Film

Netflix's Luckiest Girl Alive: On Sexual Trauma & True Healing

By Sera | Nov 8, 2022
TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, Gun Violence, Sexual Assault and Spoilers

 

In Netflix's "Luckiest Girl Alive", when we first meet Ani FaNelli, she's at a kitchenware store picking out utensils to add to her wedding registry. 

She appears to have it all; her dream wedding is in six weeks, the perfect husband to be; wealthy and hot, a great job at a glossy women's magazine, an offer to work at the New York times on the horizon, the perfect wardrobe. 

Ani has carefully curated this life to escape an ugly and "shameful" past. 

It's all a facade as we are often drawn into her inner monologue, as she orders a salad when what she really wants is a pizza, pretends to understand high-end fashion brand references, smiles and says all the right things while being hateful or furious in her mind. We also discover her name is actually Tiffani.

The cracks begin to form when the director of a true crime documentary persuades her to tell her own side of the story concerning an infamous, extremely deadly school shooting that took place years ago at her prestigious preppy high school. 

Somehow, one of the only other survivors, Dean, who was now a bestselling author and advocate for gun control, had started up discussions that she had been involved in the planning of the school shooting. 

This would, of course, tear down every fabric of the perfect image Ani had painted of herself over the years, and so she agrees to make the documentary.

This drags her and us, the audience, into the dark hole that is sexual abuse trauma.

Luckiest Girl Alive is the book-to-screen adaptation of a 2015 New York Times best-selling mystery novel by the same name, written by Jessica Knoll, who also wrote the screenplay for the Netflix adaptation. 

In an article for Vogue, Knoll explains that Ani's story "was infused with elements and experiences from my real life, experiences that I was still too raw and frightened to claim as my own." 

In the backdrop of Ani's perfect life, played out as flashbacks building up the story's fabric, we are drawn back to Tiffani's teenage years. She's a scholarship student at this private school and somehow happens to catch the eye of some of the popular kids. To maintain their acceptance, she morphs into whatever they want.

Within the school year, she gets invited to a party where she gets drugged and gang raped by her boyfriend and his friends. She confronts her boyfriend about it but he shuts down the allegations; soon, she apologises for even bringing it up. 

Her English teacher, who she confided in, decided to report the case to the school authorities, which didn't end well. He gets fired, and she gets branded a slut for the rest of the school year. 

Things take a downright horrific turn when a school shooting occurs some weeks later. 

Annoyed at how this set of rich kids get away with everything, two of Ani's friends take laws into their hands and shoot up the whole school and everyone who had wronged them, except Dean, who was shot in the leg and crippled for life. Ani spent her last year at the school in isolation.

Agreeing to participate in the documentary ignited Ani's PTSD even more, we watch her struggle with having sex with her fiance, flashbacks, acting out, suffering from anxiety etc. Her dream wedding is in a couple of weeks, but her meticulously curated life is slowly falling apart as she begins to realise that maybe facing what had happened to her and speaking up about it was the right thing to do all these years. In the end, what felt like her life falling apart was just her life falling into place.

Luckiest Girl Alive portrays the very sour way our society treats rape victims while rewarding rapists who are even a little bit rich enough, man enough, white enough or all three, to discredit whatever a woman comes forth to say. It reiterates further how survivors have to constantly shapeshift, live a certain way, and turn out a certain way in order for the world to see their personhood past an event they had no control over.

Knoll describes this in her article with Vogue "I was never going to be one of them, so I spent my twenties fashioning myself into someone better. At that point in my life, I blindly subscribed to the adage that living well was the best revenge." She goes further to say, "Still, I thought constantly about how my life looked to the people back at home. Professional success by a certain age might have been enough if I hadn’t acted like an animal at that crazy party that the guys still remembered fondly. Someone like me needed to be engaged before thirty to a guy who came from money and went to all the right schools. This part was non-negotiable—the classmates who had scrawled “trash slut” on my locker had to see that one of their own considered me wife material." 

But in doing all this, Knoll, much like her character, Ani denied themselves agency, a knee-jerk reaction that is not isolated to most sexual abuse survivors who "make it out." 

"This abandonment of self is a virulent breeding ground for rage and resentment, and I became a split, duplicitous person, much like the character I wrote for the page and later for the Netflix movie adaptation," Knoll explains.

The film also paints a vivid venn diagram between victim blaming and the thing where everyone around survivors, including loved ones, just wants them to get over the situation, the lack of patience survivors are given to process or even talk about what happened to them, the lack of patience to grief the parts of themselves they lost to such a disheartening situation. 

This is portrayed in the film when Ani pitches her story to The NewYork times, in all its gritty details and gets told off by her fiance for "putting herself out there like that" or when after the story was a hit, a woman approaches Ani in public and tells her to enjoy her few minutes of fame for sharing her story. 

Lastly, the film highlights the importance of speaking up. After the book became a successful hit, Knoll did not initially reveal that Ani's assault and the aftermath of it, was something she had drawn from her own experience, not until she wrote about it in an article for a feminist newsletter, Lenny Letter, in 2016. 

"I was inundated with messages from old classmates, apologising for any role that they may have played in the ostracising and bullying that came after, and with messages from total strangers, sharing their own harrowing stories with me. Women I knew, friends, colleagues, family, opened up in a way that made me realise the perniciousness of the societal messaging around sexual violence." Knoll explains. 

She further explains that it was only after speaking up and being sincere about the pain and trauma her experience caused that she could genuinely and honestly start the long journey of healing.