General’s Daughter, The

The General’s Daughter, directed by Simon West from a screenplay by
Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman, adapted from the novel by Nelson
DeMille is yet another example of Hollywood’s grotesquely misconceived
representation of life in our country’s armed forces where, we are constantly
asked to believe, kinky sex vies with political plots and murder as the
principal pastime of the officer corps. In this movie—whose ending, in case you
are foolish enough to want to see it, I am about to reveal—we are asked to
believe not only that a group of West Point cadets on a night exercise would
gang rape a fellow (female) cadet and then successfully cover it up, but also
that the victim’s father, a prominent general, would be complicit in the
cover-up for fear of derailing his own career. And if that does not seem
far-fetched enough for you, try this: the girl takes her revenge on daddy by
seducing every man under his command—many of whom, by the way, seem to like the
kind of sex that comes with whips and chains and leather.

Daddy, who has political ambitions, refuses to react to this provocation,
even though his daughter and his principal aides are behaving with
flagrant disregard for army regulations about fraternization. He seems to have
no fear of exposure. So, with the help of her only close friend, a closeted
homosexual army shrink, his daughter stages a re-enactment of the rape, which
involves her being spread-eagled, naked, and staked out with tent pegs in the
middle of the base in the middle of the night. To this theatrical entertainment,
her unfeeling father is invited so that he can—well, we’re not quite sure what
he is supposed to do on finding his daughter thus exposed and vulnerable. But
what he does do is turn his back on her and drive away, leaving her helpless and
naked in the middle of the night. There she is discovered by one of her more
disgruntled lovers, whom she proceeds to taunt until he kills her. Sure. Must
happen all the time.

What provides the twist in this otherwise familiar scenario is that it has a
point to make which (I think) is meant to be appealing to conservatives. The
reason, that is, that the general is persuaded not to pursue and punish either
his daughter’s rapists or her murderer is that the accompanying publicity would,
it is thought, produce a public backlash against women in the military. It is
certainly true that there is abundant reason for believing that the powers that
be are terrified of defying or resisting or even slowing the political impetus
towards further feminization of the armed forces. The Navy’s craven response to
the Tailhook affair and the facts that have emerged about the death of the naval
aviator, Lt Kara Hultgren, are evidence enough of that. But what might have been
a sympathetic treatment of the argument against female soldiers and sailors
discredits itself by the fantastical nature of the lurid drama in which it is
set. It also makes no attempt to understand the case against lady warriors and
presents their anonymous detractors as motivated by nothing but jealousy and
resentment of those who “have to squat to piss.”

Or is it that men, serving beside women in the field, won’t be able to
prevent themselves from raping them? I don’t know which characterization of the
conservative case is more offensive. But it should be pretty clear to anyone
watching the film that the point about women in the forces, such as it is, is
little more than an excuse for the sensational appeal of the weird sex-and-death
stuff on the one hand and for the pretty standard issue witty dialogue between
the odd-couple team of detectives that crack the case. This is Paul Brenner
(John Travolta), a warrant officer with the Army’s criminal investigation
division and Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), a rape counselor who is also, for
some reason not quite made clear, authorized to flash a badge. And what do you
think? The two of them are former lovers and cannot agree who ended the affair.
Now they are wittily embittered with each other and mock resentful of having to
work together. “We’ll always have Brussels,” says Paul. See what I mean about
the witty dialogue? And yet somehow you know that they still care for each
other. Deep down inside. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

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