The Unicorn Scale: Compulsion

By Talia Squires

October 22, 2021

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Photo credit: Image/Dimension Films

As a bi food lover who likes super stylish movies, it’s hardly surprising that I’m a fan of the 2013 movie Compulsion. It stars Heather Graham as Amy, a food-fanatic ex-chef who dreams of having her own cooking show, and Carrie-Anne Moss as Saffron, a washed-up child star turned sex advice columnist.

This remake of the 1995 Korean film 301, 302 was generally panned with a 19% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics complained about the pacing and that it seemed to lack a clear genre. Honestly, I think people were just mad that this was ultimately a movie about two women and their own personal demons. I really hope that this movie gets a Jennifer’s Body-esque reevaluation sometime soon because I think it’s wonderful. 

From here on out I’m going there will be SPOILERS, some of them pretty big. If you’re unfamiliar with The Unicorn Scale, we seek to evaluate movies based on their bi representation, not the overall quality of the film. Here’s an explanation of how it works.

What I Liked:

As a dark comedy satire of slickly produced cooking shows, it is pure genius. As a dark comedy about the cost of fame and our starstruck culture, it’s also fantastic. I think it also just makes a really great story.

This movie really is about two women and their relationships with their mothers, men, society, and ultimately each other. Both are trying to live up to some kind of an impossible ideal of womanhood and I would argue that both have been driven completely mad by the attempt. They eventually find a sort of gruesome peace with one another, or the closest thing to happiness that they feel is available to them.

Amy and Saffron standing face to face a few feet apart in a small room with serious expressions.
Image/Dimension Films

Anyone who has read my Unicorn Scales knows that I love a good wronged woman revenge storyline and this one certainly has it (see All Cheerleaders Die and Jennifer’s Body). Amy does everything she can to be the ideal partner to her fiance, she is convinced that if she can just continue to feed him the perfect meals he will love her forever. This doesn’t work and when he cheats on her with another woman, she gets angry and blows the whole relationship up in a pretty big way. As a food-lover, avid home cook, and former restaurant worker, I really love that the greatest betrayal is the food that he eats on his illicit dates.

Amy confronting her fiancee in the kitchen while he was reading the newspaper.
Image/Dimension Films

Heather Graham is incredible as a stiletto-wearing neurotic fantasy of some '50s housewife trying to go down on her fiance while nearly force-feeding him profiteroles. Any Great British Bakeoff watcher will recognize the effort that went into that croque en bouche. Honestly, I would not have been able to fight off this advance.

After the disintegration of her engagement, Amy must find someone new to feed. Her eyes land on her neighbor, Saffron.

Amy feeding Saffron with a fork, while Saffron looks at Amy with a serious look.
Image/Dimension Films

Amy was obsessed with Saffron and her films since childhood. At one point she imagines herself with Saffron in one of Saffron’s romance movies. She kneels at Saffron's feet and together they slurp oysters, arms entwined, with intense eye contact. There is no mistaking the sexual tension or attraction that Amy feels for Saffron.

Saffron initially resists Amy. She is clearly dealing with her own traumas from being sexually abused as a child star and dealing with a lifelong eating disorder. We never know if Saffron has had any romantic relationships. Before Amy, she spends her time alone in her apartment writing her sex column, trying to land another acting job, and ostentatiously not eating. Yet somehow, and probably not in the healthiest way, the two do find each other and find some kind of happiness together. 

However, Saffron’s trauma is too great, and when the two eventually consummate their troubling and conflicted relationship, it is clear that they are both into it. In fact, it seems like the two are actually pretty happy for the first time when they are together. And yes, they do consummate it. The film switches from sly hints to rolling around naked in bed. In keeping with the general food vibe of this movie, the only sex showed throughout the movie is oral sex.

Amy and Saffron kissing passionately in Amy's bedroom.
Image/Dimension Films

Amy is clearly bi, but it’s unclear if her bisexuality has more to do with her own attractions or her own desperate need to be loved. Saffron was sexually assaulted as a child actor and is a recluse. Although she writes a sex column, we never see any indication that Saffron has ever had romantic or sexual attachments. Both of them are clearly working through a lot of baggage.

Amy’s mother is constantly reminding her that if she ever gains weight she will be unlovable, and reminds her that her fiance, or any partner, is going to leave her one day because she will get fat. These two have not been set up for healthy relationships, so it's hardly surprising that their ultimate expression of love is unconventional and pretty gross.

Amy sitting close to the bathtub where Saffron is bathing looking lovingly at her as Saffron smiles.
Image/Dimension Films

What I Didn’t Like:

In writing this, I’ve talked myself into liking this movie even more. On the one hand, I’m sad that the one clearly bi character is so broken, a killer(ish), and definitely a cannibal. On the other hand, none of this is a symptom of her bisexuality. She isn’t bi because she is utterly detached from reality, she is totally detached from reality and she is bi.

What bothers me more is that one could assume that she is bi because she is so starved for love. You could assume that she pursues Saffron not because she can’t keep a man but because Saffron was her last resort. But I just don’t buy that either. She is sincerely into Saffron and was intrigued by her even when she was still engaged to the loser who didn’t appreciate her cooking.

I am sad to see another off the rails bi killer. Of course, the alternative would be to not have a bi character, as almost everyone in this movie is a giant dumpster fire, so I’ll take it.

The Rating:

This is hard for me. There are so few characters and it’s so intentionally claustrophobic that it’s hard to complain that there isn’t a lot of representation. The bi character (maybe characters) aren’t great, but then again, they are by far the most sympathetic characters.

3 unicorn head emojis with purple mane.
Amy wearing a dress and standing menacingly with her hands on her kitchen counter.
Image/Dimension Films

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