I first saw the movie Lilya 4-Ever by myself in a practically empty theater in the middle of a weekday, on a whim—knowing nothing of what to expect, just that it was about a girl, and there would be subtitles, and was showing at 1 o’clock. I sat toward the front. Two men were in the theater far away from me, so it seemed I had the whole place to myself. The movie started with an explosion of sound, made louder by the tinny speakers. The opening scene was of a desperate girl running through gray, concrete streets. An hour or so later, I was crying uncontrollably, unable to finish the popcorn I had bought, and when the lights came up I couldn’t move from my seat. I walked home in tears. I have been trying to explain this movie to E for years without ruining it for him—a difficult prospect. I suppose I’ve hyped it up a lot. I haven’t been able to find the movie in stores because there may not be a region 1 DVD release. But then I read last week that people were able to rent a region 1 version of the DVD in the U.S. through Netflix, so I joined Netflix three days ago and ordered it. Yes, I joined Netflix specifically to see this movie again. (Note: Free trial, although we may keep it.)
We watched the film last night. I knew what to expect so it didn’t rip me open the way it did the first time, but I felt a continual growing dread as I watched it. (Yes, again, I cried.) It brought up the same horror I felt before, about human trafficking and how a thing can be going on in your own building, a terrible brutal thing, just under your nose—and you could walk out into your hallway with your headphones on and know nothing, such as in a certain scene in the film. The movie is supposed to be a highly fictionalized account of a true story.
What has haunted me since seeing that movie is a girl I saw on a subway platform years ago. I thought more about it today, trying to remember. She was all made-up, scarily made-up, dressed in outrageously tight and short clothes, and with a man who was holding onto her shoulder. The man was much older, gruff, looking around the platform to see who was noticing. She was crying. She was not from this country. She didn’t want to be with that man, I could tell, she wanted to run, I told myself, but maybe I was making it up because she didn’t run. I don’t remember the details except that I had a bad feeling. I looked, and he saw me looking, and I looked away. I remember that he got her on the next train, or else I got on the next train, either way they were gone, and what had I done? I looked away is what I did. I looked away.
How am I to know what was happening? Maybe nothing. But I still think of it.
In New York:
The sex industry and prostitution are well-established in New York City. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) documented 250 brothels in 26 cities, including New York, with trafficking victims in the year 2000. NEWSDAY, a local New York City newspaper, in a year-long investigation of trafficking of women to New York, found trafficked women from the Czech Republic in strip clubs in Times Square; from Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia in Queens; and from China in Chinatown. According to Walter Zalisko, a Jersey City police supervisor and expert on trafficking and Russian organized crime, 75% of 300 sex slave victims he interviewed claimed they came to the New York City area to work other jobs, but were forced to become strippers and prostitutes instead.
E said, after seeing Lilya 4-Ever last night, that anyone who goes to see prostitutes should see this movie. Some have called it propaganda. I read that the International Organization for Migration has shown the film to 60,000 people in Eastern Europe. All I know is I couldn’t forget it.