Elevate Difference


Reading this review will tell you all you need to know about Taken. If you haven't see the film, perhaps now is the time for you to cease reading, as spoilers abound. Then again, the film follows an overused and clichéd Hollywood format that makes spoilage an inevitability if you've a tendency for moviegoing, and my commentary on Taken might be more worth your while than viewing the ninety-minute film. The choice is yours to make.

Ever wonder what you'd get by mixing sexist stereotypes with ones about Muslims? Oh wait, I think that's happened before -- many, many times. Taken is just the most recent example of this ever-present phenomenon, and it has brought in $124 million to date. Apparently tired tropes sell.

Liam Neeson plays the estranged father, Bryan Mills, of Kim (Maggie Grace), a spoiled yet sweet seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her mother (Famke Janssen) and step-father in posh American splendor. Mills recently quit his job—which he describes as being a "preventer" for an unspecified special ops entity run by the US government—in order to build a relationship with his daughter. The conflict begins almost immediately, as Kim requires her father's legal permission to go on an adult-free, intercontinental vacation with a friend to follow U2's European Tour. (She initially tells her dad she'll be spending the summer in Paris). Dad tells Daughter that the world is a dangerous place. Mom tells dad he's being overprotective. Dad caves in hopes of engendering Daughter's love.

When Kim and her friend Amanda, a sexually permissive nineteen-year-old whose sole role in Taken is to put the two young women in danger by following her hormonal whims, arrive in Paris they are promptly snatched up by a group of men, but not before we learn that Kim is a virgin. We discover within minutes (thanks to Dad's "particular set of skills") that the girls have been taken by a group of Muslim Albanians that specialize in kidnapping of young, foreign girls who are traveling alone (read: without male protection) and are to be sold into sexual slavery. The star and crescent tattoo on the captor's hand somehow lets Dad know that he has ninety-six hours to save Daughter.

So how does Mills do it? By being hyper-masculine to the point of invincibility, of course. These Muslim men stole his property, after all, and he wants it back. (The kidnapping is to be read, in part, as the fault of overly permissive and naive Mom who used guilt to override Dad's "reason" to allow Daughter go to Paris, which included colluding in Daughter's lying to Dad and using ridiculous Dr. Phil-like platitudes about "not smothering" Daughter.) The mission of this now-enraged father will not be thwarted, and all tactics (including rampant killing and bodily torture) are at his disposal to save poor Kim while her purity is still in tact.

Being a virgin, and therefore highly valuable, Kim is singled out for sale to a wealthy businessman. Unfortunately, sluttish Amanda is not so fortunate and Mills finds her dead of a drug overdose, a punishment for failing to be sexually chaste. After looking in a number of seedy places, Mills works his way up the food chain to the elite meat market where he sees Kim sold—after being described as "certified pure"—for half a million dollars to an older Arab man. (Kim isn't the girl sold to this man. He has bought a veritable harem of virgins who are dolled up and dressed in white lace robes, which veil their young faces, before being bought to his bed chamber.)

I already told you that Mills saves Kim, and that's where the story neatly ends. We don't find out what happens to the rest of the girls or the traffickers that Mills encounters on his quest. And really, he makes it quite clear that he's not interested in their fate, which he sees as just a part of the business. Mills only cares about the fate of Kim because she is his daughter, and therefore, his quest was personal. (He tells this to one of the higher-ups, just before he kills him.)

Lest lascivious France escape unscathed, the French government benefits from human sexual slavery too, padding their pockets through the sale of female flesh. Interestingly, the system of trafficking itself is never scrutinized; it's simply accepted as the way things are. Except that what is shown in Taken is not really the way things are in the world of sex trafficking.

For starters, it is extremely uncommon for an American girl to be trafficked. Instead, the victims tend to be women who "originate from countries experiencing political and economic instability, internal displacement, militarism, civil unrest, internal armed conflict, and natural disasters." Women who are trafficked tend to be from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, not the United States—but reality doesn't serve Taken's cautionary, paternalistic, white supremacist tale. In order to effectively convey its fearmongering, Taken needs its victim to be a picture of feminine perfection: lily white, innocent, young, beautiful, and American. (Kim even dreams of being a singer instead of taking advantage of her family's economic privilege to pursue a more cerebrally engaging career.)

The use of anti-Muslim and anti-feminist fare in Hollywood blockbusters is certainly nothing new. (What is interesting, though, is how other reviews have ignored—or promoted—their use in Taken.) It is ironic that the makers of Taken actually reinforce the ideas that make sex trafficking possible. Advocating for social, political, and economic equality of marginalized populations is one method endorsed to curb the sale of women and build struggling economies through legal means. You see, viewing someone through a lens of humanity has the funny effect of making it more difficult to treat them as chattel or evildoers. I guess the makers of Taken didn't get that memo.

Written by: Mandy Van Deven, February 12th 2009

I think you are reading too much into this. I've never heard Taken accused of racism and sexism before. Not all the baddies are Muslims (several are French, one is American and one is black) and the film never makes an issue of race. By the same logic the film is anti-male because all the baddies are male.

Also the film never implied that the death of Kims friend was due to her 'loose sexual morals'. I doubt this even entered the directors mind. Both were taken for the same reason. Obviously they couldnt kill Kim because that would have ended the story.

Yes the film has its failings. It lacks strong female characters,isnt very realistic and promotes vigilantism. If this was an educational film about sex trafficking I could understand your concern. But its not. Its an action movie.

