By Christine Phang

Blog PostMichael Glawogger’s Whore’s Glory (2011) is a raw and disturbing film as it shows the audience the world of prostitution in its crude reality. Documenting sex workers and their methods of business in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico, Glawogger explores the differences in poverty and demographics between each country. The aim is not to denounce or pity prostitution, rather to observe the practice and consider the lifestyle as a whole.

They are victims, but I want to say that they are not only victims…My film is not dealing with the crime of prostitution but with the everyday process of prostitution and of sexuality, which is a different endeavor than, say, a film about trafficking would have been, because that’s a film about a crime. I don’t consider normal, everyday prostitution a crime” (Glawogger, Cineaste interview).

The film starts in the leading destination for sex tourism, Bangkok, Thailand, focusing on young women who work at “The Fish Tank” (a popular upper-middle class brothel where girls are showcased behind a glass tank and wait to be selected). The Bangkok segment emphasizes how large and established prostitution is in Thailand through the organization and efficiency seen at such establishments (for instance, the girls don’t have to get ready themselves; their hair and makeup is taken care of when they arrive). Moreover, it is more of a packaged deal that involves chatting, drinking, and socializing with other clients and workers. Customers mainly consist of married businessmen who “need variety”, and naturally you can pay for your services in debit or credit. What is disquieting is the client’s ability to bargain for the girl right in front of her face – her monetary worth is literally being argued for, reducing her to nothing but a commodity in a fancy shop.

In Faridpur, Bangladesh, the living and working conditions are considerably worse. The girls are treated with less respect, both from clientele and their mothers/madams (who often verbally and physically abuse them). This is due to the severe poverty they suffer and the urgent need for money. Consequently, the Bangladesh girls are noticeably more aggressive; unlike Thailand where the men make all the decisions in choosing their women, the girls in Bangladesh are forcefully selling and promoting themselves to the men. The Bangladesh segment exuded hopelessness, for the girls are born into these conditions that have been practiced for generations, and have no other choice but to sell their bodies for survival.

Lastly in Reynosa, Mexico, the portrayal of prostitution life seems to be at its grittiest, showing shabby living conditions and hard drug use. The Mexico segment was significant in showing that all of these women have succeeded in disconnecting the action of sex with the emotional and even pleasurable aspects of sex. An intimate scene with one of the women shows lack of attraction or enjoyment as she constantly reminds her customer that he only has 20 minutes. The strict and quick transaction almost seemed pointless since there was not even much satisfaction from both parties. The literal intercourse itself was what was worth the 300 or so pesos, and nothing else was given (no kisses, no chatting, nothing to fill emotionally). Therefore what is exposed is the complete dissociation between the physical act of sex and everything else that is attached with it.

An interesting theme throughout Whore’s Glory is the involvement of religion in all three countries; the women in Bangkok start their day by praying at a Buddhist shrine for many customers, the Bangladesh women refuse to perform blowjobs because they would be using the same mouth to pray to Allah, while the Reynosa women pray to a deity called “Lady Death” for a smooth transition after life. The tie between religion and prostitution might at first be peculiar, but this further supports Glawogger’s intent in presenting sex work in another light.

Whore’s Glory takes the viewer into the foreign aspects of prostitution, exposing the workers’ daily lives and living situations. Rather than weakening the women, Glawogger shows their sense of strength by their assertiveness and perseverance no matter their circumstances. The common conception of prostitutes as being dirty and shameless is challenged, and we are instead invited to consider the inevitability of their lives and to focus on the process than simply condemning it.