Men losing their dicks has been a favorite topic of philosophers, novelists and annoying dudes for all of human history. Greek poets wrote epic plays about heroes who lose their dicks and go on to do great things; Freud thought a lot about how much he loved his own dick and didn’t want to lose it; Hemingway even wrote a whole novel about an extremely close allegory of himself as dickless and unable to fuck and sad about it.
For how obsessively forced dicklessness has remained in the zeitgeist, it seems to occur in the real world of modern America with startling infrequency. For that reason, when Lorena Bobbitt grabbed an 8-inch kitchen knife and sliced off her husband’s pecker in 1993, it became a national spectacle with a decades-long shelf life.
The slick true-crime docu-series investigating and relitigating famous tabloid cases from decades past is one of the most redundant trends across filmmaking. Eager to get in on the game, Amazon Prime commissioned its own documentary miniseries, “Lorena,” on Lorena Bobbitt, her ex-husband John, and the sliced penis that captivated the nation.
“Lorena” is not strikingly different in its structure or aesthetic than any of the other 110,000 true-crime documentaries of the last three years. You get the old TV news clips, courtroom footage and highly color-graded B-roll that looks the same as all other streaming documentaries.
Where “Lorena” does stand out is in its wild inciting incident. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to not want to learn more after you hear, “it’s that documentary about the lady who cut her husband’s dick off.” The film rightfully places its story within the historical context of the early ‘90s, with the Anita Hill hearings, Nicole Brown-Simpson killing and the Violence Against Women Act, reminding the audience of how little has changed since that time.
All-in-all, it is definitely worth a watch. Though it doesn’t do enough to shake up the format, the miniseries manages to access a level of broad sociological analysis, placing the fertile psychoanalytic issue of (literal) emasculation within the context of the cultural he-said-she-said dynamic we’re all far too familiar with.
The film shows this divide most clearly with an early scene where two medical workers who were on call the night John Bobbitt had his penis taken away. In the first shot, a male doctor expresses his extreme discomfort at having his own dick cut off. Then we cut to a female nurse who says, “My first thought was, what had he done to deserve it?” John Bobbitt definitely deserved it, but you should watch the series to find out why.