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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Out of the Frying Pan—

Unsane (2018) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“Unsane” conflates conflicting views of reality. A young woman Sawyer Valintini (Claire Foy) thinks she's on the fast track to success working as a financial consultant in Philadelphia (“My job is to accept and interpret data to produce analytical results.”) The bank manager (Marc Kudisch) praises her (“That report's faultless; you're going to do really well here.”) Her one friend and co-worker Jill (Sarah Stiles) in the next cubicle criticizes her phone manners (“I hope he likes vinegar more than he likes honey.”) To her new friend Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah)—who couldn't make it as an astro­naut because he lacked math skills—she will later confide that she's not very analytical. Her tele­phone customer sure didn't think so. Maybe there's some ulterior motive for the boss's praise. He's invited her to accompany him on a business trip to stay at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans.

She's unashamedly slutty (“Hail Satan!”) and prefers men who chase skirts. She gives them what they want but shuns any commitment (“After­wards, we never met.”) Her boss sure isn't going to compromise his position. And Nate, to whom she offered—whether seriously or not—a BJ in exchange for a technology favor, points out that when their situation soon changes, no commitment will carry over. She is easily spooked by a man she picked up in a bar after she takes him home and initiates a sexual encounter.

This all makes us wonder about this man from her past, David Strine (Joshua Leonard) in Boston, against whom she holds a restraining order. A flash­back shows him sending her a huge bouquet of flowers, jamming up her phone with text messages, and laying out a dress for her at her place. Yet he hadn't threatened her except with his amorous feelings which she of course rejects. Her mother phones her in Philly worried about her ability to make any friends, to say nothing of a real boyfriend. Sawyer has intimacy issues.

Okay, we are left with our faith in the legal system that such a restraining order was called for. Then Sawyer visits a counselor (Myra Lucretia Taylor) referred from Support Groups for Victims of Stalkers. She asks her, “You still see your stalker every­where?” Sawyer admits that, “My neurosis is not rational. I'm alone in a strange city and never feel safe.” Once she mentions under questioning sporadic thoughts of suicide, the counselor gives her some “routine forms to sign, boiler­plate.” Turns out to be a voluntary commitment form that only makes matters worse the more she fights it. Reminds me of the 2012 Supreme Court appointment of Sonia Sotomayor who'd raised a point in a speech that she hoped a wise Latina woman for her wealth of experience could produce a better result than would a white male lacking said experience. This same judge in an earlier decision mandated that Internet user agreements must be read in toto and agreed to before one can sign up for any­thing. These agreements are too long and obtuse for any­body to actually read them, so we just pretend we do. Here it's a negress movie counselor who runs the forms on through. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the legal system.

We're challenged to sort this all out. For the sake of this review, I shall make a comparison to a Dolly Parton country song:

“My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” From a shack by a mountain stream To a room in New Orleans So far from my Blue Ridge Mountain home The men I meet ain't warm and friendly Like the one in old Virginie Oh they ain't real like my Blue Ridge Mountain boy. I was just a little past eighteen When I came to New Orleans. I'd never been beyond my home state line. There was a boy who loved me dearly But I broke his heart severely When I left my Blue Ridge Mountain boy. Life was dull in my hometown; Lights were out when the sun went down, And I thought that city life was more my style. But nights get lonely away from home And it's easy to go wrong. The men ain't kind like my Blue Ridge Mountain boy. New Orleans held things in store, Things I'd never bargained for, And every night a different man knocks on my door. But late at night when all is still I can hear a whippoorwill As I cry for my Blue Ridge Mountain boy. Oh but I can never go back home Since the boy I love is gone. He grew tired of waiting for me to return. They say he married last October But I never will get over Oh the sweet love of my Blue Ridge Mountain boy. Blue Ridge Mountain boy

Both women had a high turnover rate in men. Both had a man back home “who loved me dearly.” Dolly's boy was “warm and friendly” and David was so too having a good report at work. The locations are different although both women are to end up in New Orleans. Boston is the historical settlement of the Puritans who were fanatical devotees of marriage. There would be lots of pressure there to wed, I reckon, not so good for the independent girl. Pennsylvania, however, was the province of the Quakers; they were the ones who invented the concept of the penitentiary, a place to quietly do penance. Sawyer can get her fill of that in the basement of High­land Creek Care in PA. The Parton song sang of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Unsane's scenery at places depicted a mountainous ridge with blue sky peeking through the trees. David's goal included a Parton-like “shack by a mountain stream.” Dolly's boy realized there were other fish in the sea and moved on. David had a hard time with the concept.


