It is often that we take the movies we watch back home with us. Brewing deep in our minds. Even the ones that we hope we could erase from our memories. These movies then ferment into thoughts and ideas which seep into beliefs without us noticing. Through high school, I rebelled against the smallest of things. I would wear bangles or find flowers to put in my hair, as uncomfortable they would feel behind my ear. This is what I had grown up consuming. The rebel and the quirky were protagonists everywhere. Thinking that one archetype isn’t enough, I tried incorporating them both. Well, let’s just say my eyes opened and I realised there were all born out of similar thinking. They were all the creation of men.
It goes without saying, yes, I know it is not all men. Yet there are enough of them that have control over the portrayal of women and miss the point. They create a vision of a woman whose purpose is the man. She forwards his plot, his aims and is a helping character in the man’s life. With movies like these becoming prominent, these views also become popular. Normalized even. It is important to know of their existence because not everything about these movies is bad but the characterization can create a perspective that is better non-existent.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind to The Great Gatsby: A look at Varied Examples
The first time I realised the difference between men writing women and women was when I watched The Great Gatsby. I had read it before but it was in the movie where Daisy seemed more helpful to the man than the influential woman that she is supposed to be. All who have watched or read it know that Daisy was rich, influential and beautiful. She was also a very smart woman. But then in the movie, she is just shown to be a dream that Gatsby will do anything to achieve. A figment with no individuality. Guided by the thoughts of the male protagonist’s, made only to further his story. In the book, she has a character, minimal but more than a 2D socialite. It could be argued that the story was from the perspective of a man about his male friend. Then I would ask, how shallow do you believe men think are about the women that they supposedly love or talk about. If a man like Gatsby has led HIS entire life based on HER then how is this bookmaking HER completely for HIS life.
The Great Gatsby sold the idea of the angelic and dream-like girl. The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind sold the idea of a manic pixie. It was a movie that I would talk about for hours. Compelling and unique story. A plot that forced you to think about it, long after it was over. The perfect movie. But then soon it wasn’t. Kate Winslet played the role of a “carefree” woman, Clementine. Carefree in a way that made her seem out of tune with society. Doing things that would seem weird and make you look twice. Weird that bordered between unusual and crazy. She coloured her hair and said deep and often very confusing things. With a potential of a very interesting character that went away wasted, the movie used her to make the male protagonist feel special. To make him love his life. They made her the sunshine of his life and gave him a purpose. It told the viewers that a woman who is quirky and self-indulgent will give you a reason to live. The manic pixie trope makes it seem that a woman can break the typical social norms and still serve the man.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) Trope
Zooey Deschanel, Hollywood’s type of cast manic pixie is another example. From 500 days of Summer to New Girl she has embodied the role. Quirky and bangs make up the complete description for all her characters. 500 Days of a Summer is a movie I have many things to say about. What is hailed as a great unrequited love story is nothing but an obsessive story about a man who can’t take a hint. No person should feel that they are entitled to a reciprocated love just because they feel intensely about it. Summer was a mix of Daisy and Clementine. She was the quirky dream that Tom held onto ferociously. A chirpy girl who brought meaning to his life. Whatever that means. The movie could have been great if they didn’t propagate the idea of her being so quirky that she becomes the insane one. Not the man who pursues her even after being told that she doesn’t feel the same. She was his helping character though the story’s essence was him being governed by his idea of her.
Heading on to a different direction, there are those movies where the woman is nothing. Absolutely nothing. She is an objectified and scantily clad character that the movie could do just fine without. Written on the Wind, a movie suggested by a friend of mine who said that I can’t be a cinephile without watching this movie. With my mind ready to defend my love for movies, I decided to watch it. Dorothy who is the female protagonist is more seen as a villain for wanting sex. True, cheating is a line one should not cross but the thought of her wanting sex is criminalised and not the action in itself. The men can see her through the glasses of lust but if she tries them on, she is the antagonist.
The Problem with Marvel Cinematic Universe
Going into Marvel. This is slightly controversial but Peggy Carter. For so long in Marvel, she was quite literally a helping character. No one would identify or want to identify with Peggy instead of Iron Man. Iron Man, Hawkeye or Doctor Strange, in fact, any Male superhero, even the DC ones have practical outfits. They can fight in those. Outfits like those of Black Widow, Wonder Woman or Cat Woman are not practical at all. They are not made for them to fight, they are made for them to be ogled on, catcalled. Do I regret the pun? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably.
Outfits are as essential to the male gaze as is their writing. Scarlet Witch in the comics is also a Marvel woman who was given an outfit that made no sense. Fortunately, in WandaVision she was given a much better outfit that still had a basic similarity to the comic outfit to quench the thirst of the fans. This is a basic courtesy that should be given but the bar is low.
In fact, it is so low that movies like Grease are a female favourite. The boy hates the whole world and does not show any emotion but to the leading lady. So romantic. The lady in my point has a character that extends to being shy and polite who gets made fun of. She dresses once in a skin-tight outfit and he dances with her. He is in love because she changed her outfit. That is the romance of the story and the audience loves it. Is that the bar for romance? Dance with her because she changed her style for him? What happened to the Austen Era where both Darcy and Elizabeth matured enough and then committed to each other?
A cinephile who praises movies like Written on the Wind would probably argue that not all media is perfect. Not all can be deep and compelling and give equal justice to all characters. I would then recommend them Fleabag, Killing Eve, Little Women (2019), Dune and a few others where there is an engaging plot, well-rounded men and women characters and a story that makes you think for a long time.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
Concluding with a reminder that times have changed and the views aren’t as single-tracked as they once were but it does not mean that women are not objectified or seen as inferior to men. Movies are a medium that is beloved and has the power to make a change. We should promote change and not dwell on successes of the past. Directors like Luca Guadagnino, Denis Villeneuve are some male directors who have made great movies with amazing characters so yes, not all men but many of them.