In Jane Campion's In the Cut, adapted from Susanna Moore's book, Meg Ryan plays Frannie, an English professor in New York City caught up in the doings of a psycho who is killing and "disarticulating" (i.e., dismembering) young women. In what could have been a devastating critique of the current state of academia, Frannie collects fragments of poetry--from the Poetry in Motion placards in subway cars. She is apparently unfamiliar with the first tercet of Dante's Inferno but considers it a special find. In a similar vein, a student writes a paper about executed mass murderer John Wayne Gacy (complete with splattered blood on the pages) for a course in which Frannie has assigned Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. But Frannie, whom we first see sleeping, lives in a threateningly eroticized dreamworld, and so, despite the real-as-death plot and a hyperreal attention to the big city setting, In the Cut is not a work of realism. The snippets of verse and the Gacy report are just suggestive details in a movie that could use more explicit ones.
In the Cut is a romance about a woman who is afraid of sex coming to grips with her fear. Like the heroine of Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) she's not interested in mere sexual contact with a man she can easily control. She likes it intense, but she's leery because of all the dubious and frightening ways in which men treat women: they judge them physically like objects; they just want sex from them; they fall in love too fast; they propose on a whim or get them pregnant and never marry them at all; they move on abruptly; they don't know how to talk to them and don't listen, either; they become possessive or obsessive; they stalk them; they use them as prostitutes, rape them, murder them, cut them into pieces. Frannie is at the center of a story in which we see examples of all this bad behavior so it clearly can't be representative of how men treat women. That's why it's romance and not realism: Frannie is the female protagonist in a quest for sexual empowerment. She finds herself drawn closer and closer to the killer and then, having taken on a man's attributes of power--his cloak and weapon--wins the ultimate battle. This victory is seen in the romance fashion as an integration of personality. It beats the "inevitable" masochism of Goodbar, at any rate, according to which the sexual adventuress has to die.