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Seeing the World On Film

Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy Michael Heilmann.

In keeping with our discussion of women in the movies, and the odd fact that in the movies, men are the vessels for universal emotions while women can only carry the freight of specific ones, Manohla Dargis has a typically brilliant essay on these tensions, particularly as they refract through Kathryn Bigelow:

Unless they star Meryl Streep, movies about women are routinely dismissed because they’re about women, as the patronizing term “chick flick” affirms every time it’s reflexively deployed. But chick flicks are often the only movies that offer female audiences stories about women and female friendships and a world that, however artificial, offers up female characters who are not standing on the sidelines as the male hero saves the day. It might not be much and usually isn’t, at least in aesthetic terms, but it’s sometimes all there is. Ms. Bigelow doesn’t make those kinds of movies. (Her vampires don’t sparkle, they draw blood.) She generally makes kinetic and thrilling movies about men and codes of masculinity set in worlds of violence. Her technique might be masterly [sic], because she learned from the likes of Sam Peckinpah. But she is very much her own woman, and her own auteur. It’s a bummer that her success elicits such unthinking responses, though it’s also predictable because the stakes for women are high and the access to real filmmaking power remains largely out of their reach. But it isn’t her fault that women’s stories are routinely devalued any more than it’s her fault that these days female directors and female stars in Hollywood are too often ghettoized in romantic comedy.

I don’t mean to harp on this (and I feel guilty for feeling like talking about issues of gender in the movie constitutes harping at all). But I really feel like there are important issues at stake here. There is nothing dumb, or shallow, or…I don’t know, irrelevant about wanting to see stories about love, and female friendship, and marriage and family on screen. Those things are central and pivotal and not the products of Ladies’ Fevered Brains. And at the same time, the story of a movie like The Hurt Locker is not exclusively a story for men. It’s a story that belongs both to people who have experienced things like the events depicted in the film, and also to people who want to understand the emotional content events, which is why I think the debate over slavish faithful recreation of detail in the movie is besides the point. It’s why I’m always so relieved (pathetically, I think) when I read some guy like Ta-Nehisi saying he loves romantic comedies unashamedly and unreservedly, thinks their stories and their depictions have meaning. The concerns in romantic comedies and in action movies speak to all of us.

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