The Monsters, real and imagined

In this past week, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina. Both feature women with a need to escape prisons created by men.  There’s a certain amount of violence associated with both movies, a certain amount of sexual and physical ownership that the women characters must both endure and work to subvert. Angela Watercutter at Wired addresses Ava’s problematic mode for escape, and its mistaken feminist identity.

Both movies have their male champions – Caleb in Ex Machina and Max in Max Max – but their roles are complicated and less than heroic.  This nice guy persona has been nicely unpacked by Jacob Hall in a terrific article about feminism in these movies:

“Because we see the movie from his [Caleb’s in Ex Machina] perspective, we miss that his falling in love with Ava — his instant, desperate affection and desire to spring her from captivity — is almost as shallow and dangerous as Nathan’s more overt misogyny. To Caleb, Ava is still an object; a symbol of sex that needs to be saved, not a sentient being who deserves to make her own choices. Nathan created women so he could own them and control them. Caleb is just seeking permission to do the exact same thing.”

So Caleb dies because he is just as dangerous as Nathan, ultimately.  Max bows out because “The times are changing and men like him are being left behind.”

What struck me as strange, however (especially in Ex Machina), is how uncomplicated both Nathan and Joe are. While Immortan Joe’s cartoon brutishness is played for laughs and squicks, Nathan’s off-putting intensity belies nothing at all.  He appears cruel and controlling in the beginning, and dies cruel and controlling at the end.  Oscar Isaac, of course, is such an arresting actor that I’d probably watch him in a Transformers movie.  I kept waiting, though, for Nathan to crack open and reveal something more nuanced – evidence of a truly brilliant mind, or a truly sinister mind, or both.


Instead, there are a few strangely weightless conversations about consciousness and existence, and one mountain-top admission of drunken, apathetic nihilism.  This is where the film breaks down for me.  He’s easy to discount, easy to dismiss as drunk and crazy and completely avoidable.  Apart from his role as the creator and owner of what is essentially a fictionalized Google, he’s a jacked, drunk, mad scientist in a lab-castle on a hill in the middle of nowhere.

I expected him to be insidious, smarter than me, smarter than Caleb, smarter than Ava, even.  I expected him to be the Promise Keeper Baptist Youth Leader of my youth who successfully enticed my smart, sweet friends into his control and then tried to have sex with them. The desire and wind-up of the truly nefarious.

I suppose I should end this by saying something about how I’m just glad that I’m able to write about mainstream movies and their differing feminist perspectives, but I’m not going to do that because remember the ’90s?  We were like: things are totally changing for women on the radio and in the movies and on the TV.  And that was 20 years ago.

Violence, Part 3

“Look lady, I just put a trashcan over a fucking rabid raccoon; I don’t know what I’m going to do next. So don’t push me. Because there are other trash cans in this park and one of them might have your name on it.”     –from Susan Schorn’s Bitchslap: A Column About Women and Fighting.

According to the late Dell Kaulfus, this family of baby raccoons is probably not rabid.

I wanted to write about this column in particular simply because of the  rabid cedar-feverish raccoon at its heart.  One of the many life lessons I picked from the long dinner table at my Grandparents’ house had to with learning to avoid rabid skunks and raccoons (who make their disastrous, killer intentions known only in the daytime).  It was kind of a joke, but not really a joke.  It was something caught between alarming reality and family myth.  There were others: Figs off the tree can kill you!  Snakes and homeless men can often live in attics for years before discovery!  If you see a raccoon in the daytime, it’s RABID.  Don’t go near it!

Susan Schorn’s Bitchslap: A Column About Women and Fighting is always surprising, funny, and poignant, and it sometimes mirrors my own silent, righteous anger so much that I gotta walk it out. Among my favorites is Fuck the Dude Up, a particularly rage-inducing piece that reflects upon the not-so protective laws centered on violence committed against women and the effectiveness of pacifistic attitudes pressed upon those who take self defense classes in order to avoid victimhood.  It’s definitely difficult not to want to quote entire paragraphs of the column here, but I trust you’ll follow the link if this is your thing.  You won’t be sorry.

There are a lot of people out there writing about violence against women, but Schorn has not expressly dedicated her column to this pervasive problem.  It instead examines a whole host of difficulties that surround women who wish to honestly confront the emotional, psychological, and physical challenges of a daily barrage of images, expectations, and questionable power struggles that have the ability to incapacitate even the strongest of wills.

The fighting in this column is not just physical, though much of her writing does focus on martial arts.  It’s not just linguistic, either, though the writing is circular, sharp, and satisfying.  The fighting is this undercurrent of control and certainty that leads the way to real, transformative power.  Not any hokey-dookey power of the spirit, either.  A frighteningly tense, death-grip kind of power that warrants respect. Her book is on the way, from what I can tell.