Unforgettable is a contemporary thriller that uses a traditional formula to stealthily depict societal anxieties around othered assimilation into traditionally white spaces.
The film opens with Julia’s (Rosario Dawson), job departure. Following her engagement to financier turned entrepreneur David (Geoff Stults), she moves into the San Francisco Bay Area where she feels outcasted among the small, racially homogeneous San Francisco suburb.
Tessa (Katherine Heigl) is David’s heartbroken ex and the mother of their young daughter Lily. Tessa is western society perfection—she is Ivy League educated, tall, blonde, and buxom. Cast from her previous life due to her infidelity, Tessa stages a ruthless and abusive way back into David’s life,
While this may be the plot—this is hardly what the film is about.
Julie, embodies the racially ambiguous other, yet her race or ethnicity is never mentioned in the film. Julie, the film’s “other,” is beaten and bruised from a previous lover. This depiction illustrates the conflict othered bodies face when finding love in a world where their bodies are canvasses for western world induced frustrations and conventional shortcomings.
The film’s failure (or refusal) to address Julie’s status as other is a purposeful portrayal meant to illustrate the depicted society as a post-racial. Yet this omission somehow functions to make Julie’s othering more obvious and perhaps more realistic.
Ironically, in her final fight scene with Tessa, Julie states that “it was never about him,” a prevalent yet paradoxical line because, of course their contention is about David.
Both Julie and Tessa, the majority and marginal woman, solicit validation from a white man. Julie’s pending nuptials serve as the film’s destination or the contractual objective that consummates Julie’s journey to whiteness. Moreover, Julie spends the entire film chasing whiteness in the form of a wedding gown.
Tessa, on the other hand has already acquired said whiteness. This status makes itself visibly obvious in the clothing Tessa wears throughout the film. Tessa wears a variation of white dresses throughout the film to paint the white female body as the portrait of femininity, slender, educated, long-haired, blonde and white–a status Julie seeks.
So Julie yelling “It was never about him” in her fight with Tessa proves paradoxical because of course their feud is about David. David in an allegorical sense that is.
Unforgettable, has all the bearings of a fairy tale with Julie as the unassuming princess, Tessa as the privileged, antagonistic conventional beauty, David as the wealthy and dashing prince, all the way down to the white horse Tessa rides for leisure.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the film ends with Julie obtaining her prince after a violent altercation with his previous princess. This altercation proves reminiscent of the heavily anticipated fight between Beyonce (Sharon) and Ali Later (Lisa) in Obsessed (2009). Both Obsessed and Unforgettable depict the embittered white female body draped in an oversized tee-shirt, bare foot and bare-legged. In Unforgettable, Julie seizes the knife from a white tee-shirt clad Tessa, seemingly regaining control of the situation, until Tessa sees her face stained with blood and steps into the prodigious blade which ultimately ends her life.
Covertly, the picturesque white woman sees her porcelain face stained with color and willingly surrenders her svelte figure to the fatally phallic blade. This death by penetration seems foreshadowed by previous images of Julie riding the big white horse and riding a tall white stranger in a bar parking lot. She performs both acts with a rigid stiffness, that thwarts the fleeting thought that renders these acts sexual. This is in grave contrast to Julie, who viewers see performing fellatio in a public restroom and engaging in numerous sex scenes with her soon-to-be husband. Despite their active sex life, Julie does not inform David of her abusive past. While this dynamic was most likely placed in the film to illustrate the depth of Julie’s trauma, it functions to depict the white man’s relationship with the racially ambiguous other as shallow and solely sexual.
This juxtaposition between white and “othered” sexuality illustrates both female bodies as seeking pleasure, but for vastly different motives. The white female body seeks pleasure through control and the racially ambiguous body seeks pleasure through concubine status, an ideology that proves a gateway for traditional ideologies in a contemporary setting.
Tessa, finds pleasure in physically dominating her subject, or in occupying a physically elevated position. Julie—the racially ambiguous concubine— occupies a more submissive and giving position, a placement that allows the other to heighten the masculinity of the desired white male.
Tessa’s tragic end illustrates the white female body as preferring death than to be usurped by an “other,” or become one herself.
Prior to commiting suicide, viewers watch Tessa perform a series of actions to criminalize Julie’s othered body. From suggesting Julie pushed her down the stairs, to telling Lily it was because of Julie’s negligence that she’s has to chop her long locks, to diligently working to paint Julie as unfaithful to David–Tessa “others” Julie as a desperate attempt to salvage her own superiority and sanity. After staging her fall down the stairs, Tessa rides away with David and Lily in the car as Julie stands in the doorway alone and outcasted, a personification of Julie’s alienation from the white family dynamic and lifestyle when labeled a criminal. This depiction is in direct accordance to how the western world adamantly depicts the othered female body as the “other woman,” criminal, unfit or welfare mother, gauche, uneducated and a series of other unflattering attributes that consistently surface to substantiate white female superiority.
Films like Unforgettable function to illustrate the white female as unraveled in losing white male validation to the racially ambiguous or othered female body.
So, although these images are as forgettable as they are predictable, they depict an unforgettable contention between white and colored female bodies. Whether racially ambiguous or indigenously African, the white woman is an adversary not ally to the “othered” female body.
Despite experiencing a series of “unforgettable” experiences in her plight for assimilation, Julie “forgets” said perils, renders them an isolated incident and marries her prince. Julie believes to have jumped over the hurdles of white female wrath until her former adversary’s mother shows up at a doorstep wearing a tailored white suit. Julie, although living amongst white walls, sleeping in white sheets with white people is still not wearing white. Instead, Julie wears colored patterns throughout the film, to reflect a hue intractable despite a diligent plight towards whiteness.
To many this film is a weekend pastime or sexy thriller. But Unforgettable is a reminder of how easy it is to forget reality when your sole objective is to gain access to an elusive whiteness. The wealth of white supremacy stains Julie’s first few months in her new home, yet she erases this memory until Tessa’s mom shows up on her porch. Tessa’s mom embodies the wrath of western femininity. A wrath that is always overdressed, overpaid, overprivileged and sometimes overly friendly to twist the wound of systemic disenfranchisement even when an othered body believes they’ve married out of its range. Furthermore, while otherwise unremarkable and arguably unoriginal, the film successfully unveils the wrath of white female supremacy as simply unforgettable.