In the 15-minute movie RED, a gyrating and sexually ferocious Cate Blanchett, clad in a fishnet bodysuit, impersonates the predatory female in the lethal mating ritual of the Australian redback spider. One of the stars of The Lord of the Rings. Blanchett is as terrifying in RED as the female spider Shelob is in The Two Towers. Blanchett is, of course, more lithe than Shelob and a good deal sexier.
RED was directed by the Archibald Prize-winning visual artist Del Kathryn Barton. It was launched officially at the South Australian Art Gallery as part of the 2017 Adelaide Festival on January 26, Australia Day.
“I feel like I’m living with this little ‘she spider warrior’ every day in many ways,” Barton says. She notes that that the spider’s mating ritual is participatory, “so at the end of the copulation it’s not unlike some other insects where the mother quite brutally does cannibalize her partner. The father—which really adds and accentuates the poetics—actually offers himself to her.”
According to Maydianne C.B. Andrade, writing in Behavioral Ecology (July 2003), “Male redback spiders twist their abdomens into the fangs of their mates during copulation and, if cannibalized (65% of matings), increase their paternity relative to males that are not cannibalized.”
The nightmarish experimental film also features actor Alex Russell (whose films include the 2013 Carrie remake), Charmene Yap of the Sydney Dance Company, and Barton’s daughter Arella. Barton says she is offering the film “to all women in the world, to bring their power, so I could definitely dedicate it to my daughter in that way.”
An especially venomous anti-patriarchal statement, RED was three years in the making. Given that its debut preceded Donald Trump’s tense phone call with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by two days, it was clearly not planned as a warning to the American President, though it may have been easy to see it as such,
Trump’s standing with A-list actresses is poor. He has been attacked by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes ceremony and at last Saturday’s Manhattan gala for the Human Rights Campaign, and also mocked by Kristen Stewart on Saturday Night Live. Should he see RED, he may feel disinclined to tweet about it. As for the scissors Blanchett is wielding in the above photo, they are unlikely to earn her an invitation to the White House in the immediate future.