The year 2017 was a simpler time in American existence, when the only things one had to contend with were the disastrous fallout of the presidential race, an industry-spanning reckoning on sexual assault and interpersonal violence, and a viral short story about a cat person. No, not a person who transformed into a cat, but fiction about a bad man with whom a young woman has sex, written by author Kristen Roupenian and published in the New Yorker. Everyone talked about “Cat Person.” Now it’s a movie! Will people have opinions about it yet again? Wait and see until we’ve come full circle on this spin around the content ouroboros.
Deadline reports that Studiocanal and Imperative Entertainment will bring Roupenian’s short story to the box office. Susanna Fogel and Michelle Ashford will direct and write the flick respectively, and Succession star Nicholas Braun will play Robert, the bad man cat person. Relative newcomer Emilia Jones will play opposite Braun as Margot, the young woman the short story centers on.
The outlet notes that “Cat Person” was “the most downloaded fiction published in the New Yorker” in 2017, adding the project has a “hint of Promising Young Woman about it.” It’s a deliciously controversial sentiment from Deadline, as Promising Young Woman was neither very good nor interesting to sit through. Curiously, the film is also a pseudo-rape revenge thriller, which “Cat Person,” notably, was not.
No matter. Despite how it’s been packaged by the studio, Untitled Cat Person Movie is bound to generate at least a quarter of the buzz it received on its first trip around the digital sun. At the time, everyone online had an opinion about it. No, literally, every single person on Twitter. Writers jumped on the budding discourse, generating questionable headlines such as “What we talk about when we talk about ‘Cat Person’ by Kristen Roupenian.” Depending on who someone asked, it was either a good short story about consent and misogyny, or a bad short story about consent and misogyny, or a riveting portrayal of sexual desire, or a harrowing re-telling of a personal experience, or a nightmarish retelling of an experience best left forgotten. Personally, I liked writer Torrey Peters’s take on it the best, from Jezebel’s interview in March:
At the time that I finished [Detransition, Baby], within six months, the New Yorker published that Cat Person story, which was their most popular story ever. All these cis women on the internet said, “This is a story that says a thing that I’ve always experienced and never knew what it was.” I also read it and was like, this is an experience of dissociation during sex. That’s what this is. This experience that I thought was so trans is actually just a woman dissociating during sex. There are all sorts of reasons you might disassociate. The thing that I thought was so trans, and could only be understood by trans women, is in fact a widely understood experience.
I had a similar read at the time. Not much in it resonated with me at the time, as a young transexual, but I did recognize Margot’s dissociative episode during sex. The feeling of at once being a body, but also an object looking down at your body. An empty vessel where a person used to be.
Enough about that. Will “Cat Person,” the movie, double down on the discourse-ready angles of the original piece? Most likely—otherwise the studios wouldn’t have adapted it at all. Best of luck to everyone involved, and godspeed to Twitter.