February 10th, 2012

old gm building

women in movies

I'm not done complaining about Super 8 yet.

I was disappointed that the final act of the movie consisted of the protagonist rescuing the attractive blond girl he was infatuated with from the monster. That's a bad enough cliche by itself, but it's also the exact plot of Cloverfield. (Minus the blond part.)

I'm no super-liberal, but when is the last time you saw a movie where a woman risks her safety to rescue the man with whom she is in love? I literally don't think I've ever seen one. Also, this movie just barely passes the Bechdel Test. In case you don't know, the Bechdel Test asks whether a film has at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man--a very charitable bare minimum standard of exhibiting at least some female perspective. I didn't even think the movie passed the test, but a poster on the Bechdel Test Movie List confirms: "Scantily clad teenager Jen tells her mother, Mrs. Kaznyk, that it's not fair that she can't go to a party or wear even more revealing clothing."

I guess this technically counts...

* * * * *

One of my favorite 80s movies is Aliens, which I have watched countless times since I was little. I'm not sure what convinced my parents to let me repeatedly rent a gory, R-rated movie from the video store, but I'm glad they did. I wonder whether that film affected my view of gender roles growing up. For what it's worth, here are the adult female characters in Aliens:

Colette Hiller as Corporal Ferro

Sigourney Weaver as Lieutenant Ripley

Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasquez

Now THOSE are WOMEN! Oh, and here is Lieutenant Ripley in Alien 3:

I find this appealing. In that way.

But even in Aliens, Ripley is rescuing a child, not a male lover. It's not as if there aren't "strong female characters" in movies. Sarah Connor manages to save herself in The Terminator, and she does protect her son in The Terminator 2, although the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ultimately saves the day. I get the feeling that women are allowed to be heroines once in awhile, but audiences find it too emasculating for a woman to rescue her husband or lover. Jodie Foster's character in The Brave One avenges her fiancee's death, but she does not rescue him.

I also find this appealing.

I can think of films where a woman incidentally saves a man's life, but the film always climaxes with him ultimately being the hero (e.g., 28 Days Later). And then there are movies where a woman "saves" her man, but merely through the power of love. Belle saves the Beast by falling in love with him in Beauty and the Beast, and Trinity somehow convinces Neo to stop being dead by falling in love with him and crying at the end of The Matrix. I am not counting those.

There have got to be films where a woman puts herself in harm's way to rescue her male lover, and I hope that my failure to produce an example is partly to blame on my being a movie dilettante and not a "film buff". If you can think of an example for me, please let me know.

And finally we come to Fidelio--not a film, but Beethoven's only opera. It was composed around 1805 (and revised later) and based on a libretto written in 1798 by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly. The opera is set in a prison run by a corrupt warden...

...no, not this one...

...who is holding his political enemy, an innocent man, in a basement dungeon. The innocent man's wife Leonore disguises herself as a young man ("Fidelio") and works in the prison to try to find where they are keeping her husband. The warden receives intelligence that a state minister is going to perform a surprise inspection of the prison soon, so he orders "Fidelio" and one of his other workers to dig a grave in the man's cell, after which he will come down himself and commit the murder. But at the last moment, Leonore reveals that she is the prisoner's wife, pulls out a loaded pistol, and says (sings): "One more word--and you'll be dead!"

As she does this, a trumpet signaling the arrival of the minister is heard in the distance. The warden gives up, and Leonore is spared from having to take a human life. The prisoners are freed, and in the finale the chorus sings in praise of Leonore. Two hundred years later, I can't even think of a movie I've seen where a female character is permitted to perform a similar act.