Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I really like movies. A lot. I wouldn’t consider myself a nerd, because my knowledge isn’t exactly academically backed and I rarely reach outside of the mainstream (except when it comes to horror), because my interest in a film is often influenced by its potential sociological and cultural impact. And so I like to keep up to date as much as possible.
Recently, however, I haven’t seen many films that I really, really enjoyed. You could blame me for my choice in movies, of course, but I obviously wouldn’t pick anything that I wasn’t at least somewhat interested in. My boyfriend and I usually make the decision together and we also watch most films together, and on average he seems to responds to them more positively than I do. You could say that we simply have different tastes, but that still doesn’t account for the fact that he is satisfied more frequently than I am, and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself more critical than him. Or am I?
Just a few days ago we discussed the film Drive that recently came out and was lauded by many film critics and friends of ours alike. My boyfriend loved it as well, so he was taken a little aback by my hesitation to fully endorse him, and he tried his best to understand why I didn’t like it.
In fact, I had liked it, certainly more than a lot of other ones that had recently been released. After all, Drive has the full package: It is thrilling, cool, sleek, stylistically impeccable, features great actors and actresses and references the 80s – what’s not to like?
lonesome dude on a mission, 2011
In the end, I just didn’t find it that original and it didn’t leave any lasting impact on me. It’s probably not a movie I would recommend to someone several months from now – because I will most likely have forgotten about it. The boyfriend disagreed, and he came up with many wonderful arguments for why this film might be relevant in our postmodern, self-referential condition. I, on the other hand, had little else to say than “I just didn’t care that much for it” and “it just didn’t resonate with me.”
After all, focussing on content over style, what’s so special about a twenty-something white dude as the lead character, a lonesome wolf, whose emotional coldness is only briefly undermined by his feelings for a young mom and her son, and who otherwise comes off as a bad-ass violent superhero (he can drive, he can fight, he’s in control) whose only emotional conflict lies in maintaining his independence versus protecting said young family? This type of lead character has been around at least since the 1930s and it has dominated much of American cinema ever since. I’m sorry, but I can’t find anything original or progressive in this uncritical depiction of a man seemingly struggling with his masculinity, but eventually repeating all of the same clichés, and not only does that make me sad, it alienates me from the movie, as it alienates me from film in general.
lonesome dude on a mission, 1946
I’m tired. I’m tired of watching male heros. I’m tired of watching male anti-heros. I’m tired of watching men do things and women watching men do things. In fact, it bores me to death. Drive has simply been the latest example.
lonesome dude on a mission, 1976
I’m sick of having to identify with support roles. I want women to be the center of attention at last, with everything that entails, the good and the bad. When do we get to be powerful, corrupt, invincible, vulnerable, cold and rational, or criminally insane? When do we get to be mothers who fail, daughters who disappoint, lovers who disappear? I know there are wonderful cinematic examples for all of these, but they are just too rare to really have an impact.
Lead characters can sometimes develop iconic qualities. They can set the standards for idealized versions of us, for better or for worse. They can also show us how we’re wrong. But only if we are in fact represented. As a woman represented in film, I find myself reduced to fewer versions, fewer options in life. I find it hard to conceive of myself apart from my relation to a man. I find myself idealized or demonized only in relation to men. I would like to think that this didn’t impact my life in reality but I believe it does. Movies are about imagination and if we cannot imagine women as leading figures and independent personalities on film, how can we imagine them in real life?
I am not asking to always show women as fully developed characters in positions of power and responsibility, who only make good and healthy decisions, because that’s not what all women do, that’s not what all men do. I simply demand to exist in film as a group of individuals that make up half of the population and not as the inevitable trope, supporting the image of a system that puts us in the passenger seat. I want to see women Drive.
I’d watch that movie. And I might even like it.