Jennifer’s Body

What most reviewers seem to have failed to recognize about this film is that the central character is Needy, not Jennifer. While Jennifer is the one who gets to act out the juicy parts – as a foul-mouthed predator – she is not the protagonist here. For in the end, the story revolves around the special relationship the two have shared since childhood but also, quite significantly, the role that Jennifer had come to serve for Needy.

Needy is, after all, a nice girl, unable to hurt a fly or even allow mild profanities to pass through her lips. As her name would suggest, this is born from a deep-seated sense of deficiency, although we are never really told why this might be so. However, the fact that she would be allied with another who embodied a completely different – and self-assured – persona should come as no surprise, since it compensates for the very lack that she perceives in herself.

Therein lies the clue to the “vampiric” elements of this story. Jennifer acts in ways that Needy cannot allow herself to be. In fact, she feeds on others in ways that attend to the needs of the introverted one. This symbiotic relation is how we’re first introduced to these two characters and which, in the eyes of one of their classmates at least, comes across as weirdly inappropriate (i.e., “lesbigay”). Should we have missed the point, the accusation is less a matter of giving voice to homophobic fears than the parasitic bond that has congealed between them. For Jennifer is attached to Needy in ways that aren’t immediately obvious, as well.

If we’re willing to loosen ourselves from the constraints of literal interpretation, we may come to recognize how Jennifer is nothing other than Needy’ alter ego, a split having its origins in childhood, in which the two “characters” are but different sides of the same person. (That this story was penned by Diablo Cody, the primary writer for “United States of Tara” is a relevant clue here.) This is what would explain the eerily close bond between the two, including Needy’s almost psychic ability to detect Jennifer’s whereabouts and doings, particularly since this seems to operate at a bodily level. During one key moment of the film, it is the sensations on Needy’s lips that signal that something is terribly wrong, as if Jennifer was using her mouth in the commission of a crime.

Whatever the cause of the original neediness, it’s clear that Jennifer-the-monster only emerges after the trauma experienced at the hands of a group of young men at the beginning of the film. The fact that the filmmakers chose to depict this scene as an eerily satanic ritual – rather than one involving a brutal rape – hides the nature of that event from us, much as it has left Needy in the dark. It also conveys the demonic extraction of soul involved. For whatever else rape might be, it is more than mere sex imposed upon another or, even, a brutal act of aggression. And while this veil which hides an unrecognized truth not only replicates Needy’s confusion, it also provides us with her point of view, allowing us a glimpse into the nature of her emotional experience, as well as how she learns to come to terms with it.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that it is Needy – not Jennifer – who finds herself in the grips of numbed confusion: she does not know what came to pass; neither does she know what happened to her (i.e., Jennifer’s) body. And this is precisely when the gulf between the two of them grows, as Needy’s alter ego comes to be possessed, acting upon a bodily need that never quite existed before. At least not in this way. So, even as Needy continues reeling from the shock of that fateful night, Jennifer becomes increasingly driven by a hunger that can be satiated only through the blood of others, mostly boys, feeding on their desire. Quite telling, too, is the emotional neediness her victims share with her alter ego, and that this seems to be as important to her feedings as their lustful gaze.

The rest of the plot follows the contours of this mystery, as Needy attempts to piece together the reasons for Jennifer’s behavior and their estrangement from one another. Whatever closeness they may have once shared, that has all but disappeared, and Jennifer’s hunger has taken on a life of its own, following an imperative no longer tied to childhood neediness and no longer serving to bind them together. That has been broken. And it has been replaced by a voracious appetite that, in Jennifer’s mind at least, ensures her very survival.

Once Needy learns of the demonic transference involved in the “ritual” that gave rise to Jennifer’s compulsion, it is only a matter of time before she commits herself to confronting this shadow Other in order to reclaim what has been disavowed for too long. If “Jennifer” had once served a purpose, if she had provided the strength and confidence that Needy lacked, that’s no longer the case, for she has begun to go on a rampage. In light of Needy’s new imperative – that of healing the rift – it is quite appropriate that the film chooses not to emphasize fantasies of revenge, but on resolving the dynamic set in place since their childhood days and, more fundamentally, the neediness that gave rise to it in the first place. And in addressing that need, she finds that the power of the demon that had run amok in Jennifer has now found a different kind of home, in her.

The fact that the film opens after the events depicted in the film, in which Needy has acquired a new name (“Kicker”), indicates the kind of transformation that has already taken place. It also demonstrates why the relationship with Jennifer was so necessary in the first place, since the anger could not be contained. If she had been left to deal with it alone, it would have destroyed her. Only after reviewing the events leading up to the present – the same journey the film offers us, as its viewers – is she finally able to find a way to escape that which has held her captive for so long. Finally, after years of imprisonment, she finds release.

For what was once lost is now found.


“The action of freeing, delivering, or restoring in some way.”
“The action of redeeming oneself from punishment; ways or means of doing this; atonement made for a crime or offence.”
“The action of redeeming or buying back from another.”

From the verb, redeem:

“To buy back (a thing formerly possessed); to make payment for (a thing held or claimed by another).”

Oxford English Dictionary


~ by mistified on November 10, 2009.

One Response to “Jennifer’s Body”

  1. For a closer look at Jennifer’s Body, see this post.

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