Look at it this way: the millions of men who have seen Taken have been shown the horrors of the sex industry (which the film clearly condemns) and have been sold the idea that 'real men' are against the sexual exploitation of women and that fatherhood is something to be valued.

Despite its faults Taken has probably done a lot of good in challenging mens attitudes regarding the sexualisation of women. I know one young man who stopped going to strip clubs after watching this film and another man who was inspired to set up an anti-sexist mens group on his college campus.

Whilst not being what could be described as a 'feminist' film, I have no doubt this film has done far more good for women than bad.

Action must be predicated on critical thought. And critical thought is fostered through dialogue. Ironically, I went into this film intending to do exactly what you're saying: just be entertained. And I was so disgusted by the film that I felt compelled to review it about 15 minute into watching it. I am truly glad you felt no slight by the film, and that you found it entertaining. I simply did not have the same experience of it. C'est la vie.

scrutiny is not a necessity for survival, action is. talking will not change society and the fear based media that surrounds it. all my suggestion implies is that it is ok to let go every once in a while and just to release the inner child, leave the judging adult idle, and just be entertained. for myself, a muslim, i found no offense in "taken." i could have cared less if the movie had your stereotypical cornbread,trailer park white trash boys tear-assing everyone, i just found it an entertaining medium that released me from the world for a little while.

Some of us do not have the luxury of being able to "brush off" films that perpetuate such negative stereotypes about women and Muslims. We live the often violent results of such negative influence daily. When the media ceases to contribute to the discrimination against women and Muslims, I assure you, I'll lighten up. Until then, scrutiny is a necessity for survival.

you guys need to lighten up. it is just a freakin movie. suspend desbelief

I completely disagree. I think it's important to acknowledge difference, and the societal valuation of one thing over another. We must discuss how it is society that diminishes choices that are seen as "feminine" or "for women" in order to re-stratify that value to one that is more egalitarian. And in order to do that, we must be honest about how one thing differs from another instead of attempting to make all of the choices seem as though they are (or should be) the same.

To be honest, on a feminist blog I don't think we should get into the habit of categorising career options or lifestyle choices as being "more" mentally challenging than others. That's fairly diminishing to a whole spectrum of choices and options women come to in their lives, or even aptitudes and passions, which we don't want to discount.Just my feelings on it though. :)

I didn't say singing isn't mentally challenging. I just said there are other careers that are more mentally challenging than singing that the filmmaker could have chosen and didn't because that would have undermined the character's status as the perfectly feminine (and therefore helpless) victim.That being said, your point is well (cough) taken.

I do take issue with one thing though: your categorising of singing as not mentally challenging. Clearly you don't know the sort of work, training, practice, skill and talent involved in that artform. Other than that, I found this review very helpful in assisting me to make a viewing choice.

oh and I certainly don't need to be watching any racist shit either.

I'm so glad I found this review. At my folks' house, deciding on a family movie to watch, they chose this one. The summary set off my warning bells immediately so I turned to the internet... think I'll go upstairs and read a book again. I don't need to see this misogynistic rape-glorifying shit. Thanks for the review!

When I saw the ad for this I just about threw up. And it made me even more sick to know that people would be rushing out to see it. Oooh, let's go see yet another interpretation of the same basic sick fantasy of women being victimized in unimaginable ways, and some bad-ass coming to save her.FFS! When will it be enough? I am so tired of everyone running to hear the twisted tales of very bored, very callous men who seem to have no creativity, and must borrow from the same barrel of crap that they eat from and then regurgitate it into something they can sell. They seem to have used up all the ideas, and don't realize their nails are bleeding from scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Thanks for stopping by and directing me here! As you know by now, I think your review is right on the money. And I can't believe how popular that film is!

Yeah, the B+ praise is why I felt I just had to write a review of this film. There were just so many things about it that were problematic, and none of the other reviews out there were pointing them out.Piny: I agree with you on the hyper-vigilance. The entire opening of the film centers on Daddy being the one who fears the Big Bad World and all of the women telling him he's over-reacting. I wonder if that isn't a nod to the supposed security of class privilege, that these rich people felt safe because they were going from one palace to another. One real life incident that kept coming to mind while I watched Taken was the disappearance of that young girl in Aruba, Natalee Holloway, which has still never been solved.

Thanks for writing this. I saw Taken in Dublin last year, and was kind of aghast that every subsequent review has either panned it or given it a solid B-plus as an action flick. Famke Janssen does nothing but weep! Liam Neeson tortures a guy to death! The slutty one dies horribly! Does Liam even bother to tell her parents? And I'm sorry, but why is the teenage kidnapping victim who's spent the last week enslaved by a bunch of criminal rapists totally fucking fine the second she steps back onto American soil? (Another complaint: the women in the Takenverse live in a world where the threat of abduction and/or rape is ubiquitous and yet...none of them seem aware of any danger at all until Daddy steps in. Rape culture makes women hypervigilant. And the travelling women I've met are very alert to opportunistic crime--that's not about being sold into a harem or whateverthefuck; it's about being a self-reliant stranger in a strange place.) --Piny

Damn. That's really sad. I was hoping this would be at least reasonably good. From the previews there wasn't really an indication that the girls were kidnapped because they were American, and I assumed that it was just a sort of general human trafficking thing. That's damned annoying.

Great and insightful review. I was planning on watching the film (someday on TV) only to watch Liam Neeson play the tough, hunky dad. But I had no idea that it had Albanian Muslim baddies as sex industry traffickers, and the whole "Father Knows Best" moralistic vibe about it. I'll watch this film someday with this review in mind.