The General’s Daughter (IMDB) is a 1999 mystery/thriller.
US Army Captain Elizabeth Campbell, a psychological warfare expert and the daughter of a famous general, is found staked out nude and dead on a training ground. Two warrant officers from the Criminal Investigation Division investigate and discover a web of sexual abuse and coverups.
The two investigators, Brenner and Sunhill, illegally enter Campbell’s off-base house, which is extremely neat and organized, presenting the image of a model soldier and officer. Then they discover that the house’s basement includes a secret room, hidden behind a “Home of the Brave” poster. This room is dark and disorderly, with a messy bed, and handcuffs, whips and vibrators scattered about. Further investigation reveals a hidden video camera and tapes of Campbell, in dominatrix-type outfits, have sex with and dominating various men, though their faces are hidden with black leather hoods.
As Sunhill and Brenner dig deeper into Campbell’s past, they learn that the ultimate cause of all this is the brutal rape of Campbell in her senior year at West Point, by a group of unidentified cadets during a night exercise. Her father, a famous general, was convinced by a superior to cover it up, for the sake of West Point and the army, and implicitly his own career. The general told his own daughter to keep quiet about it.
Over the next seven years, Campbell orchestrated an elaborate revenge plan against her father. On the brink of his transition into the political sphere, Campbell restaged her own rape scene to tell her father (in a needlessly elaborate way) that she wasn’t going to keep quiet about her experience.
Analyzing what The General’s Daughter says about rape in the military is beyond the scope of this article. What it says about BDSM is confusing.
As part of her plan of revenge on her father, Campbell weaponized her own sexuality, seducing numerous officers into her basement dungeon and taping it, though apparently without capturing their faces or other identifying features. Under the Army’s Puritanical regulations, marital infidelity is enough for a court martial that can ruin careers, not to mention the impact on their families.
If that was the plan, wouldn’t vanilla sex be enough? Apparently not. As we’ve seen in other mainstream films and television, BDSM sexuality stands in for excessive/deviant sexuality in general.
Brenner himself is disgusted by the evidence of Campbell’s sexuality. He says “Oh my god…” as he holds up a strap-on dildo harness. He illegally has the contents of her house moved to the base and reconstructed, to keep it hidden. It’s not clear which he is more concerned with, her posthumous reputation or the reputation of her sex partners. Later, he grabs a suspect’s face and angrily demands, “The Elizabeth I met was bright and shining. The woman on the tapes is a different lady. And there’s a direct connection, isn’t there? Isn’t there?” Brenner idealizes the woman he met a couple of times before her death, and cannot reconcile that image with the dominatrix in the basement.
Sunhill takes a different approach as she speculates into a tape recorder: “Maybe she was here for a secret rendezvous, a tryst. Maybe the rape fantasy was part of the thrill. We know she had a predilection for the gamier side of sex.”
The vibrators and other sexual paraphernalia in Campbell’s basement signify her damaged, deviant sexuality, not female sexual autonomy and pleasure. Sunhill, a rape counsellor, says that Campbell rejected the man who actually killed her because “she couldn’t want anybody.” She’s the dominatrix as damaged, misandrist nymphomaniac.