2010, Movies

In the Name of the Family (2010, Shelley Saywell)

This is an episodic and workmanlike documentary about girls killed by their family members, ostensibly because they are not behaving correctly. It feels a little like it was made for TV but that could also just be the budget.

The film covers four victims, a murdered girl in Toronto – a case I remember – two murdered sisters in Houston, a woman who survived an attack from her brother in New York. In addition, it follows two young women in Toronto, one who has already moved out and one who is thinking of leaving home, due to the threats of their fathers. If that sounds like a lot of stuff for one film, it is. And the film can feel like three separate movies, at times. I understand the point that is being made – this is happening to many women in many places, all at once – but the structure of the film feels like it could be improved.

I find this mystifying – how someone could kill or assault their child or sibling because of clothing and the threat of premarital sex. I cannot imagine the feelings that could possess someone to harm someone else for these reasons. I understand that’s because I was raised by a feminist and when I attended church, it was the liberalist of liberal churches. But knowing that doesn’t make these motivations any more comprehensible.

These men claim their daughters and sisters are shaming them and offending god. Yet they are willing to commit far graver sins to punish their daughters/siblings for sins that seem (to me) to be minor or even imagined. If Jahannam exists – and, make no mistake, it absolutely does not – these men are the ones going there, not their daughters or siblings. No god is sending murderers to Jannah and women who don’t wear hijabs and hold boys’ hands to Jahannam. Anybody who thinks differently has a really strange idea of a higher power. These men didn’t just kill someone (or, in one case, try and fail to kill someone), they killed their children (or, in one case, failed to kill his sister). You have one job as a parent. One job.

The film takes the side of victims, as it should. It is a parade of cruelty, as not only do we have the murders and the assault, we have threats. The man who almost killed his sister is the only one of the perpetrators to be interviewed. Incredibly, his sister has forgiven him. But he hasn’t learned from this. He still blames her for what he did to her. And, lest we think this insanity is confined to one religion, the relatives of the two murdered sisters blame their mother, who mourns their deaths everyday, for what her husband did to them. It’s so sad that we have to victim-blame in order to make sense of hte world. I wish we would stop.

This could be a better movie, in terms of its construction and its budget, but it’s worth watching if only to be exposed to the people who believe that they need to kill their kids to spare themselves. Because they exist.


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