It is a common enough sight to watch men be offended when they perceive a woman to be wary of them. Whether “Not All Men” holds any water is no longer debatable since our understanding that patriarchy and violence against women are systematic, which means that even if a man personally wouldn’t harm a woman, her fear that he might works in his favor. The fact that crimes against women continue to happen, no matter the number of precautions, is a testament to the fact that, at their root, the crime is an exercise of power. It is not about how attractive the woman is; it is about how vulnerable she is. And that is why Tess says in “Barbarian” that she would not have allowed Keith into the house if she had been in his place. Some may argue that if she was so scared, she should not have stayed with him, to begin with. Well, here’s where we need to realize something. Tess was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She could either spend the night in the house or spend it out in the streets due to the lack of accommodation in the city. Who knows what dangers await there? It was literally an assessment of the danger she could deal with versus the danger she couldn’t. She did not assume her safety; she calculated it, and that is the reality for most women.
But of course, sometimes women miscalculate, and people like Frank and AJ get their way. We can tell when AJ is describing his version of events to his friend that he is far from innocent. “Took some convincing” is the textbook statement of someone who has no concept of consent. He said that the woman finally gave in, but, as we said before, she must have calculated the harm she could endure. She would have understood that resisting further could lead to more physical harm. AJ is dumbfounded, as he just doesn’t understand why he was wrong. When confronted with it, he understood that he may have made a mistake and thus, began his attempts at gaslighting her. However, the real revelation for him happened with the Mother. After what he went through with her, maybe in the twisted reasoning that most men use, he thought of it as “karma” or simply came closer to realizing his mistakes. But what happened next shows us that he would have done nothing about his epiphany. He was willing to kill Tess to buy himself some time. We don’t doubt he would have similarly dragged his other victim as well to save his reputation.
We see Tess’ book- “Jane Eyre” quite frequently in “Barbarian.” A character in the book by the name of Bertha is similarly locked away in the attic due to her mental illness. While the similarity can be debated, it cannot be argued that Tess seemed to understand the Mother at a point. We see right from the beginning that the Mother is harsher with the men than with the women. It could be due to her experience with Frank, where she has learned that men are the enemy. We are assuming that she initially attacked Keith because she felt threatened by him but took a much kinder approach to Tess. She tried to do the same with AJ, but when she saw that he was no different from her father in the way he tried to harm others, she killed him.
In the ending scene of “Barbarian,” where she tries to be gentle with Tess and seems to feel her pain, Tess probably realizes that this is a creature made by her circumstances. It broke our hearts when she killed the Mother, but that was probably the greatest kindness she could do for her to relieve her from this torment. In a strange sort of way, though the problems started due to the Mother, as “Barbarian” progressed, the way she protected her was very metaphorical of women protecting other women—a dynamic that carries a certain nobility unlike the “men protecting other men” trope, which we know carries a different meaning altogether. Everything that happened to Tess and the Mother was the result of the far-reaching effects of the actions of one man. It did not matter that there were men like Keith, who we can tell was just a case for “Not All Men” in the movie. We don’t know if the day will ever come when women can breathe easy. Because even if all the sexism in the world were to suddenly disappear, the residual trauma of it would be felt for generations to come. So, who was really the barbarian in the movie? Was it the woman who never got to live a life and was forced to become less than human, or was it the men in her life who made her that way? How primitive is it to not be able to control our basest instincts and choose a whole gender as a target to play this out? The real barbarian is the mindset that lets men get away with it, and even if they don’t, the repercussions they face will never be even a fraction of the price women pay for not being “careful enough.” That is the real tragedy of this world.
See More: ‘Barbarian’ Ending, Explained: Who Was The Creature Residing In The House? Did AJ And Tess Make It Out Alive?