Synopsis: Hunter and Richie seem to enjoy they life together as a newly married couple. Richie comes from a well-off family and has just received the most important post in his family’s business. But, once Hunter gets pregnant, she develops compulsive eating disorder, Pica. Pica is a disease characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive, such as ice, sharp objects, hair, chalk, stone and so on. Because of this disease Richie’s family decides to take control of Hunter’s behavior to make sure that Hunter will not jeopardize the fetus that she is caring under her belly. No character handles this situation indifferently. But what are the underlying reasons of Hunter’s disease?
The Pica disease is a metaphor that symbolizes a woman’s suffering and fight against the patriarchy. Hunter’s smooth evolution from a nice-looking and innocent housewife to the trouble-causing and addictive social outcast puts the audiences on a comfortable chair and than transforms the chair into a chair of nails and keeps the audiences on it. Swallow is a feminist pamphlet that first shows how the patriarchy defines a female behavior and how it expects women to embody the submissive social role imposed on them by both psychological and economical violence.
The film has a ontological approach to the social conditions that shape the order and the roles both women and men are supposed to play. Any situation or behavior hindering the patriarchal order is being fought against. For example, Richie verbally attacks Hunter, when he discovers that Hunter enjoys swallowing objects, because he doesn’t want to understand her: he just wants a normal family and doesn’t even question the “why” of her behavior. When Hunter escapes from their home, Richie calls her to tell her to bring his baby back to him and doesn’t care much about the reasons why Hunter had escaped. In the beginning, both Hunter and Richie embody the socially constructed roles of a woman and a man. When dining, Richie is busy with responding to his business messages while Hunter is a little bit talkative about her daily impressions or casual goals. The patriarchal order wants people to implement meticulously precised roles and if one fails others fail too. The only fact that Hunter suffers from Pica causes problems both for Richie and his parents too. But, nobody cares about Hunter, everybody is taken out of their socially constructed roles and are just panicking and sometimes being unable to handle their emotions: Richie is panicking the most, whilst his father pays the doctors and the Syrian male nurse to “take care” of Hunter and all this is done in order to keep the broken train of patriarchy back to its rails. Richie’s mother’s behavior symbolizes the dehumanized woman who has not rebelled, but instead obeyed to the ready-do-apply rules and successfully earned her role in the artificial and human-denying patriarchal order. She would otherwise protect Hunter or at least she could have shown some compassion towards Hunter’s heart-breaking past.
Swallow is a horror drama. The film explores all the layers of the patriarchal society in which we live and therefore any spectator could identify himself/herself with this or that character. In this sense, the approach is very universal and explores the toxic environment in which characters grew up and continue to evolve. No character is deeply negative neither positive and anybody’s behavior is causing something that will influence someone. These interwoven relationships are not 100% save because of the oppressive patriarchal system that makes the rules and imposes them on everyone.
The worst part of the story is the fact that Hunter had been raped, which probably played a negative impact during her pregnancy by generating the Pica disease and making her suffer even more. The patriarchal society wants her to be a loving wife and a caring mother, but her traumatic past and her present medical conditions don’t allow her to embody that artificial role without some supplementary pressure from her husband’s family. Swallow reveals the oppressive system many women suffer from, where the rules are ready-to-be-applied ignoring women’s natural independence and inalienable dignity.