‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ and our culture of fear
For countless women, there aren’t many things in everyday life scarier than walking home alone at night. Fear of the dark and the evil that lurks there is built into us from the moment we become conscious of what it really means to be a woman. “Night” is synonymous with violence, assault, crimes that go undetected, the menacing power of the uninhibited male gaze. We are constantly bombarded by news stories of horrific sexual violence, usually carried out during the night, simply because there are less people to witness it and less light to illuminate it. Perhaps the scariest thing of all, though, is that we’ve been taught to think that all of this is normal, that outside at night is simply not a place where we are welcome. We build our days around our commutes, making sure that we won’t have to walk home, alone, in the dark.
Because this is the world we live in, there’s something profoundly and oddly inspiring about “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2014 Persian-language vampire western film, whose nameless protagonist is a woman (Sheila Vand, “Argo”) who walks the night streets of the fictional and aptly-named Bad City not in fear, but in strength. Though she murders many, using her beauty to lure men closer to her only to take their lives with her poisonous fangs, I can’t help but admire her. She is, after all, the only person truly willing to defend the women she lives among. She patrols the streets like a police officer, looking out for violent altercations and later punishing the culprits. She stalks these men and makes them know how it feels to be a woman at night. She makes them afraid to hurt another woman again.
Women are afraid of men, men are afraid of women. Does this have to be the case? How do we possibly trust each other while carrying all of this fear?
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” hints at the possibility of transcending this mutual fear in order to achieve true intimacy. In the film’s best scene, the nameless vampire and a man she’s come to know (Arash Marandi, “Under the Shadow”) share a moment of real vulnerability. She lifts his head to expose his neck and he lets her, unaware of her true nature. She’s just about to sink her teeth into him until at last she decides to rest her head on his chest and listen to his heart beat instead. Rather than take his life, she spares it and listens to it beat inside of him with adoration. She is afraid of how much she likes him, amazed by how close she can be to someone without killing them.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” doesn’t have the answers to my questions. I’m not sure anyone does. But it does bring our suspicions and our fears about our world and about each other closer to the surface, unearthing them from the recesses of our mind where we keep the thoughts we aren’t supposed to have but have nonetheless. It reminds us of just how much there is to be afraid of and just how hard it is to fully trust another person, whether we care to admit it or not.