Political Film Society - The General's Daughter


PFS Film Review
The General's Daughter


 

The Generalís Daughter, based on the novel of the same title by Nelson DeMille which in turn is constructed from a true story, is a powerful film about discrimination against women in the military, recalling the publicity over the Tailhook incident and similar exposťs. Directed by Simon West, the film takes place at a Fort MacCallum, Georgia, where a woman employed in the psychological warfare unit is killed. Paul Brenner (played by John Travolta) and Captain Sarah Sunhill (played by Madeleine Stowe), of the baseís criminal investigation division, are summoned by General Campbell (played by James Cromwell) for instructions on how to investigate the murder. The generalís adjutant, Colonel Fowler (played by Clarence Williams III), informs them that in solving the case, "There are three ways of doing things: The right way, the wrong way, and the Army way," meaning that a scapegoat should be found quickly so as not to tarnish the reputation of the general, who is being considered for the vice presidency. The most exciting element of the film is the investigation, which goes farther than the "army way." Brenner first discovers that the victim is Elisabeth Campbell, the generalís daughter (played by Leslie Stefanson), and tapes hidden in her home reveal that she is a dominatrix who has enjoyed mind games with many military personnel whom she has chained and strapped in her basement. Further investigation takes Brenner and Sunhill to a psychiatrist at West Point, and filmviewers are led to believe that the daughterís sadomasochism was a psychological adjustment to the post-traumatic stress resulting from an incident during a military exercise while a cadet at West Point, where she was held down, spread-eagled, tied to four stakes in the ground, and gang-raped. She never got over the fact, when she needed compassionate support, that her father told her to forget the incident due to the deleterious impact that a public accusation of gang rape would have on the armed forces in general and the militaryís effort to recruit women in particular. Her murder in the film occurred when she tried to assume a nude spread-eagled position on the ground at the Georgia military base in a vain effort to get her fatherís attention, but one of her sex partners saw her on the ground and killed her. Titles at the end of the film note that 200,000 women now serve in the U.S. armed forces and predict that soon women will occupy every position now held by men, but the sidekick role assigned to Sunhill belies the apparent message. Presumably, severe criminal penalties and the "right way" of investigating allegations of rape will deter future male harassment of females in the donít-ask-donít-tell military, or so the film would have us believe. MH

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