Human kindness is exhausting. You are constantly worried about how someone thinks or feels; you try to do everything in your power to make them happy, and you panic at the thought that someone is upset. It doesn’t matter where they’re upset; if they’re upset, it looks like a failure. People’s happiness is often the result of an injury, because you are programmed to expect to hurt someone else. No matter who you talk to or who is part of your life, this trauma follows you in all your interactions. It’s Hunter’s life with Carlo Mirabella-Davis Swallow.
Hayley Bennett’s Swallow plays Hunter, a housewife who married in an extremely wealthy family. This wealth comes with a range of expectations and standards, from the length of her hair to the way she dresses to the way she receives psychiatric services. She is a beautiful blonde puppet who is constantly reminded that she is nothing without him and his money. She has no talent or wealth, so she has to follow all orders or she ends up on the street.
So Hunter reads books about self-help and does his best to find comfort in his new life. One of these mechanisms makes it possible to swallow objects such as balloons, sketches and batteries. Swallowing these objects is something she does for herself; no one else is telling her to do it. It’s a small favor, or so she thinks, to do something she can do without her husband, Richie (Austin Stoell), or the police. This little act is a rebellion, a takeover that constantly escapes.
However, the illusion of control begins to disappear when she learns she is pregnant. Of course her pregnancy is celebrated by her husband, who declares that we are pregnant and considers it another thing he can do for him and his family. But, as in films like Baby Rosemary, pregnancy is often used as an exploitation of the female body. Women will become a vessel for a male child and hopefully an heir. It is only a body for a precious charge, something that is only protected and cared for out of necessity until the birth of the child. In Rosemary’s Infant, the baby was literally Satan’s son. In the film Swallow baby is more symbolic is the birth of an evil family, but it still symbolizes the way his family affects the life of the hunter.
When Ritchie discovers the hunter’s appetite, he must act decisively. His child must be protected and he will do everything to protect him. Make no mistake, any help to Hunter is only to help the baby. They give her medication, help her – for better or for worse – and only reluctantly start therapy. For him, therapy is out of his control and a place where he can’t dictate all his thoughts. It’s a place where she can express herself freely, and that frightens her.
However, the therapy reveals something much deeper and more traumatic: Hunter was conceived when his mother was raped. She likes to tell this story to her therapist and describes in detail who her father was, how he raped her mother and how long he was in prison. By explaining this, she also keeps the impact of this information on her life to a minimum. Yet Hunter offered an explanation for her actions, and this can be understood further; it is not just an event that happened that did not determine who she was. Her whole existence is characterized by a terrible act of violence, and she wants to avoid this as much as possible.
While waiting for his mother in the film, Hunter quickly tries to explain how happy she was with her mother, stepfather and new sisters. But through this sparkling varnish of the perfect Hunter family, he slowly shows how isolated she was from her family. Growing up, Hunter didn’t want to love her like her mother, no matter how she was conceived. She spent her life making people happy and making them love her no matter what. She feels chronically attracted to people because of her own neglect in childhood, and this is reflected in her love affair.
But as Hunter removes the layers of her trauma, she begins to recognize the cycles of violence stuck in her life. For so long, she focused on the happiness of others, not on her own happiness. Swallowing was the only thing that made her happy. Today she’s not just looking for underground marble, she’s looking for liberation.
The liberation for the hunter takes the form of an abortion, which is achieved by the symbolic ingestion of the pill. The hunter has swallowed objects to exercise control, and this final scene of ingestion is the final act of physical autonomy and rebellion. In the end, the swallow abortion was an act of power that liberated Hunter. Her abortion also frees her from the cycle of abuse that sustains her own mother. Although Hunter was conceived during a rape and her child was supposedly consenting, the child still represents a life in which she can never be herself. She’s a child who embodies guilt and remorse, and she doesn’t want another child to experience a life of resentment. Moreover, at birth, the child would be a bargaining chip, part of the capital her husband uses to dictate his actions to her. Hunter controls his own story through an abortion by doing something his mother didn’t do.
Although this film is not about the politics of abortion, it does show abortion as an opportunity and a means to exercise control over one’s own body. Abortion is Hunter’s supreme act of control to eliminate violence. She begins to move towards a life in which she does what makes her happy. The swallow is the hunter’s painful path to this consciousness, but also the reflection on the difficulty of reaching it. The female body is so often a battlefield, and Hunter has found a way to win his war.
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