When you think of Jennifer’s Body, you probably picture Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried making out with the camera zoomed in on their lips. The reason for that boils down to poor, misogynistic marketing choices that tanked the film before the right audience got a hold of it. Luckily for us, today the film is recognized as a feminist cult classic, but that wasn’t always the case.
Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody (who also wrote the screenplay for the 2007 hit “Juno”) and directed by Karyn Kusama. Released in 2009, it follows the complex friendship between Jennifer, played by Megan Fox, and Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, as Jennifer transforms into a boy-eating demon. The movie’s feminist impact is cleverly hidden beneath the quirky lingo and slasher-inspired murders, delving into sex, female friendship, manipulation, girlhood, and sexuality (while encapsulating feminist undertones in every scene). Cody wanted a female heroine and a movie that didn’t victimize women, so she flipped the script. The film was meant to target young adult women and teenage girls. Still, Megan Fox was fresh off the set of Transformers, where she quickly became the staple “hot girl” of the decade, and the marketing team thought it would be a good idea to market the film with the “Megan Fox is sexy” strategy. Spoiler alert: this was a detrimental decision.
Fox and Seyfried joked that marketing would take the one inherently sexual scene in the movie and make it the entire campaign, and that’s precisely what happened. Young men went to see the film and became disappointed when they learned it was a feminist horror-comedy with very few sex scenes with Megan Fox. It was also referred to as a “boy version of Twilight” by movie critic Roger Ebert, which does not accurately represent it at all. Today, the film still only has an overall rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 35%, although I’ve realized many of my favorite movies do not have fantastic Rotten Tomato scores, so the people rating them have lousy taste (obviously).
To provide a quick overview of the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it: Jennifer Check and Needy Lesnicki are childhood best friends. Because they’re women, however, there is an evident but subtle competition between them from the start (much like real female friendships in early adolescence). When Jennifer and Needy go to a nearby dive bar to see an out-of-town band, Low Shoulder, perform, the lead singer and Jennifer start flirting. It’s clear from this scene that the second a guy she’s interested in pays attention to her, all her confident and fierce traits vanish, and she turns into a coy, giddy version of herself, desperate for approval from Nikolai, the lead singer. Melody Lane, the dive bar, ends up burning down during their performance, and Nikolai offers Jennifer “safety” in his big, white van (lol). She follows him, and we learn later that the band sacrificed Jennifer because they thought she was a virgin to gain fame for their band. Jennifer is instantly transformed into a succubus and goes on a murder rampage, all while Needy tries to figure out what to do about her best friend and future lasagna victims.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, Jennifer and Needy have a complex relationship. They compete with each other for male attention, or rather, Jennifer asserts her dominance over Needy, telling her what she can and can’t wear to Melody Lane. This quickly establishes who has more power in this dynamic. We also see that because they are so close, others speculate if there might be something more to their “friendship.” I see this happen often with my friends and I, and most of the time, it’s because society likes to oversexualize the love girls give to their friends. In this case, however, there is truth to it.
The fact that Needy and Jennifer are in love looms over us the entire movie, though the film allows you to interpret scenes in a not-necessarily romantic way. Most scenes where you glimpse something “more” could also be perceived as friendship. Only as the movie intensifies can you conclude that romantic feelings are intertwined in their relationship. When they are at Melody Lane holding hands, and Jennifer becomes trance-like watching Low Shoulder, she lets go of Needy’s hand. Needy is bothered by this.
Fast forward to Jennifer breaking into Needy’s room post-murder of Colin Grey: This is when you first get an explicit confirmation that there have always been sexual undertones throughout their friendship. Even before becoming a boy-eating demon, Jennifer used her sexual nature to get what she wanted. I argue that becoming a demon made her lean further into the “impure” aspects of herself, including sexual manipulation. Needy is rightfully freaked out, so Jennifer makes out with her to sway the topic. When Needy abruptly stops making out with Jennifer, Jennifer looks confused. “We can play mommy and daddy like we used to,” she mutters. From this line, we can establish that being sexual with each other is nothing new and likely started years ago.
Even the title “Jennifer’s Body” plays on a few different themes.
One, it shows how both Jennifer and Megan Fox have been reduced to their physical appearance. Jennifer often used her seductiveness to get what she wanted, but does that make her a villain? Absolutely not. It makes her a victim of the patriarchy that only values women based on their perceived beauty. She has grown up in a world that’s only ever valued her for her physical appearance; of course, she will try to use her objectification to her advantage. When she transforms into a succubus, this becomes her superpower. Her “body” is how she can murder her boy dinners. When she is hungry, she becomes ugly—therefore, her power vanishes. There is a scene where Jennifer is crying while applying a mountain of foundation (shown below), another way the movie depicts her appearance and confidence as a literal mask. Without her “beauty,” she is nothing, which makes this scene highly relatable.
The title also foreshadows the entire plot of the movie: Jennifer Check’s “virgin” body is sacrificed to pieces for the fictional band “Low Shoulder” to gain nationwide fame. “Jennifer’s Body” is a song by the alternative rock band “Hole,” founded by Courtney Love. In the song, Love depicts an abusive relationship by providing imagery of dismemberment. The man takes and takes until the woman is nothing but an empty body.
In the film, Jennifer isn’t only reduced to her appearance but also her sexual history. She is only chosen to be sacrificed to satan because the band concludes that her flirtiness is an “act” and that she is definitely a virgin (which we know to be untrue). The sacrifice is also meant to signify sexual assault on-screen. The events afterward exemplify how traumatic events cause perpetual cycles of abuse. Jennifer’s life is tragically taken from her, and she devours multiple men because of it.
I can’t talk about Jennifer’s Body without mentioning the spiritual, almost supernatural connection Jennifer and Needy share. Needy often feels Jennifer even when she isn’t around. She knows when she is close and can feel it when Jennifer kisses Chip, Needy’s “ex” boyfriend, to seduce him into privacy. Needy and Jennifer also shared an intimate moment separately: Needy was having sex with Chip, and Jennifer was ripping open Colin Grey, which I suppose would be a succubus equivalent. Jennifer tells Colin, “I need you hopeless.” Needy then says “hopeless” out loud to Chip during sex. I’m unsure why Chip chose to ignore this; I would be concerned if my partner said that word while we were sleeping together, but what do I know?
At the film’s end, Needy rips off Jennifer’s “best friend” necklace, and suddenly, Jennifer stops levitating and dramatically falls onto her bed. Needy breaks the bond by breaking the necklace, and Jennifer’s one true solace is gone. Even though Jennifer wasn’t a great friend, she loved the idea of friendship, and most of all, she loved Needy. Their relationship was the one pure thing Jennifer had, and now she’s gone.
Whenever I read an article or watch a video about this movie, I learn another core theme I had previously missed. It truly is a masterpiece and correlates to the transformation that comes with puberty and embracing your queerness (and the societal pressures of hiding it), all while showcasing a killer soundtrack. The ability to find various hidden themes in a single piece of media is a true sign of great art. I highly recommend searching “Jennifer’s Body” on YouTube; I promise you will discover something new every time.
By the way, “Through the Trees” by Low Shoulder is a slay. Who knows, maybe the sacrifice worked.