Saturday, June 15, 2013

2 situations in which women commonly find themselves in movies

I went to go see Oblivion ( last week with Colby. He and I are both really into sci-fi. I thought it was a great movie, particularly as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. There was some beautiful imagery. There were a lot of cool inventions. The storyline was really great. I liked all the characters, including the female ones.

But then, I also have to analyze this movie as a feminist. Interestingly enough, it does pass The Bechdel Test. This is surprising considering that there is a male protagonist and the men generally have all of the violent, action roles. I think a woman picks up a gun and fires it twice in the movie, but only reluctantly (to protect a man in one instance and after another man has dropped the gun in the other). But it's a nice surprise. It's nice that even in a male-centered movie that women can have adequate (maybe?) representation. We just need to step it up by making tons more female-centered movies.

There were two things I noticed about this movie that I think you can find it lots of other movies as well. I don't think you could call them "tropes" exactly, because they aren't character molds. They're just situations that women are frequently found in. Warning - spoilers!

1. Nurturing/Protecting a Random Child - When a child fell down, it was a woman who picked him up and protected him from that point on. Julia was basically a random stranger to this colony of Earth survivors, but when one of their children is somehow separated from the group and left behind, she picks him up. Why doesn't someone else from this band of survivors protect the child? Doesn't he have any friends or neighbors who are interested in his welfare?

I've seen this happen in a few other movies. Katie Holmes does it in Batman Begins. The whole city is under a chemical attack that causes them to hallucinate. Holmes's character, Rachel Dawes, clutches to a random little boy that is for some unknown reason all on his own. (Interestingly, that boy happens to be a young Jack Gleeson, who plays King Joffrey in Game of Thrones.)

I actually can't think of any other movies, so I'm either brain farting or it's just a coincidence that these two movies have incidences of women protecting children during attacks. I don't think it is, though.

The reason why I don't like this is because it puts women in the role of natural nurturers. By having women who are not yet mothers slip into the role of pseudo-mother instinctually, you are saying that all women are potential mothers. This is a naturally accepted role. I wonder why in these movies you don't have men playing this protective part, or even just the child's own mother?

It also generally happens when the man is out doing hero stuff. Jack sacrifices himself as a kamikaze and Batman is off fighting villans. The women just stay out of the way until the fracas is over. This way, they won't get hurt.

I'm sure there are movies that do have men protecting random children, but I think we are meant to respond to that as an out-of-the-ordinary heroic, compassionate act, whereas women are treated as that being the norm.

But I don't have anything to back that up, so you can take it whatever way you'd like.

2. A Baby as a Consolation Prize - At the end of the movie, Jack Harper, the protagonist, and Julia, his love interest, plan to suicide bomb the aliens. Julia is put into "delta sleep," while Jack flies the spaceship. When Julia wakes up, she realizes that Jack has tricked her, and she is actually safe on Earth. Which really pisses me off. Julia volunteered to die with Jack, knowing full well what the consequences were! Who is he to make that decision for her? Anyway, we flash forward to five years later (or whatever), and now she has a daughter. Somehow during that time, Jack impregnated her. This is a frightening implication on its own because we are never aware of them having sex. I guess there's a possibility they had sex before she went into delta sleep the first time, or they did have consensual sex but we don't see it. I guess.

So even though Jack is dead, it's okay because Julia has a baby, who is supposed to be the next best thing. I guess you can see Jack in the child, or the child reminds her of Jack.

I know this has happened in LOTS of movies. It happens in Cold Mountain, where Nicole Kidman's character, Ada Monroe, has sex with her lover just before he is shot to death. Again, fast forward a few years, and she has a child.

It happened in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Jack is cursed to the point where he is only able to set foot on land once every ten years. His wife, Elizabeth, settles down alone on an island after a sex romp. Jack comes back ten years later, and now Elizabeth has a ten-year-old son.

It kind of happens in Superman Returns (2006). When Superman returns, he finds that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now has a young child. We realize by the end of the movie that this is actually Superman's son, and not Lois's boyfriend's. So even though Superman didn't die and the baby wasn't the consolation prize revealed at the end of the movie, Lois was still left with a baby by herself for a number of years. 

I'm not a fan of this occurrence either. It is insulting to both the male partner and the kids. Your lover cannot be replaced by a child, and a child isn't just a momento of someone you deeply loved. It's also insulting to the women: it's basically saying that they can get over the man if they only have a child. In Oblivion, Cold Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the three mothers stop their adventurous lives and settle down into a domestic one. This is generally seen as much better and safer for them, and a sacrifice the male makes out of the purest most selfless love. It's even worse in Pirates because she's spending ten years waiting for this man while he's running off on adventures - the ultimate working dad who passes off all the childcare to his wife. 

I understand that movies are made this way in order to make audiences less sad. There is more resolution in a movie that ends with this kind of bittersweet ending. And it is very tragically bittersweet - I felt lots of feels when watching (most) of these movies. 

Both of these situations also have a degree of passivity in them. In the first one, women are standing in the sidelines after having been "given" the safest responsibility. In the second, women have no control over reproduction (I know that's historically accurate, but it doesn't stop it from sucking!).

I don't appreciate women being put in this situation over and over again, even in fiction. I believe it has all these implications for "real world" women, including being shuffled into the nurturing/mothering role without any regard for the previous strength and adventurous spirit these women once had. And without any regard to how they felt about the men in their lives before they lost them.

So anyway, if you agree or disagree, please let me know in the comments below! I would also love to hear it if you know of any other movies where these situations happen to women.

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