bechdel taser: knight, camera, action
Entertainment is action. Action isn’t just explosions and chases on a screen, but what a film can ask of its audience. Your body may not undergo the trauma in front of you, but your brain races to negotiate everything happening. In the action films I like, your brain has to keep up with the projection’s plotting. I have the choice to become engaged. Usually, the presence of one female character is enough to engage me. If for the sake of nothing but this column, I can keep watch of whether a second will be introduced, whether the female’s role is defined by the film’s men, and how it reflects or reacts against the damaging bits of gender relations.
Earlier this year I saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I didn’t write about it at the time, because I chose not to engage. It was a film that asked my brain to act, and my brain chose otherwise. TTSS didn’t pass the Bechdel Test, and from its outset had no interest in doing so. I can’t remember what it was about. Except that the title was comprised of code names.
Most recently, I didn’t engage with The Amazing Spiderman. Unlike TTSS, Spiderman doesn’t ask a great deal of its observers. The plot is not remarkably different from the Tobey Maguire vehicle released ten years ago. If you’re really into mildly angsty “good guys” engaging in puberties that change the world, it will be a treat. The veiled valorisation of dropping testes is accompanied by some ignoring your female guardian while trying to get closer to an absent patriarch. Emma Stone seems pretty cool. She is a smart, charismatic hard worker. Who gets to do nothing, because radioactive spider-bite victim is busy learning life lessons.
I spent a lot of time wanting to leave. I was bored. I had better things to do. I stayed, because I wanted to compare it to Batman. As it dragged on, that was more for the sake of this column than my own enjoyment.
The Dark Knight Rises is hardly the Lady Empowerment Hour. In its three hours, it fails to pass The Bechdel Test. But as Selena Kyle, Anne Hathaway does get to do shit, start to finish. She steals, outwits, kicks behind and doesn’t sit around waiting to get exploded.
I think you’re supposed to be able to read romance into Selena’s relationship with Bruce Wayne. I’m not sure if it’s sexual tension between the two, or tensile textiles between their sartorial alter-egos. I had Cat Woman confused with lesbionic Bat Woman, and spent the film pondering the understated Sapphic strings between Selena and flat mate Jen (Juno Temple).
Kyle has airs of the neo-femme fatale in Nolan’s neo-noir. Her duplicity, chequered past and feminine wiles make genre sense, even if they seem trite in the 21st Century. Like the much-discussed Occupy villainisation, it is too obvious and facile to take seriously.
I engaged with The Dark Knight Rises. Aside from Selena, there’s Marion Cotillard’s Miranda. There’s also a brilliant emotionally manipulative score, an established and menacing aesthetic, and a mediocre but well-executed plot. Where Spiderman felt like A-Listers in a B-Movie, The Dark Knight Rises felt like the blockbuster it is. But neither Nolan nor the franchise is a great friend to women, because “the Dark Knight” is a solitary fuck.
I’m going to talk about Buffy again. The more superhero films I watch, the more I appreciate Whedon’s telly show. Superheroes like Nolan’s Batman keep their identities secret from everyone, in a way Buffy never managed. Because Buffy can’t use the knowing-who-I-am-will-put-them-in-danger excuse, her cohorts become adept at not getting kidnapped, at defending themselves, at helping save the day rather than being the ray of sunshine needing salvation.
There are problematic elements in The Dark Knight Rises. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but its two most prominent female characters have active roles, and are not compliant to the Batman. That’s what kept it compelling for me. The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t have the camp charm of other imaginings, and Hathaway’s Kyle is not a sass-machine, but for all its menace, it doesn’t have the subtlety that would make its problems a real problem.