Fowler discusses the title's prefix: “in- & un- .  There is often a teasing uncertainty—or incertitude—whether the negative form of a word should be made with in-, or with un-. … Fortunately the number of words about which doubts exist is not large” (262). We say insane but unsafe, unsure but insensitive. Our title Unsane is what Webster would call a neologism: “neology : the use of a new word or expression or of an established word in a new or different sense.” Unsane is news to me.

The title suggests we look for neologisms in the plot. Webster defines “stalk vb 1: to hunt stealthily <a stalking cat><stalk deer>; also : to cover (an area) in stalking prey  2 : to walk with haughty or pompous bearing  3 : to move through or follow usu. in a persistent or furtive way <famine stalked the land><stalk a criminal> — stalker n”. “Unsane” starts with a scene in which Sawyer stalks2 into the manager's office, i.e., she walks with haughty or pompous bearing. The bulk of the movie is taken up with David stalking3 Sawyer, i.e. following her in a persistent or furtive way. The movie includes stalking1 scenes reminiscent of a Betley novel: “The three members of the embassy's DSS team were all former military with combat experience. Exactly the kind of guys I can work with. Now let's get the show on the road. ¶“He began to stalk across the dark, grassy earth of Tuti Island” (258). And “In a moment of weakness, he'd allowed her to live, probably because of her beauty. As he'd left the apart­ment, his mission seemingly complete, she'd silently snuck up behind him and tried to attack him with a kitchen knife” (164). Similarly David and Sawyer will do some stalking1 by the end of the movie. There aren't any entirely new uses of stalk here, but we need to stay on our toes.

Our relatively new criminal laws concerning stalking address stalk3 where unusually persistent men sneakily pursue women. There is nothing in British common law against it, so our laws are new and the legal definitions new and unique and subject to change as the courts inter­pret them. According to an NPR program I heard, nobody, and especially not the experts, knows exactly what this stalk means. All I can do is give you a biblical precedent.

God made the first woman for man, Adam (Gen. 2:18). God put Adam to sleep so he'd not know what he was doing with his missing piece, then God hid the evidence by closing up the wound in Adam's flesh, and finally God having to bring her to him, the man could not observe him making her (Gen. 2:21-23). All the evidence having been hidden, Adam never­the­less knew right away who she was and what she was for. That established a precedent that was supposed to continue, (Gen. 2:24) “There­fore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The Hebrew word isha here trans­lated wife is the same word for woman; in the perfect creation they would be inter­change­able in this context as a perfect man could perfectly discern his woman/wife whom God made for him out of his own material. In “Unsane” it had to do with her wearing the color blue, which wouldn't mean much to you or me, but evidently it did to David being some­how related to his missing piece. Per the Genesis model, he was to “cleave” to her, leaving home. That's probably what today we'd call “going out together” as part of the court­ship process before becoming one flesh, i.e. getting married.

David even explains it to Sawyer in those terms saying in a reverse kind of way that he is the missing piece that makes her whole. The position of the woman, of course, is different from a man's. Since she was made from a substance outside of her­self, she wouldn't recognize she's a match until she is brought into close communion with the guy (from whom she was made) to see that she fits, which is how Adam's succeeding generations were supposed to do it and how David tried. To her it would at first seem that he was pursuing her with­out grounds. In the perfect creation, this plan would work beautifully, but in our fallen world as in the movie there are problems.

