Maybe it is a deeply twisted rental option, but watching Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane on a video double bill with another new release, Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, reveals that rare felicity: a thunderously mainstream entertainment and an epicene slice of art-house erotica whose concerns are much the same. Both dive deep into the gender wars with stories about women who barge into traditionally male arenas of combat, art, and sex. Both of their heroines trespass in explicitly physical ways designed to flip out the men around them. But in other respects, these two films have so little in common that it’s a hoot imagining the writhing of Greenaway-loving, cappuccino-sipping aesthetes as they look in vain for irony in gung-ho G.I. Jane. Or, similarly, the jaws of Demi Moore fans thudding to earth in contemplation of Pillow Book’s aggressively baroque visuals, blase full-frontal male nudity, and stratospheric kink quotient.
Actually, the harder task here will be getting art-house hipoisie to seriously consider G.I. Jane, since The Scarlet Letter, Striptease, and The Juror have established Demi Moore as the stiffest block of Hollywood cheese since Lana Turner’s glory days. But it turns out that the role of Lieut. Jordan O’Neil — chosen by a Ferraro-style senator (Anne Bancroft) to be the first woman to enter the grueling Navy SEALs training program — meshes perfectly with this actress’ steely, humorless persona.
It’s always been hard to buy Moore in “sexy” roles, because her most salient quality — ambition — tends to preclude sensuality. But Jordan is all ramrod conviction, and she understands that if she wants to be accepted as one of the guys, she must become one. So she avoids the easy “women’s” obstacle course the brass has set up for her and moves into the men’s bunkhouse. She shaves her head and trains so intensely she stops getting her period. She casually wraps a towel around her hips during a post-shower conversation with her drill instructor (Viggo Mortensen). And, in G.I. Jane’s most-debated scene (and real climax), after suffering a prolonged beating at the instructor’s hands, she kicks him in the crotch and tells him to ”suck my d – -.” Point, set.