We are not things

When The Fella and I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this week, we first sat through a series of trailers for action franchises, each featuring men in elegant suits and their (much younger) female stars stripped down to underpants, backs turned demurely to the camera but bodies oiled up with the promise of shining treasures to come.

In these trailers, women were reduced to glamorous cuts of meat: a gleaming leg in a high-cut dress, a shimmering shoulder emerging from a bed sheet, water-beaded flanks stepping out of a pool, often with no face in evidence.

By the time the feature started, I was more than annoyed. I was more than frustrated. I was more than furious. I was dehumanized. Frankly, I was primed to see the worst in in Fury Road‘s first act. So when the film presented a bevy of distressed women, scantily clad and bathing in the desert, I drew in a long, angry breath.

Then that scene upends itself, tossing aside the male gaze that most film privileges without even thinking, and the handful of women who drive this story start breathing on their own — not damsels, not trophies, not eye candy. They’re people.

Their bodies are valued in the world of the film, and so is their beauty (and there’s a complicated conversation to have about uncritically reiterating contemporary standards of beauty in apocalyptic film), but Fury Road recognizes what Immortan Joe’s society never does: These women are more than their beauty, more than their bodies. And finally, their bodies are theirs.

They’re clearly survivors of sustained sexual slavery and repeated rape, but there’s no on-screen sexual violence, no threat of rape, no gruesomely told backstories, no lingering detailed flashbacks. The film is violent, extravagantly so, but that violence is never lascivious.

It’s a narrative predicated entirely on the rescue of women held in life-long sexual slavery that never portrays or reenacts the atrocity of rape. In Mad Max: Fury Road, survivors of sexual violence don’t have to persuade the protagonists or the audience of the horrors they suffered. The film believes them, and — overturning the real-world rape-culture narratives we’re steeped in — it expects us to believe them, too.

It’s a tight story economically told. It’s a thrilling explosion of action that never fumbles its narrative thread. It’s a tale that knows how much to say and when to let us fill in the blanks. It’s a rumination on primal connection, the corruption of power on weak and strong alike, and the terrible road to redemption. It’s a woman’s story in which a man tags along for the ride, offering support and help, knowing when to simply sit still and let her take the wheel, or the gun, or the lead. It’s a world in which Furiosa can pay Max and Nux the deceptively deep compliment of deeming them “reliable.” It’s a world in which men and women alike are reduced to things, liberate themselves, and reclaim for their own purposes the attributes that made them prized objects.

And that’s why George Miller’s films will get ALL MY MONEY and — just to pick one trailer we sat through — Mission Impossible never will.

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kill is kiss

Pontypool screenshot

A year ago on The Toast, I discussed Pontypool, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

St. Valentine’s Day is an excuse to express our most intense or obscure passions. But words can be a frail tool to capture the complications and complexities of this thing we call love: the sweet blush of infatuation, the kinship and kindness of true companions, the frenzy of unfettered lust, the torments of jealousy, betrayal, or heartbreak. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that three films set on Valentine’s Day hinge on the fragility and feebleness of words, creating worlds where meaning and reason fall apart.

Stars Hollow

[MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD OH BOY PRETTY MASSIVE] Here’s the dark secret in Gilmore Girls that no one ever talks about: Stars Hollow lies in the grip of a shadowy fertility cabal that rules the lives of its denizens — and even their folk elsewhere — with terrible certainty.

Think about it: Christopher Hayden accidentally impregnated Lorelai, then a generation later he accidentally impregnates his new partner. Luke has a daughter with his high school girlfriend. Luke’s sister Liz has two unplanned pregnancies ~18 years apart. Lane gets pregnant with twins the very first time she has sex. Sookie is so overwhelmed by pregnancy and parenthood that she and Jackson decide he should have a vasectomy to avoid any further disruption to their lives, but something persuades him not only to skip the agreed-upon procedure but to keep his continued fertility secret from his wife so she can be surprised by yet another OOPS pregnancy.

The only reasonable conclusion: Gilmore Girls takes place in a dystopian alternative universe where all social and sexual mores are controlled by forces beyond the control of the individual, outside the scope of sex-ed classes, and unfettered from the many forms of reliable and widely available birth control. In the AU of Gilmore Girls, all heterosexual couplings serve the larger master of society’s need for babies, babies, more babies, always more babies. You have plans? Too bad. Stars Hollow needs babies. You have hopes and dreams? I hope and dream that they’re about babies, because that’s what you’ll be having.

Make Gilmore Girls a double-feature with The Handmaid’s Tale! Also, I am pretty worried about April Nardini.

[cross-posted to The VideoReport]

Girls’ Best Friend

GPB cafe

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a romping example of female agency in limited circumstances. These women work and play together, wresting their power and pleasures from the hands of men with relish.” Gentlemen Prefer Blondes upends tired sexist tropes, indulges the female gaze, and showcases fierce female friendship. My new essay, today at The Toast!

true

There are a lot of things true love is, and here are just two of them:

True love is sending your exhausted husband home from the hospital overnight because there’s no sense in both of you going without sleep, and never regretting it during the long, lonely, sleepless night.

And true love is sitting in that rumpled hospital bed in the faint light of morning, hours before he could possibly be planning to return, hearing distant footsteps two corridors away, and knowing those are his footsteps, coming straight to your room.

 

of one’s own

My beautiful, sleek MacBook Air is really and truly dead, and I would like to memorialize my fallen friend.

If that sounds over-emotional, I can understand. But it was a gift from The Fella, who saved up for a whole year to surprise me with it. It was both a huge (expensive) treat and a symbol of faith in my writing. He knew that I needed my own computer, not the one we shared for years, and when I could not even afford to dream of it, he made it happen.

No longer having to share a computer was, for me, the modern equivalent of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” — it gave me all the breadth and time I needed to grow as a writer, to value my own work as much as my husband’s (paying) writing, and to let my instincts and impulses move me to write more than my (and his) schedule.

On that MacBook, I wrote my first published article. On that MacBook, I stored my first paying contracts and received my first money for writing. On that MacBook, I earned my first income in several years. On that MacBook, I learned how to edit photos to accompany my first published recipes. On that MacBook, I applied for a dream job, a job so far beyond my then-current hopes that I assumed I was applying just for practice, and on that MacBook, I learned to my astonishment that I got it.

That MacBook gave me freedom and hope and opportunity. I am so grateful for it. I know it’s just a hunk of metal and plastic and circuits, and now that’s all it will ever be, but it was also a little box of dreams. And I made them come true.