Chelsea Bieker on the problematic use of pursuit in Sleeping with the Enemy ‹ Literary Hub

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welcome to open form, a weekly movie podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie he likes, a movie he hates, a movie he hates to like. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A whole new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed that they talk about it.

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In this episode of Open the formMychal talks to Chelsea Bieker (Broken Heart) on the 1991 film Sleep with the enemydirected by Joseph Ruben and starring Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin and Kevin Anderson.

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From the episode:

Chelsea Bieker: I was thinking so much about how the movie would probably be different today. It’s so funny because on the cover of the novel [the film is based on], the little slogan says “A chase novel”. And I thought that language was interesting because for me it’s like… the chase? Yes, her abusive husband chases her across the country and he searches.

I would say hunting is a better word. The pursuit can seem almost neutral or a bit romantic, like I’m pursuing a relationship with you. But I think back then, which wasn’t even that far back and probably still today, there had to be a digestible component for people to digest that kind of content. So I was curious about a chase novel, a chase movie. I didn’t quite see it that way.

Mychal Denzel Smith: No, I don’t see it that way at all. And that’s exactly what you’re saying. Because like the chase, especially in a cultural context, where we think of the chase as something noble that a man does to a woman, right? As if he was chasing her. He woos her. These are things that indicate manhood in heterosexual relationships. It’s just like, no, the woman has something the man wants and he’s honor-bound to pursue it and get it by any means.

And it’s like, no, it’s not a movie about chasing someone. It’s a movie about torturing and tormenting and then tracking someone down following their escape. And I think the character of Ben, the guy she meets, he pursues but aggressively pursues in this way that’s off-putting. And it’s like no one cares at any point what Laura, Julia Roberts’ character, actually wants. The two men chasing her, if we have to use that word, only care about what they get out of it.

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Chelsea Bieker is the author of the novel Godshot, which was a finalist at the Oregon and California Book Awards, was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, was named Best Book of the Year by NPR, and was named a Barnes & Noble Fiction Pick. His writings have appeared in The Paris review, Granta, The Cut, McSweeney’s, Literary Hub, Electric Literature and other publications. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and a MacDowell Fellowship. Originally from Central Valley, California, she now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two children.


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