Since lust and who-knows-what can interfere with a man's recognition, there is a contingency plan of graded steps demonstrated by a king in the book of Esther. The king was to select a queen from a large contingent of maidens whom he met day by day, then: (Esther 2:14), “she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.” So the ones he liked, he called to make dates with. The one he settled on he married, (Esther 2:17) “And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen.”

Sociologist Paul H. Landis writes In Defense of Dating:
It is quite logical to believe that some kind of dating is necessary to the development of the judgment and pair interaction that is at the root of real objectivity in mate selec­tion. … ¶Those who have dated more than one person have a chance to compare and to learn some of the usual behavior patterns of members of the opposite sex. They learn to distinguish between those whose personalities seem to promise a durable compatibility and those whose personalities obviously do not. Dating is an explor­atory experience through which young people learn. It no doubt contributes to the ability to feel at ease with the opposite sex and the love play sanctioned in dating may well be an important factor in the development of a normal hetero­sexual orientation in the psycho­sexual area. … ¶In most circles today, there­fore, it is considered desirable that young people “circulate” rather than “go steady” from the beginning, … that some variety of dating experi­ence is favorable to ultimate mate choice. The girl who is considered desirable as a date by a number of fellows is presumed to be the one most likely to be sought after in marriage. (223–4)

In this movie the place where David went wrong is that he was focused all on one woman without ever having gained needed social experience from others. Sawyer for her part was too work-focused to the exclusion of developing a balanced life. That compares with this exhortation from business writer George Kahn: Being a Two-Dimensional Man (18–21)

There is the mistake of being a “lopsided” man, a two-dimensional individual who never develops his true potential for living. He is not a whole man. His two activities are working and sustaining life. As a person, he is fast beating a path to mediocrity.

You have seen this man. He has never achieved a proper balance among work, play, love, and spiritual values. He has never gotten beyond his own narrow enclosure, even to the extent of tasting a new dish. A suggestion that he develop an avocation draws only a blank stare. He is a fractional man.

Both the guy and the girl in this movie are unbalanced, each in his or her own way. It makes for interesting viewing.

Production Values

This offering, “” was directed by Steven Soderbergh. It was written by Jonathan Bern­stein and James Greer. It stars Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharaoh, and Juno Temple. Claire Foy just knocked it right out of the park. She was a bitch and a half but with a vulnerable side that evinces our sympathy. Juno Temple is believable as Violet a disturbed mental patient who sets off Sawyer in turn. Jay Pharoah is Nate her friend with a lifeline who really steps in it.

MPAA rated it R for disturbing behavior, violence, language, and sex references. It has an aspect ratio: 1.56 : 1 having been shot with the iPhone app FiLMiC Pro. This allowed lots of Dutch angles, extreme closeups, and eye-of-the-camera mobility, all enhancing the sense of dread—I wouldn't recommend it for ordinary shoots. The colors seemed stark and the personal furnishings of Sawyer's apartment and work space practically nonexistent. This was consistent with the ambiance of a Puritan/Quaker-derived culture emphasizing simplicity, and also with a state of mind that is just not all there. It works; at least here it did, also an echoey padded room. Some superposition shots also contributed to the sense of insanity.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

In a book in the library of a previous landlord, I read of an experiment where a perfectly sane shrink had himself admitted to a mental institution under an assumed name. He wanted to see if the staff would recognize he didn't belong there. They didn't, although some of the patients figured it out. Here you might be guessing through most of it, or maybe even all of it. How's that expression? “The whole world is crazy save me and thee, and lately I'm beginning to wonder about thee.” I do not recommend this movie be shown in a psychiatric ward.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Absolutely amazing special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: Don't watch this movie alone. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Betley, Matthew. Oath of Honor. New York: Atria Books, 2017. Print.

Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. USA. Oxford UP. 1946. Print.

Kahn, George. The 36 Biggest Mistakes Salesmen Make and How to Correct Them. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Print.

Landis, Paul H. Making the Most of Marriage. New York: Meredith Publishing, 1965. Print.

Webster's New Students Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co. 1974. Print.