Chelsea Wolf - Pale on Pale :: Like Mazzy Star vs Sunn.
Yes it’s only been like a week since I sent the last newsletter out, after something like two months prior to that. My sense of time is more like a series of interlocking spirals than a straight line. I will have told you in the future to have expected this. But, sometimes you have to offer commentary before the zeitgeist moves on, and, you know what everyone is talking about this week, so it’s time of course for
(spoilers ahead because if you haven’t seen it at least out of self-defense you’re probably in a cave and won’t be reading this anyway.)
Because it’s basically obligatory, now. George Miller has crafted something that has somehow brought together nearly every warring tribe of the internet into a pact of temporary cease-fire.
-Dad, was there ever any peace on the internet?
-There were a few days way back in 2015 when everyone really liked an apocalyptic road movie
The only people who seem to not like it are the MRAs, and as far as I’m concerned, they pretty much exist at this point as a bellwether to indicate that you’ve done something right when you piss them off. Apparently a bunch of petulant manbabies have their penii in a twist because a film is showing a person with ovaries being capable and interesting. Well, suck it up boys, because that’s going to keep happening now. This Chick Flick brought in some $44 million in North American sales in the first weekend, and I can’t think of anyone who’s talked about it to me who hasn’t seen it more than once. Those kinds of numbers make producers sit up and take notice, and if any of them are paying attention they’ve probably also noticed that one of the main reasons for those numbers is that someone finally made an action movie that doesn’t alienate half of its potential ticket buyers.
That, to me, is a really interesting thing. I am of course The Patriarchy[tm] so my opinion is suspect, but from up here on Man Mountain (thanks, Chuck Wendig for that one) it looks like this movie succeeds in being feminist on several different levels. And by “feminist” here I mean “treating the stories of women as equal to those of men”, not some politically fraught weirdly specific definition, (so step off, pedant).
On one level, the one most resonant to me as a storyteller, this movie does a wonderful job with symbolically talking about things that are traditionally (in the cultural milieu from which I speak) feminine in a way that makes them powerful, primary, and in no way beholden to the stories of men. The badass grandmother (who, by the way, was 78 and did her own stunts) carrying the literal seeds for the reflowering of the world. The pregnant women releasing the floodgates for the life-giving water (and I’d like to hear from my more tarot-savvy friends if the association of The Star there was more than just a product of my explosion-addled mind). The symbolism was heavy-handed, yeah, but in a genre where the most frequent metaphor is a fully automatic cock spraying anti-seed, I’ll take what I can get.
But there’s another layer, in between the potent symbolism and the badass heroine. Here, I’ll let a woman say it:
I cried. Seeing an action movie with complex leading characters who were women was really important. #FuryRoad
I’ve rejected whole fucking genres of film and books because there was never a place for me in them. I had no idea how much that hurt.
… then tonight I saw a movie that didn’t make the women useless nothing characters and I cried for a lifetime of feeling like I had no place
And that seems terribly important to me. It’s not just that we have a Strong Female Character here. It’s that we have characters, good, interesting, multidimensional characters, who happen to be women, in a genre where that very, very rarely happens.
Really, the only example that comes to mind is Ripley. and that’s in a slightly different genre (or, more accurately, four other genres). But the Alien films were based on varieties of slow horror or sicfi eyeball kicks, and not on a property that, for all its brilliance, when described in the most kind terms still sounds like the fever dream of a 13 year old adolescent.
I’m not qualified to speak to a woman’s experience, of course. Whenever people start talking about whether or not a piece of media is “feminist” I get a little uncomfortable because, what, I’m a white dude. Asking me if something is sufficiently feminist is like asking me if it accurately portrays the experience of an Inuit. I’ve seen some eskimo movies and listened to “Yellow Snow” more than once, but what the fuck does my opinion mean here? I do, however, have opinions about storytelling, and regardless if you think they are full of shit (and they may well be), they are at least based on some amount of practical experience. And speaking from that perspective, what’s going on here is just not lazy storytelling. We have a movie that dares to use women as characters, with real agency, and not just props, plot points, or Chekov’s Boobies. In other words, to treat them like action movies usually treat men. Well, the good ones, anyway, there’s more than one way to be lazy in storytelling. But it’s certainly the most common failure mode when filmmakers deal with women.
Fury Road not only treats its women as empowered asskickers. That’s certainly good, and useful, and something that happens rarely. But this movie goes farther than that: it treats its women as people. This, to me, is the most potentially feminist way of making a movie. In some cases it’s been argued that Strong Female Leads are just boys with tits glommed on in post to fulfill some kind of feminist affirmative action quotient. But actually writing women in a way that is as full of depth as the best presentations of male characters, treating them as actual equals, and not caring about the fact that they are women beyond how that affects their individual characters – that, to me, is the cinematic equivalent of Marie Shear’s famous line that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
Oh, and, yes, I have shitloads of opinions about everything else in this movie, from the amazing treatment of the Extinction Aesthetic to the incredibly minute symbolic details (did you notice that the only person in the entire film who had a revolver, the traditional symbol of archaic masculinity, was Immortan Joe?). But that’s either listicle territory or best explored in more fictional forms. On the other hand, I’m going to see it again in a few days so I may wind up writing those, too.
Various angles from other people:
Kameron Hurley tackles the gender part in a far more informed manner than I.
Adam Rothstein has the most useful article I’ve seen about the hydrology of the movie which is surprisingly entertaining even if you think you don’t care about hydrology.
You just read issue #20 of Fractal Interpolation. You can also browse the full archives of this newsletter.