The SAT Word Driving HBO’s SHARP OBJECTS

It’s a recurring word throughout “Vanish”, the first episode of SHARP OBJECTS, a new HBO series based on Gillian Flynn’s book.

Incorrigible, “(a person or their tendencies) not able to be corrected, improved, or reformed”, is an adjective self-prescribed by Sharp Objects’ main characters, Camille Preaker (played by Amy Adams), step-sister Amma (played by Eliza Scanlen) and their mother, Adora (played by Patricia Clarkson).

Incorrigible confirms what women have always been but what is rarely celebrated on-screen. That women are intricate - simultaneously brave as they are broken, manipulative as they are honest, and worthy of redemption.

This is the version of women Marti Noxon, who wrote the script and co-produced Sharp Objects, wants to bring to life. In a recent interview with Vulture, she said, that “there’s a real catharsis in seeing women be the people with agency in their stories, women who are committed to the full range of emotions.”

Amy Adams plays Camille Preaker, the show’s lead character, who works as a reporter for a no-name publication in Saint Louis. She is assigned by her editor to cover a story in her hometown of Wind Gap on the disappearance of Natalie, a local girl, who is similar in age to Ann, another Wind Gap girl, who was murdered the summer before. Authorities still haven’t found the killer.

Camille has a dry sense of humor and a piercing stare that are made possible by the steady stream of airplane vodka bottles and fifths of Titos that she pours into an Evian water bottle. She is deceptively measured, notably when braving her high-strung mother’s opposition to her reporting on Natalie’s disappearance and quelling the angry advances of Natalie’s father who feels Camille is insinuating he hurt his daughter.

Camille’s composure is challenged by how undeniably haunted she is about returning to Wind Gap, which is evidenced by a riddle of flashbacks we are presented before Camille even gets there.

Her first night in Wind Gap, Camille stays a grimy motel on the county line. While taking a bath, she is reminded of swimming alone as a pre-teen, in a creek and encountering boys her age who are out hunting. The majority leave her alone, rushing ahead toward some foreseeable prey. But one boy hangs back, and looking through his scope, points his rifle directly at Camille as if to shoot her. When she doesn’t move, he runs away.

Frightened, Camille quickly gets out of the water and looking for a place to hide, stumbles upon a hunting lodge. Inside, she discovers graphic porn, of multiple men on a single woman, pasted on the lodge’s walls. It’s possible that the porn appears more violent in the presence of the unidentifiable, bloody slabs of meat hung on hooks from the ceiling.

Instead of being repulsed, Camille is turned on by what she witnesses. In bed later that night, she masturbates. In the accompanying and more graphic scene, an adult Camille masturbates again, in her motel bed. Just as she is about to climax, she sees her distorted reflection in the mirror-like body of the bedside lamp. She looks both ashamed and relieved.

The masturbation scenes embody how women are shaped by the violence they experience, particularly at the hands of men, and how confusing it can be. Is it incorrigible for a woman to have a sexual response to violent porn or a rifle pointed directly at her forehead? Or does it make her self-aware to react how she wants to, instead of how she is expected to?

Sharp Objects exposes the delicate and conflicted balance of being a woman. We see this same balance tested in not only Camille but also her mother, Adora, and her step-sister, Amma.

Adora appears to be a bourgeoisie matriarch. She wears high heels with her dressing gown and refuses certain conversation in her home, like talk of Camille’s investigation into Natalie’s disappearance. She represents traditional femininity, dressing Amma like a doll and pushing Camille’s unkempt hair off her face. Despite this, Adora is prone to pull out her eyelashes, one by one, when she is on the verge of losing her well-manicured composure.

It’s an interesting compulsion considering how focused Adora is on how she wants to be perceived, both physically and in the Wind Gap community. There is nothing secret about missing eyelashes or bare eyelids. It is an outward display of instability in comparison to Camille’s habit of cutting herself and concealing the scars by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants.

The contrast asks the question - is Adora or Camille’s self-harm more alarming? One is on public display, while the other is in a private prison of pain.

Unlike her mother and step-sister, Amma is seemingly unburdened by self-harm. She is devilishly pretty and a ringleader among the local middle school girls who are the same age as Natalie.

Unbeknownst to Camille, she and Amma have already met. Amma recognizes Camille immediately when she is looking to join Natalie’s search party. But she only reveals herself when she is dressed to Adora’s liking in a sundress printed with lemons, a starched white cardigan and a large yellow hair ribbon.

When Camille asks her why she hadn’t introduced herself sooner, Amma references her “skivvies.” She is afraid that Camille would tell Adora about the tube top and short skirt she wears while rollerblading around Wind Gap and smoking cigarettes in the woods.

Unlike Camille, Amma doesn’t want Adora to know she is “incorrigible”, a word she self-prescribes and has heard somewhere else. She prefers to live a double life. So when she is home in Adora’s mansion, Amma plays along in a way Camille has never been able to.

Flashbacks reveal Camille as a pre-teen with short cropped hair unsuitable for hair ribbons and a wardrobe devoid of heavily patterned sundresses. As an adult, she tests Adora’s patience by staying out all night after an unremarkable evening at a local bar.

But this “night out” is the only scene in “Vanish” where we see Camille let go. To her nature, it’s in private. She plays “Ring of Fire” on her car’s speakers, after a night of drinking with the bartender who in the fashion of small towns, she went to high school with.

Camille lets her wild mane of red hair fly around her as she bangs her head to the song’s chorus. The lack of restraint is breathtaking. This moment feels like Camille’s version of a second life. Instead of Amma’s miniskirts and cigarettes, it’s the lyrics to her “ideal karaoke song”.

Camille inevitably passes out drunk in her car. When she returns home the next morning, Adora reminds her that when she is in Wind Gap she is, first and foremost, Adora’s daughter. Therefore, her every action reflects upon Adora.

When Camille explains she went for a drive, pulled over when she got tired and fell asleep, Adora exclaims, “You slept in a car! Did anyone see you?”

Camille responds, “No one saw me.”

As she is about to head for the grand staircase leading to her childhood bedroom, Adora calls Camille incorrigible. It’s a word Adora has imprinted on both her daughters, one a grown woman, the other a 13-year old girl. It’s also a word she holds herself in opposition to, particularly when fighting the desire to pull out her eyelashes when she knows her hands should be set gracefully in her lap.

The reality that women are incorrigible because they are human is what makes Sharp Objects addictive. The duality of women, on rollerblades one minute and designing a dollhouse the next to making polite conversation to drinking alone in the bath, is beyond reform.

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