“Men’s Vows Are Women’s Traitors”: Helen Mirren Runs the Chastity Gauntlet in Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’
After recalling his greatest tragedies, Shakespeare suggests that all could end well, if men loved without defensive cowardice. “Some griefs are med’cinable.” Rising to such newfound greatness of heart, King Cymbeline describes himself as becoming “mother.” William Shakespeare: feminist punk?
It is appropriate, when celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., to recall Dr. King’s words to Nichelle Nichols, as she considered quitting ‘Star Trek’ in frustration at the limitations of her role: “You can’t leave!… For the first time on television, we are being seen as we should be seen every day. As intelligent, quality, beautiful people … who can go into space.” Dr. King’s words show that he clearly understood the value of a token image, as a symbol, a precedent and a possibility model for future progress.
‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Her,’ by contrast, are uncomfortably searching explorations of the hetero-male fear of, and emotional need for, women, that feel like self-scrutiny. By replacing women with female images that are literally constructions of male fantasy, the films offer no distractions from probing the heroes’ own psychology. These guys are not chauvinazis. They are the real deal.
While Whore stigma is gradually declining, kinky desires remain stigmatized, especially in women. By vocally disowning that desire, “Madonna” Anastasia Steele qualifies herself to serve as an avatar for readers who struggle to acknowledge and integrate their sexual urges. The “displaced consent” model of rape fantasy may be recognized, and distinguished from the “sexual assawwwlt” model, by its masterful Ice Prince hero, whose full control is essential to eliminating the heroine’s responsibility.
Interestingly and unfortunately, most reviewers have been unable to see this. Her costume is tight, but then so is the captain’s and we are not treated to lingering shots of her butt and cleavage; in fact, most of the time we are looking at her face and not her body. Generally speaking the captain is at least if not more so objectified than she is and yet we do not seem to allow that to interfere with his essential humanity. This is often not the case when it comes to the perception of Johansen’s character. People can’t seem to see past the fact that she wears a cat suit even when she does so much more than look sexy. Like most action movies, this one doesn’t pass the Bechdel test but unlike most action movies it provides us with a female character who is actually a character in her own right.
This reveals one of the key weaknesses of incorporating token women in action movies. Token women are not real characters, they exist to tick boxes so that filmmakers can point to these characters and say “See we aren’t sexist, we had a woman and she even punched a dude in the face!” However because these aren’t real characters they end up being almost exclusively objects for the male gaze and to be fair, for Dahl this was not nearly as bad as it can sometimes be. She has a functional uniform not much different from her male colleagues and she is only subject to a couple of minutes of gratuitous nudity.
I was excited to see Gravity for a long time. A female-centric sci-fi film? Yes, please! I adore Sandra Bullock. Even when she stars in shitty movies, I don’t care. I unapologetically love her. While people envision her as a comedian (and yes, she’s incredibly funny), I’ve always thought she had the potential to shine in more serious roles (sidebar, 28 Days is one of my favorite films).
But the best part of Gravity? It offers us a different kind of female hero.
In terms of plot and character, Runner Runner leaves a lot to be desired. Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst (Rich First, come on), an online gambler who has to risk it all to earn enough tuition to complete his master’s degree at Princeton. After realizing the scam behind a suspicious loss, he finds himself sucked into the seedy poker underbelly of Costa Rica and under the thumb of his ruthless American boss, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). They get territorial over shared one-dimensional love interest Rebecca (Gemma Arterton) to add some manliness. An FBI agent (Anthony Mackle) tries to blackmail Richie with exile in order to take out Block. Eighty percent of the movie is Justin Timberlake looking confused or angry while other people monologue at him. We are supposed to really care about whether or not Richie makes it out of there before the house of cards comes crashing down, despite the fact that he has little to no character depth. Block really likes alligators. Conclusion: Internet poker is even more of a snooze fest than I originally thought.
Barbara retains her mystique as long as she continues to refuse to sleep with Jon, meaning that he actually has to put effort into courting her. Upon discovering her fascination with romantic comedies, Jon playfully gripes in the voiceover about how she’s delusional and those things never happen in real life. From that point onward, like any good self-deprecating genre film, the same swelling music plays any time Jon and Barbara share a romantic moment. Additionally, the same thumping club music pops up whenever Jon sizes up a new conquest. Jon and Barbara both use media as a crutch to validate fantasies about relationships, yet are comically incapable of recognizing their shared escapism because they insist that the other’s pastime is a bastardization of social dynamics, which neither of them actually understand. Oh, you two!
Thérèse film poster. Written by Janyce Denise Glasper The 2012 film Thérèse touches on the aftereffects of burgeoning sexuality between two women–Thérèse and her sister-in-law, Anne–and focuses on a companionship that was formed when they were young girls. “Have you thought about it?” Anne asks. “You mean sleeping with your brother every night?” Thérèse asks back. “Yes? […]
Adore film poster. Written by Erin Tatum. The original title of Adore was Two Mothers, which should give some indication of its Freudian undertones. Best friends since childhood, Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) remain close throughout their lives. They have sons the same age: Roz has Tom (James Frecheville) and Lil has Ian (Xavier […]
Farewell, My Queen Written by Erin Tatum. Farewell, My Queen has been on my to-watch list for a while. I’m a sucker for the opulence and pretty costumes of period pieces. Really, you could assemble the worst cast imaginable and I’d probably still watch to drool over the outfits. The narrative chronicles events in Versailles […]