Yesterday I watched 3 films whilst lounging on my sofa wearing my ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirt with one shiny swollen hand in some cold water and sweating like it was actually desert hot. Pregnancy is aalllll glamour. Anyway, maternity leave is some valuable time in which to watch films because, as far as I understand from others in the know, I won’t be able to do this again, ever. I enjoyed all 3 in different ways and I thought I would share my feminist/gender issue type thoughts with you.
I had wanted to see this for a while, ever since I heard Mark Kermode of 5 live review it when it came out. Kermode is my favourite film reviewer (as well as one of my favourite people, I even have his books) and the weekly podcast released on a Friday is something I very much look forward to absorbing. Not that he loved the film mind you; but I liked the sound of it from what he did say. It is about a woman called Frances who is trying to make it as a professional dancer in NYC and is set in the present day. It was all shot in black and white which would usually put a philistine such as me off watching, but I didn’t even notice there was no colour; the plot and characters were so engaging it made no difference.
From a feminist point of view this film gets a big thumbs up because the lead actor Greta Girwig wrote and assistant-produced, as well as starring the in the film. Also, the film is all about her character (not a male lead) and she carries that lead role brilliantly; I found her struggles to be cringe-inducing, endearing, realistic and relatable as a woman of the same age trying to figure out myself and the world. It also has a brilliant ending that is positive, but in no way reliant on her finding a man; this is a film more about female friendship than romantic relationships. Definitely passes the Bechdel test (a film that has two women having a conversation that is not about a man) and has my seal of approval.
The other end of the spectrum when it comes to films with female lead roles; or so it would seem. I’m sure far more of you have seen or are aware of this film as it is a lot older and very popular. It is still about a female figuring out herself and the world, but in a very different world and at a different stage, because she is still in high school. There are some obvious feminist issues with this film due to how shallow the characters are and that one of the main plot points is the need to make-over a fellow student in order for her to ‘fit in’ at school. The good bit does come later though when Cher (Alicia Silverstone) realises that she has ‘created a monster’ by changing this girl’s appearance and attitude and by the end of the film Tai (the made-over girl) goes back to her original taste in fashion and men, and all is good, proving that being yourself is much better than changing in order to fit in.
Therein lies the other issue with Clueless; it is all about the pursuit of a man and the big happy moment at the end is Cher realising who she really is in love with. But again there is a flip-side to this tired old plot point; previous to this Cher is not really interested in getting a boyfriend and is happy to be a virgin and wants to wait for the right person to do the horizontal dance with. This is a pretty positive message to be portraying for teenage girls who might feel pressurised into having sex before they are ready. Also, the man she realises she likes is not in any way who she thought she would fall for and she likes him for who he is, rather than his appearance or money. For a girl from Beverley Hills in this exaggerated version of real life, that is an achievement. Obviously there is a lot of emphasis on how the girls in the film look and they are all of one body type and conventionally attractive; but we forgive the film for being so much fun and a reminder of how hormonal and dramatic I’m sure a lot of us were as teenage girls.
This is an entirely different film as females barely make an appearance; Liam Neeson plays a wolf-hunter who gets stranded with a group of men in a snowy wasteland, fighting for survival against a pack of wolves. The only time we see women are in flashbacks and in the shape of a flight-attendant (a well-worn trope used in many films time and again). In the flashbacks the women are idealised characters used as motivation to survive, which is quite nice, but they are not real or rounded characters with actual personalities, they’re just symbols. Would it have been appropriate to include women in the gang of men stranded in the woods? The flight-attendant could have survived and proved to be way tougher and braver than any of the men, but would that have felt too shoe-horned in? Maybe. Anyway, that didn’t happen and this definitely comes no-where near passing the Bechdel test, but I enjoyed the wolf-punching action none-the-less (Bechdel is not a test of good films after all). There are a couple of things that the film had to say about masculinity though.
Firstly, there is a point when the characters are talking about whether they are scared or not and one character, who is a particularly stereotypical tough-guy, says he is not scared and Liam quite rightly calls him out on that bullshit. Good start; fear is a natural physical response to a vicious pack of wolves chasing you in the wilderness and anyone who says they are not scared is lying to maintain some sort of gender-based societal demand. The next point on the pressures of being a man is made near the end of the film is when the same tough-guy character has softened from the trauma. In a touching moment he finally introduces himself to the other characters using his first name. Now we are all familiar with the mainly male tradition of bonding via humour and using surnames or nick-names rather than first names; this moment highlights that rather than creating a bond this tradition mainly serves to distance men from each other. It is only when this man realises he might not be long for this world that he shows affection and gratitude to the men he has shared the difficult journey with and he does this by telling them his first name. This creates a bond and some affection between them as they shake hands and share the names their families would use. A nice moment and proof that male camaraderie can be alienating bollocks.
Have you seen these films? What were your thoughts on the points I have made?
Did you enjoy this feminist take on films? Is it something you’d want to see regularly? This was supposed to be brief as it was about 3 films in one post but more in-depth analysis of single movies would be the aim in future.
The main reason I wrote this is because feminist criticism on films is something I would like to see but if no-one else is interested then I’ll keep it to myself!