Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A programming note and a thought

First, I am busy as a pastor on the night of the living dead. I have no time for love, Dr. Jones, so here's the skinny: I'm off Friday and quite possibly Monday, I'm keepin' it short today, and I'm only half sorry about it. I'm breaking bad enough to win an Emmy that someone else deserved, so pray for me and let this little disappearance slide.

Second, I read this piece at Slashfilm that pointed me to a Gadzooks blog about Chris Nolan's treatment of women. Specifically, he "fridges" them. The term is defined this way:
"Fridge (v): To kill off a female character solely for the purpose of giving the story's main male hero a reason to angst. Coined by Gail Simone in response to a storyline in The Green Lantern in which the hero's girlfriend is killed and literally stuffed in his refrigerator. In 1999, Simone started a website, Women in Refrigerators, that lists all of the comic book women who have been fridged."
First, that awesome image is from Slashfilm and documents the original fridging in question. Second, how f**king depressing is it that we live in a world where this is a term. Without even getting into the depressing aspects of what films do and don't pass the Bechdel Test (the one where two women have to talk about something OTHER than a man in order to "count") or the even-more-depressing statistic that 30% of dialogue goes to women overall across all movies, it is stunning to actually see compiled in one spot what Nolan has done thus far. Before I really get into it, kudos to Gadzooks (and I believe the blogger to be Rachel Marie Mohr) for what was an impressively considered, insanely well researched and written, and perfectly articulated argument that not only merits conversation but far exceeds the trifling crap that 90% of us spend our blogs dealing with (check back later for my Things You Should Buy Me segment!).

My biggest problems are context and motives, one seems to be ignored and the other unfairly assigned. Without walking step by step through every movie and character (see comments above about being busier than a hungry frog on free cricket day), I will take on a few specifics that I think speak to a different fixation with Nolan. We'll get to my conclusion after some evidence.

First, I grant you the death of Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight was fridging. Plain and simple. I do think it fits in a larger context, but again, that's not going to be evident until the whole pattern is laid out. Although, I grant you, it's going to be hard to ignore the decision to off the ONLY female character established in the whole universe of Batman for dramatic effect.

I'm ignoring Insomnia because it's worth ignoring. The real crime against women is encouraging one to watch that movie. It is worth noting that this was based on another film, and yes you can grant that Nolan was attracted to the work, but it wasn't his concepts.

Now, getting into Memento, I don't feel this was a clear case of fridging the women on the grounds of Carrie Ann Moss's character, who was actually a rather complex figure. You could choose to read her as victim or antagonist, and at no point did I find her trite or extraneous. The two wives referenced also don't fit for me, most notably because at least one of them doesn't exist. Was one of them fridged? Maybe. But the context here was less the "hero's wife or girlfriend being murdered to antagonize the lead" and more "what the hell did he do?" Keep that thought in mind.

Now we're on to The Prestige, a movie in which two women die due to male neglect, one in an accident and the other by suicide. This doesn't look good, but again, consider the aspect of neglect here. It's worth mentioning that Scarlett Johansson got away here. Why? Because she was the one who rejected the males involved for freedom. Interesting.

Now Inception, where Ariadne does not fit with any of these patterns and Mal is far more complex. What do I mean? Well...once again we see a woman who is either victim or villain, which is interesting and COULD be boiled down into the Madonna/whore discussion but that would be a dramatic oversimplification. Whether the film is actually a complex con in which Cobb is dreaming the whole time and thus Mal is "right" is irrelevant as the thing to focus on is that Cobb again is responsible for her death. Neglect. Again.

Okay, so what am I saying? I'm saying that while Nolan does appear to have a very bad obsession with offing his female characters, something I'm not a big fan of, the point doesn't seem to be "fridging" so much as it does to be casting a specter on the men involved. I think it's pretty obvious to draw the conclusion that Nolan is suggesting that these men have failed the women in their lives, that through self-absorption and neglect they have killed them. With Ariadne and Johansson's characters all but saying "get away from these guys," with Memento showing that trusting them will kill you (perhaps twice over), with The Dark Knight proving that they will not "rescue" you, I think the real context here is that Nolan is condemning his male characters more than torturing them for the sake of strife.

Again, this doesn't excuse the fact that he tends to kill them all, and Lord knows I'd sure like to see one of his movies pass the Bechdel Test, let alone perhaps feature a female lead of note, but I don't think he has a "woman problem." I think he has a relationship problem that manifests itself as women dying because men are neglectful, narcissistic bastards. Am I giving him too much credit? Does this absolve him of the other sins? I don't know. I know that his movies are by and large great, but that questions like these, blog posts like Rachel's, and conversations of this nature are absolutely imperative.

Oh, and we need more female writers, directors, and lead characters.

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