Spoilers: An Untamed State, Trigger warning: rape, gang rape, abduction
Last week, Roxane Gay announced that her debut novel, An Untamed State , is headed for the big screen. If you haven't read An Untamed State, turn back now unless you want to get spoiled. (And go get yourself a copy, because it's an amazing book.) It's no secret that I worship the ground Roxane Gay walks on and the paper she writes on, so when I heard there was an An Untamed State film coming our way, I (like the rest of of the publishing world) freaked out. It's high time they made this brilliant book into a movie.
An Untamed State is so much more than your standard abduction story. Sometimes I wonder if Gay was so sick of seeing the same tropes played out that she decided to fix the genre. What makes the novel particularly unique is Gay's treatment of her main character, Mirielle. This book is primarily about the woman who was taken, not the game of trying to find her. We experience Mirielle, as a woman and as a victim, to a depth never before seen. Many kidnapping stories feature abuse, but it is often shown as shock value and everything is solved once the victim is found. But in An Untamed State we feel Mirielle's horrors and their lasting effects right along with her; how the rape and the poor treatment rip her in half and strip her from her own identity. It is a powerful reading experience, and it brings an important perspective to life.
Considering this book contains so much pain, it feels cruel to say how much I'm looking forward to seeing it. But the fact of the matter is that so much of An Untamed State is going to translate amazingly well to film. With full characters for actors to dig into and moments that hit the audience in every place, it promises to be the kind of film you can't look away from. Plus, with Gina Prince-Bythewood directing and collaborating with Gay herself on the screenplay, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw cast as Mirielle, we know the story is in good hands. Here are the parts of the book I'm most looking forward to seeing reimagined in film.
1. The kidnapping scene.
Okay, it's weird to say I'm looking forward to seeing a woman get brutally ripped from her family. But that section of the book is one of the most explosive scenes I've ever read in literature. It felt cinematic as I read it. It's going to be astounding (and, of course, horrifying) to watch on the screen.
2. Mirielle and Michael's romance.
There's no denying that these two are cute. From when they first meet in Mirielle's office, to the moment when Michael buys her a new bikini for their trip, the couple's love story is achingly good. Plus, the sexiest part to me is how much agency Mirielle has in the relationship. She's constantly telling Michael what she wants. Sadly, that's not something we see a lot of in today's media, but Gay brings it out in the best ways.
3. The different parts of Haiti.
So much of this book is about Haiti itself. Often, as Americans, we get a very narrow view of Haiti. But in An Untamed State we see first-hand how a vast economic divide has shaped the country. We see Mirielle's family's wealthy community, and we see the roaring, violent slums. Just as Gay captures the three-dimensionality of her characters, so does she capture the many facets of the country. On screen, it promises to be breath-taking.
4. The fairytale motif.
"Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating through their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones." Can't you hear that quote, the searing first line, in a voice-over? Gay has so many similarly twisted fairytale references throughout the book, and each and every one hits the reader right in the stomach.
5. Mirielle's relationship with Lorraine.
The mirrored stories of these two women is one of my favorite parts of An Untamed State. It is so rewarding to see such a deep connection bloom in the absolute worst of circumstances. In a book filled with so much darkness, their relationship brings light and hope.
6. When Michael and Victor first find TiPierre.
Talk about heart-thumping, dramatic irony. When I realized that Michael and Victor were talking to one of Mirielle's kidnappers, I was screaming so many curse words. On screen, when the audience sees TiPierre, they will know exactly how close they are to finding Mirielle, making it all the more frustrating when TiPierre's lie sticks.
7. The "after."
The time spent with Mirielle after she is sent back to her family is really what sets An Untamed State apart from the pack. Mirielle's time trying to cope with her ordeal is not treated like a footnote, but for once, like a part of her experience that is just as (if not more) important as the kidnapping itself. We can expect some amazing performances from Mbatha-Raw.