Richard Gadd's 'Baby Reindeer': A harrowing tale of sexual assault and stalking | Analysis

'Baby Reindeer' poster. Photo: IMDb

Upon the release of the new series 'Baby Reindeer' on Netflix, few could have predicted the whirlwind of emotions it would evoke, including sadness, depression, and fear. From the trailer, one might expect a simple story about a comedian stalked by an eccentric woman. However, diving into the series reveals a much deeper exploration of stalking and sexual abuse faced by a man.

As viewers, we're accustomed to series and movies depicting assaults and stalking perpetrated by men on women. One such example is the series 'You,' featuring Penn Badgley, where a man obsessively stalks and even kills women under the guise of 'love.' However, 'Baby Reindeer' takes a different approach by placing a man in the victim's shoes, offering insights into his emotions and experiences. This unique perspective sets 'Baby Reindeer' apart from its counterparts.

The series gains an added layer of intrigue due to its basis on the real-life experiences of Richard Gadd, who both stars in and writes the series. This unique perspective offers viewers a glimpse into Gadd's mindset during the ordeal of stalking. In the series, Gadd plays Donny, a struggling comedian working at a pub, whose life takes an unexpected turn when Martha (Jessica Gunning) a convicted stalker, enters his life. Donny is perplexed by Martha's fixation on him, as he considers himself an invisible figure with nothing to offer her. Spoilers ahead. If you haven't watched the series, we advise against reading further.

In the initial episodes, Martha emerges as a relentless stalker, causing chaos in Donny's life. Despite her actions, Donny expresses empathy towards her, attempting to rationalize her behaviour to some extent. Meanwhile, Donny begins dating Teri, a trans woman and wrestles with a sense of 'shame'.

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that there is more to Donny than meets the eye. His behaviour raises questions about why he fails to report Martha's attacks on both himself and Teri. This is where the series takes an interesting turn. We soon learn that Donny has endured the trauma of being sexually assaulted by a man, a burden he has carried in silence. Alongside this, he grapples with questions about his sexual orientation and the societal stigma attached to it. Lost in a whirlwind of emotions—depression, sadness, and confusion—Donny's life takes an unexpected twist with the arrival of Martha. She laughs at his jokes, appreciates his presence, and consistently validates him. He acknowledges the creepiness of it all, yet, he craves these validations to affirm his existence and worth in this world.

In various scenes of the series, we witness Donny's assault by a man he looks up to, someone who holds considerable power in his world. Despite his awareness of the sexual violation, Donny repeatedly returns to his abuser, resembling the Stockholm syndrome dynamic. For Donny, Martha is more than just a stalker; she's a distraction from his tumultuous world, a reprieve from the shame he grapples with. Despite Martha's stalking and abuse towards him and his loved ones, Donny finds himself distracted, yet his conscience refuses to fully accept it. When someone experiences trauma, one of the initial reactions they may feel is denial. This phase often persists for a certain period of time, as they struggle to come to terms with what has happened and how it could have occurred. Thus, Donny's experience of rape or Martha's stalking is likely viewed through the lens of denial.

Witnessing a man utterly shattered, unable to even report his abuser, we understand that Donny's life has irrevocably changed. Despite his attempts to return to normalcy, the weight of his past weighs heavily upon him, hindering his progress. When distractions fade away, Donny fixates on Martha, his life becoming increasingly centred around her.

The series is masterfully crafted, boasting exceptional writing and acting. Special acknowledgement goes to Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning for their outstanding performances in the show. Gadd beautifully captures all the intricacies of Donny's character, while Gunning's portrayal of Martha feels incredibly authentic, instilling a natural sense of terror in viewers. Martha, too, possesses a distinct and complex story, albeit often overshadowed by Donny's story. In many ways, Martha and Donny share similarities—they have both endured trauma, forming a connection between them. In a way, both of them have constructed cocoons around themselves, residing in separate realities. Donny creates an alternate identity to escape the weight of his true self, while Martha presents herself as a desirable woman who connects with Donny. Their worlds collide, plunging them into chaos as they navigate their intertwined existence.

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