With TV shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “13 Reasons Why” and “Pretty Little Liars” bringing rape and sexual assault to the forefront of the media, it’s becoming easier to have open conversations about a formerly taboo topic. However, TV shows like these tend to focus their lens upon only the criminal aspect of this issue — not the extensive aftermath the victims have to endure.
Australian-born film director Jessica M. Thompson does the exact opposite. Her feature debut The Light of the Moon tells a harrowing tale of a young woman’s sexual assault and delves into how her different relationships are affected by the trauma.
The film takes place in the hip and happening neighborhood of Bushwick, a place that lies in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. Main character Bonnie, played by Stephanie Beatriz, is introduced as a worldly, young architect who has it all: good standing in her firm, a vibrant social life and a stable relationship with her live-in boyfriend, Matt, played by Michael Stahl-David.
After a fun night of drinks with friends at a local bar, Bonnie decides to walk home alone, turning down a cab ride with one of her friends Jack (Conrad Ricamora). Inebriated from the alcohol and a pill handed to her by a stranger, Bonnie puts on her headphones, blocking out all the noises around her.
The camera zooms into Bonnie’s face as she strolls down the darkened street, and a hand suddenly covers her mouth. A dark hoodie-wearing stranger pulls her into an alley to rape her.
The film does not shy away from portraying the assault. Rather than keeping the rape off screen and giving the audience only the sounds of the attack, Thompson focuses the camera right on Bonnie’s face, only cutting to a wide shot when the rapist runs away. The only sound heard is the deafening white noise ringing in Bonnie’s ears.
The assault itself doesn’t last very long in terms of screen time. The effects of it, however, reverberate throughout the duration of the film. In the immediate scenes after the attack, Bonnie washes blood and dirt from her face and hands, trying desperately to scrub away visible scrapes from her attack.
Although Bonnie realizes that skipping a shower and saving her clothes would help in bringing her attacker to justice, she is wary of telling her boyfriend what truly happened. She blames her bruised cheeks and cut hands on a random mugging.
Bonnie’s initial lie to Matt foreshadows the complications their relationship will endure later in the film. A main theme that Thompson explores is Bonnie’s feelings of victimization, which she emphasizes through Bonnie’s personality: a strong, resilient woman with no desire for a pity party or a victim label.
Her loving and slightly overprotective boyfriend approaches the situation differently. While Bonnie’s life is falling apart, Matt, who is also left reeling, tries everything to make her feel comfortable and protected again. His efforts come across as annoying and overbearing to Bonnie, and Thompson highlights this clash by portraying a tumultuous relationship through a series of small domestic altercations and painfully intimate sex scenes.
Her relationship with Matt isn't the only thing put to the test. Bonnie learns quickly that it won't be easy to resume her life as the successful, young Brooklynite she was before. Whether it be strangers in public asking if she’s okay because of her facial wounds, coworkers leaving presents on her desk or even her boss taking her off a big project she’d been working on, Bonnie can’t escape the fact that she was assaulted.
The Light of the Moon doesn’t pull any punches on the stark reality victims face in the aftermath of their attacks. The reality is that victims go through a sort of paradox on their road to recovery; ignoring the trauma can be unhealthy and cause strains in relationships, while being hyper aware of it can completely dominate one’s life.
The film doesn't provide answers to this paradox, but that’s not its intention. Just as there have been many films and TV shows about rape and sexual assault, this film shows different facets of the victim’s life that feel the ripple effects of the assault.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, you can contact the MU Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention center at (573) 882-6638 or in room G216 in the Student Center.
Edited by Brooke Collier | email@example.com