This gripping film is based on a 1982 play by William Mastrosimone. The drama explores the nightmare of sexual assault from several different angles and compels us to take a hard look at our attitude toward rape.
On her way home from her job at a museum, Marjorie stops at a mall. Returning to her car, she is assaulted by a man wearing a ski mask and wielding a knife. Marjorie escapes just before he rapes her.
She reports the incident to the police and learns that if the man is captured, it will be her word against him in court. It is unlikely he will be sent to prison. Marjorie asks the police officer for protection since the attacker has her wallet and knows where she lives. The response: "You call us and we'll be there."
One week later, at the house she shares with Terry and Pat, Marjorie is still frightened, edgy, and depressed. After the others go to work, her worst fears are realized. The rapist returns, rips out the phones, and begins leisurely and systematically degrading and humiliating Marjorie. She is slapped around, treated like a sexual object, and repeatedly threatened. But once again, her resourcefulness comes to the fore. In one quick action, she sprays his eyes with insect repellent, immobilizing him long enough to tie him up. Now the tables are turned. Marjorie is in charge, he is the victim. Extremities reveals that power is the root of violence and revenge can be compelling defense instinct.
Robert M. Young (Short Eyes, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez) draws out convincing and intense performances from Farrah Fawcett as Marjorie and from James Russo as the psychopathic, vulgar-talking, street-savvy rapist. When Marjorie's friends return from work and find the rapist stuffed in the fireplace, they learn of her plan to bury him alive in the backyard. Diane Scarwid as Terry responds with fear and anxiety; even though the rapist is now a prisoner he intimidates her and almost succeeds in turning her against Marjorie. Pat (Alfre Woodard in another strong screen performance) is a social worker, and she uses every rational argument she can muster to dissuade Marjorie from her vigilante tactics. Through the three female characters' response to this situation, the film exposes our society's ambivalent and sometimes conflicting attitudes toward rape.
William Mastrosimone, who has adapted his play for the screen, said of Extremities: "It contains the seeds of all the things that interest me as a writer politics, ethics and morals, and psychology." A woman's chance of being raped in her lifetime may be has high as one in ten. Writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Elaine Hilberman has observed: "Rape is an act of violence and humiliation in which the victim experiences overwhelming fear for her very existence, as well as a profound sense of powerlessness which few other events in one's life can parallel. Short of homicide, rape is the ultimate violation of the self." This taut film sheds light on the complicated issue of sexual assault a subject still shrouded with myth and misunderstanding.