So to start this off: I know Lovelace is not the only film out there to depict an abusive relationship on the big screen. I know that it’s not the most fantastically accurate representation of an abusive relationship out there. I know that it fails to address a lot of the abuse and controversy surrounding the story that the real Linda Lovelace – Linda Boreman – experienced in her own life.
Why bother writing this, then?
Despite its shortcomings surrounding the context of Lovelace, as a film in its own right and in regards to showing an audience what it’s like to live in an abusive relationship, it does actually weave in some very sophisticated points amongst the explicit examples of abuse we see on screen. Because of this, it’s a great talking point in trying to spot more implicit issues people encounter within relationships in order to prevent them from growing into something far worse – hence why this article is being written.
So, here’s a few things that are on my mind after recently re-watching Lovelace.
Linda’s Abuser Apologises For His Actions
Elaborating on this, we clearly see that Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) doesn’t constantly apologise for his treatment of Linda (Amanda Seyfried) throughout the film, but the scene particularly in mind here is when Chuck rapes Linda on their wedding night. Sitting curled up in a chair, we see Linda avoid eye contact with her husband as she tells him, “you hurt me.”
And Chuck’s soft, loving, kind response is, “I never meant to hurt you, baby”.
There’s a sense that Linda struggles to believe this – but she does it anyway. For her case in particular, she doesn’t really have much of a choice; her parents have essentially told her that now that she’s married, she has a duty to stay with her husband. But there’s likely an element of denial that her husband would ever do anything to intentionally hurt her, perhaps a sense of disbelief that what actually happened was rape.
In Lovelace, this scene is clearly depicted as non-consensual sex in order for the audience to have a more black-and-white understanding of what happens, but in real life it can be a lot harder to define. Because of contributing factors like the survivor personally knowing their abuser or major issues such as coercive consent, someone who is sexually abused will likely deny that what happened to them was actually abuse. Alongside this, if the person seems genuinely apologetic for their actions and shows concern for your well-being after the event, a thought that passes through your mind is: “they do care about me. If they care about me, then there’s nothing to worry about. Right?”
There’s Different Reactions to the Revelation of Linda’s Abuse
Linda’s mother, Dorothy (Sharon Stone), tells her daughter that she must go home to her husband and take the beatings and be grateful for everything he provides for her. Linda’s best friend Patsy (Juno Temple) is extremely concerned about Chuck’s treatment of her. The on-screen depiction of the publication of Linda’s book Ordeal (which describes the abuse she receives from her husband) shows the audience struggling to believe her account of the abuse she experienced, questioning why she didn’t just leave Chuck if her life was so bad.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t differ from real life reactions to revelations of abuse. When a survivor comes forward with their story, consistently people question the honesty of their claims or victim blame and claim that it’s their fault for not recognising the signs of abuse earlier and leaving the relationship.
What Lovelace does well is at first present the mostly positive aspects of Linda and Chuck’s relationship and career at the beginning of the film, and for the second part show the reality of what life was like was Linda. The initial depiction of Linda’s life in the porn industry is how the public perceives it; because we see the glamour and excitement of it all, apart from subtle hints in the film’s storytelling we don’t suspect a tirade of physical, sexual and emotional abuse to be going on behind the scenes. When we do see how things really were in the latter half, there’s a sense of anger we feel for Linda when people doubt the validity of her claims – because we know what she’s experienced. We’ve seen it played out before us.
Lovelace essentially gives us an insight into the varying perspectives people take on an abusive relationship. Linda is (to begin with) in denial about the abuse, but after finally finding a way of leaving Chuck, and years after she’s able to do this, she feels comfortable coming forward to the public about it – she shows the process abuse survivors have to go through in accepting the reality of what’s happened to them.
A part of the reason for Linda’s hesitance to tell her story is implied to be the backlash she receives for doing this. Her own mother refuses to support her in leaving Chuck, so how the hell are the general public (i.e. a mass audience of complete strangers), going to react to this? The answer: mostly, not well. At all.
So what can we learn from Lovelace? Abusive relationships are extremely complex. The best thing we can do is listen to survivors and offer them the support they need, not tear them to shreds with questions and doubts.