The crew of Wisdom Teeth is speaking out about seuxal assault survivors’ experiences.

Photo: Annie Arnone

Pillowcase Survivors

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By Annie Arnone

A fourth-year film studies student is sharing her own experience with sexual assault in her upcoming thesis film.

Director Sydni Lazarus is recounting her and others’ struggle in Wisdom Teeth. According to the synopsis, the film challenges “that voices of survivors should continue to be silent.”

“It’s been a hard couple of years, but this is something I’m ready to take on,” said Lazarus.

Lazarus said the film aims to reflect a “common experience for so many people, predominantly women.”

“Rape is nothing like how it is in the movies,” reads the film’s synopsis. “It doesn’t always take place in an alleyway, or at a club. It doesn’t always involve force or being held at gunpoint, but more often than not, the person who rapes you is a person you trust.”

The film’s title references Lazarus’ experience of sexual assault by her former partner.

“I came in at the tail end of her relationship and I was there as a witness,” said fourth-year student Meaghan Gable, the film’s cinematographer. “Other than her mom, I don’t think anyone else knew.”

Since she was high on wisdom tooth medication during the incident, she uses the teeth as a metaphor for growth in the film.

Wisdom Teeth, including producer and fourth-year Ida Jokinen  — also uses poetic allusions to the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone.

The story depicts Persephone — Goddess of vegetation — who’s taken captive by Hades, God of the Underworld. During the kidnapping, the goddess experiences emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

However, she develops a love for her kidnapper and becomes the Goddess of the Underworld. Lazarus said she saw the myth as a “beauty and the beast” scenario when she was young.

“As I do research on it now I realize, holy shit, this is a story about a young girl being kidnapped,” Lazarus said. “I related it to my story which is a story about sexual assault, but it was also one of emotional, sexual abuse and gas-lighting.”

Gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse where abusers manipulate situations to make victims doubt their own experience.

One scene in Wisdom Teeth incorporates the statistic that one-fourth of women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.

With characters that Lazarus names “pillowcase survivors,” the scene depicts women with pillowcases over their heads, in nothing but their underwear.

“It’s sort of implying the trope of a hostage with a sack over your head and the idea of being a statistic,” said Lazarus. “You lose your sense of identity. Every girl sits in position and they wait to be next in line. Through this room of pillowcase survivors you’ll hear pick ups from interviews we’re doing.”

The set design, using “aerial silk performance, industrials and movement” depicts the underworld as interviews with other survivors play out.

“We shoot on a dark sound stage,” said Gable. “You see a bed and Sydni is on the bed as she recounts things that have happened from her past.”

The crew said they plan to interview over 15 survivors from different genders, race and other backgrounds.

“It’s been really amazing to hear those stories,” Jokinen said. “And how beautifully people can talk about something that is so horrible, given to them without consent.”

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