Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tangential Tuesday: The Dark Knight

Welcome to Tangential Tuesday! (There's that alliteration thing again.) Wherein I ramble a bit about female characters in The Dark Knight. (Spoiler warning if you haven't seen the movie.)

First and foremost, The Dark Knight is, without a doubt, on my list of all time favorite movies. The cinematography, the dark, gritty noir feel of Gotham, and Ledger's Joker just do it for me. Every time. I love it. I was exhausted after the initial theatre viewing; I don't think I took my eyes away from the screen for a second and when the movie was over, I felt like I'd been the one running around Gotham's streets and alleys.

However... (This is really a "but." Isn't there always a but? And I don't mean this "but" to negate what I've said previously. Because it doesn't.)

Once the honeymoon period wore off, I was able to take a step back and look more at the production of the movie. Though my love still stands, every time I watch The Dark Knight, I'm annoyed by the lack and under use of female characters.

Not only is the movie an ultimate failure of the Bechdel test, but the Refrigerator wins. Again.

There are four--count 'em, four--female characters of much import: Rachel Dawes, Judge Surillo, Anna Ramirez, and Barbara Gordon.

Rachel Dawes seems to only exist to help move the plot along, to help motivate the main characters. She has nothing to do. She has one good stand-up moment with the Joker and then she's blown into the fridge to make room for the full birth of Two Face and the trial and "success" of Batman.

Judge Surillo is killed soon after she's introduced; she's pretty much a non-entity.

Ramirez, the one female cop we see, turns out to be corrupt. Her motives are understandable; we feel sympathy for her. But the fact the fact that she's the only female cop we see...and corrupt? Kind of a poor show.

And then there's Barbara Gordon, who has little more to do on screen than mourn her (not) dead husband and be afraid for her children. And may I mention the fact that they didn't give her any lines in the hostage scene? Other than the phone call to Gordon? We never see her make more than a whimper, never see her try to reason with Dent or say something in defense of her children, even something along the lines of Gordon's "punish me/shoot me." This kind of thing is what I'm talking about when I say underused female characters: Barbara Gordon exists as little more than a distressed damsel to set the stage for her husband's, and Batman's, heroics.

Further: Would it really have been that difficult to stick a few more women in roles where they aren't made invisible/overshadowed by the men in their lives and/or don't end up in the fridge?

You know, the mayor could have easily been a woman. The host of Gotham Tonight could have been a woman. Even the little weasel of an attorney, Coleman Reese, could have been a woman. Women do make up half of the population and seeing them in more roles would be realistic; seeing them in more main/named roles would also help solve this issue of being invisible that seems to afflict female characters in movies, particularly movies of certain genres.

The fact that the source material for Batman dates back to a certain time period and thus is populated with largely white, largely male characters doesn't mean they have to continue being cast that way.

But, all this aside, I think the thing that bugs me most is the treatment, or lack thereof, of Gordon's daughter.

Nolan may never have intended to introduce the idea of Batgirl in this film, but with the focus we get on Gordon's son, Jimmy, in his questioning of his father about Batman and in his place as "most loved" in the final scene, it certainly feels as though we're being set up for a possible "Robin."

But even if that wasn't the purpose...

I really wonder why the story couldn't have gone the other way? We've seen the boy-and-his-father dynamic time and again. It's old hat. And the fact that so much else is re-envisioned for these movies, and that Nolan put so many little original twists and touches on things, speaks to the fact that he could have stepped outside the box given a nod to comic canon, and provided us with a fresh, new on-screen dynamic instead of leaving the daughter to hang out in Distressed-Damsel-Town with her mom, just as invisible as the other women in the story.

As commenter Eileen, on an old thread at the Hathor Legacy, says:

This one could have been about a girl and her father -about a girl and her fallen male role model. Without changing a single line it could have made the entire ending scenario fresh. The pacing was so good and everything else about that ending was so satisfying that the change from boy to girl would have been the thing that made it into something nobody had ever seen before.

No comments:

All images are copyright to their respective owners and used according to Creative Commons agreements.