I don’t want my daughter to grow up pure; I want her to grow up whole mourns the mother of a rape victim in the film Split.
Commonly heralded as a quintessential feminist myth, the Sumerian tale of Inanna’s descent into the underworld reflects the complex wounds experienced by young women as they reconcile sexual autonomy with experiences of trauma and abuse. In Split (premiering March 21st, 2017), writer and director Deborah Kampmeier adapts Inanna’s story to twenty-first century New York, using the concept of the underworld journey as a metaphor for self-transformation, recovery from an abusive relationship, and the quest for self-hood.
The film follows the descent of Inanna (Amy Ferguson), an actor playing the role of her dark-Goddess namesake in a small, New York City production, as she is slowly isolated from all relationships outside of her marriage to an emotionally manipulative and increasingly abusive man. Early in the film, a powerful scene between Inanna’s friend Anja (Anna Mouglalis) and her fiancé Dave (Fredric Lehne) highlights the experience of sexual woundings in terms of fragmentation, with Anja framing her daughter’s rape as having her wholeness stolen.
Inanna’s hasty entry into a marriage with a mask-maker, Derek (Morgan Spector), represents the initial stages of her descent through which her own wholeness is stolen. Paralleling her struggles with playing the role of the Goddess Inanna, the main character is initially driven by a profound, internalized unworthiness. She feels she is unworthy of playing the lead role in the play, continually resisting the vulnerability and raw, primal sexuality demanded by the performance, just as she feels she deserves nothing more than a grossly dysfunctional relationship in which she has become completely powerless. Her marriage is marked by a deep yearning for connection with her husband who offers her only feigned intimacy. Just as Derek crafts masks for the women in the play, he continually projects his own childhood wounds onto his wife, undergirding much of his abusive behavior.
In the film’s most pivotal scene, Inanna has been cast out of the circle of her fellow actors, forced to sit in a chair placed several stories above the other women as they confess their righteous rage and enduring grief over collective feminine woundings. One by one, the women begin by saying “I speak for all girls…” and continue with tearful and heart-shattering discussions of genital mutilation, rape used as a weapon, and numerous accounts of patriarchal dominion’s most egregious horrors. The woman playing Ereshkigal in the play (Raina von Waldenburg) lies at the circle’s center, wailing and moaning as each woman speaks. Her enacted anguish reflects the darkest of feminine shadows, as she embodies unbridled and whole-body ire against the social mechanisms which have facilitated such egregious injustices.
It is an immense challenge for a film to capture the intense, communal connection between women as they share their most deeply buried stories, but Split accomplishes this socially invaluable feat brilliantly in this single scene. Following her experience of being above these women as they revealed their scars, both literally and metaphorically, Inanna begins the task of reclaiming herself, gathering the pieces shattered by her abuser and purposed by the bravery of her fellow cast members. She seeks solace in her friendship with Anja, someone her husband forbade her to see, who tells Inanna that she is “not going to die without him,” but she would “die without [her]self.”
The film sorts through the common confusions women experience in a world where feminine, sexual empowerment is rare and abuse emerges through subtle but pervasive mechanisms of emotional control. Wounded women have few myths from which they can draw hope, but Inanna’s story represents the potential for healing through recovery and reintegration. Trauma fractures the self, sending the darkest memories and most shameful shadows underground. Like Inanna, the wounded woman becomes split, and she must enact her own ascent by taking off the masks she was forced to wear and fusing together the parts of herself that have been dismantled.
Split is a modern myth, with Inanna’s heroine’s journey marked by a great unmasking through which she uncovers a truer version of herself. Her empowered growth, supported fully by the other women in her life, allows her the courage to not only accept she has endured the underworld trials but, importantly, is able to also integrate her experience into a new identity. During the final scene of the film, one of the other actors tells Inanna “the ways of the underworld are perfect, and they may not be questioned;” thus, she may never know why she was forced into the descent, but she can trust in the authenticity of her experience whether or not it has a concrete rationale. She can acknowledge her abuse without giving reprieve to her abuser. She can be at once light and dark, broken and whole, devil and angel, for the true healing comes from the integration of her once-fractured pieces into a truer, more cohesive identity.
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Danielle Dulsky is a long-time activist for wild woman spirituality and the divine feminine’s return. She is the author of Woman Most Wild (coming May 2017 from New World Library). A multi-media artist, yoga teacher and teacher trainer, and energy worker, Danielle is on a mission to inspire women to be fearless...