Both Nacho Vigalondo’s monster movie, ‘Colossal,’ and William Oldroyd’s period piece, ‘Lady Macbeth,’ are solid, carefully-made films built around a stunning performance from their lead actors – Anne Hathaway and Florence Pugh, respectively – and both tell the story of a woman surrounded by men who try to control her. Rightly or wrongly, both films also seem to presume that the best way for women to be strong and empowered is through physical violence.
In no way does this piece condone violence or 8-year-old serial killers. We all know that’s wrong and our mothers taught us better than that. But really, what’s the harm in a female character with autonomy and direction?
How significant it is, then, that Ramsay changes the ending from the novel where Morvern discovers she’s pregnant to instead give her a narrative of hopeful escape and adventure. Through the economic, cultural and narrative capitals gained from the violence enacted on the male author both inside and outside of the text, the female protagonist is offered a radical feminist alternative. Rather than by trapped by her class position, socio-economic position, job possibilities or pregnancy, Morvern is, instead, offered freedom, autonomy and authority.
In ‘Reel Knockouts: Violent Women in the Movies,’ Neal King and Martha McCaughey assert that “cultural standards still equate womanhood with kindness and nonviolence, manhood with strength and aggression.” Under the Victorian cult of true womanhood, womanly virtue was supposed to encompass piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. Thank goodness writer/producer Michael Hirst ignored those virtues by creating two dynamic women warriors with his historical drama ‘Vikings.’
Furiosa, stabbed and wounded yet still persistent, takes down the main villain Immortan Joe. “Remember me?” Furiosa growls just before ripping his breathing apparatus–and half of his face–clean off. That quip may seem like your average cool one-liner, but for me it is so much more than that. It’s Furiosa, our female protagonist, who takes out the bad guy. Not Max. Not Nux, or any other male character. Her.
The eye we see in the film’s opening credits belongs to Carol and encapsulates her relationship to the internal and external worlds. To outside observers, Carol’s large, doe-like eyes are a signifier of her feminine allure, but, as is made palpable to the viewer, they also house her intense fear and constitute a deceptive barrier against the malignant traumas that disturb her internal world.
As McCarthy tousles with her own nemesis in the kitchen fight, Feig uses slow motion to let us savor the violence and bird’s eye shots to let us see the controlled swings of Cooper’s arms and legs as she fights. The violence is not slapstick. The violence is not played for laughs. The violence is just flat-out cinematically terrific.
The acts of violence by the female protagonists are terrifying, swift, and socially subversive. They target misogynistic representatives of the patriarchal society that oppresses and silences women, taking them out one by one.
To a certain extent, the reveal of woman as killer in both films comes across as a “gotcha” moment. After an hour or so of being scared out of your wits, it’s both surprising and puzzling to see a woman emerge as the killer. In the real world, most documented violent crimes are committed by men, but in a film, where anything can happen, there’s no reason to make this assumption.
In ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ the “strong female characters” are notable specifically for their aversion to violence. The film portrays its women as emotionally strong people who engage in violence only in self-defense, and only against the system that oppresses them.
At the end of season 6, Gemma violently clashes the spheres of power. She’s in the kitchen. She’s using an iron, and a carving fork. Using tools of the feminine sphere, she brutally murders Tara, because she fears that Tara is about to take control and dismantle the club—the life, the style of mothering and living—that she brought home with her so many years ago.
True, the rape revenge trope has been put at bay, but there is still a gender issue behind the remaining motivation. It focuses around the assumption of maternity being the all-encompassing passion. Until female characters can be violent for reasons that have nothing to do with their womanhood, there still isn’t complete equality in media.