto the idea that it may, for her if not for her male collaborators, have had a more nuanced point than glamorized rape. At least, I hope that’s the case.