Netflix’s ‘Do Revenge’ is inspired by a book by a Nazi sympathizer

Blink and you’ll miss it, but around the start of Jennifer Kaytin Robinson Revengeone of the film’s main characters, Eleanor (stranger things‘ Maya Hawke), reads Strangers on a train.

He’s a cute little legend in a pretty clever movie stacked with ’90s rom-com references, easter eggs, homages, and meta moments. The Essential: Eleanor and Drea (Riverdale‘s Camila Mendes) are unlikely allies – Drea is a recently dethroned queen bee whose posh friends turn on her when a sex tape is leaked; Eleanor is a geeky new girl whose life was ruined when she confided her homosexuality to someone who weaponized him against her. They come together to get revenge on each other, that is, to shoot a Strangers on a train.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film based on the 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley and Carol, is about (you guessed it) two strangers, Bruno and Guy, who meet on a train and decide to help each other: each has someone they want to get rid of. Their idea? Do the murders of each other so that they are untraceable.

Revengereleased on September 16, is simultaneously an indictment coated in performative awakening – the film’s main villain, Max (Euphoria‘s Austin Abrams) is a sexual predator posing as an ally, who starts a club called “Cis Straight Men Championing Women Identifying Students League” – while also highlighting important topics such as slut shaming, bullying, class inequity, homophobia and the superficiality of the age of influencers.

The irony (perhaps?) is that Highsmith espoused anti-Semitism but was a lesbian who, according to one of her biographers, Richard Bradford, author of Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmithhad many Jewish lovers.

Camila Mendes as Drea and Maya Hawke as Eleanor in Netflix’s “Do Revenge.” Released September 16, “Do Revenge” is loosely based on Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train,” which was also made into a 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film.
Kim Simms / Courtesy of Netflix

Another Highsmith biographer, Joan Schenkar (d. 2021) wrote in her 2009 book, The Talented Mrs. Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, “‘Jew hater’ is really the proper term for what Patricia Highsmith was,” adding that she referred to Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews at one time as “Holocaust Inc.” and the “semi-auste”, meaning that Hitler had stopped short of properly and completely ridding the world of Jews.

According to a 2021 Washington Post review of Bradford’s book, while writing Strangers on a trainHighsmith had an affair with a man, a novelist named Marc Brandel, and also underwent therapy “with a psychoanalyst who, like all good Freudians of the 1940s, aimed to ‘cure’ his homosexuality… She manipulated them all both , [Bradford] wrote, ‘because they embodied normalcy.. . .She wanted to establish a tension, a dynamic between the world of inclinations and conventional mores and a life in perpetual deviance. This fueled Bruno and Guy’s twisted connection in Strangers on a train.”

Drea and Eleanor end up writhing, and what Highsmith would think Revenge is hard to say (and who cares?), but it’s hard not to consider the original author when viewing the latest incarnation. In the end, everyone and no one in Revenge is a villain, and it’s hard not to miss the Star of David that’s suddenly at the center of Max’s neck in the film’s third act. (This is in no way to imply that the film itself is anti-Semitic, although given the film’s extensive coverage of current bigotry plaguing the nation and the world, not to mention Highsmith’s hatred was perhaps a missed opportunity.)

After all, the film owes as much (if not more) to clueless, Pretty in pink, 10 things i hate about you and 1999 cruel intentions. This film, itself based on Dangerous relationships, starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as the resident queen, and in Revenge, the actress plays the manager of the Rosehill Country Day competition, which all the characters attend. (If your head hasn’t exploded yet, mazel.)

Newsweek contacted Bradford, Netflix and Revenge director and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson for comment.

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