Friday, March 30, 2012

"Strong Female Characters"

Does it seem too much like Andy Rooney, shaking his head at popular music, for me to say that I do not understand the popularity of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? There is a disconnect between the imagined audience in my mind and the wish-fulfillment element to its 1990s-extreme protagonist described as being "different in every way" by supporting characters. You would think that the audience inclined towards the titillation of rape exploitation and revenge would be rather small, as well, but you look at the numbers and see that all these traits I associate with modern superhero comics' constantly shrinking audience are there in this current popular fiction.

I saw the David Fincher version on DVD the other night, knowing well enough what I was getting into: It's the third iteration of a story I had already dismissed as uninteresting from the initial synopsis, but somehow David Fincher has made an impression on me as being "worth paying attention to" enough that I felt okay with doing the dollar-rental from a vending machine at the supermarket. (To me, that feels like even less of an investment of energy than watching something instantly on Netflix, because it's more of a concession to popular taste.)

The next day, as I went to return the DVD, I found that the vending machine kiosk was defunct, and so convinced was I that this was a conspiracy to extort money from me I vowed to never use said vending machine again, and to reinstate my Netflix account. I canceled Netflix a few months ago. I chose DVDs over streaming during the price-raising debacle, and shortly afterward found that, while I could fill my queue up with movies I want to see eventually until the end of time, picking out something I was excited to watch in the immediate future felt impossible, as the things I was most excited about were movies I was hearing about that were neither on DVD yet nor in Baltimore theaters- Movies like Margaret, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Miss Bala, which just became available on DVD and was immediately placed at the top of my reinstated queue.

Miss Bala, despite having a premise that seems like it belongs to an exploitation movie, is never as repulsive as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. One of the reasons it's able to avoid certain traps, actually, is by featuring a passive protagonist, and feeling consciously political, rather than simply having some kind of up-with-people "strong female character" who gets to enact vengeance. No, it is about being a body, buffeted by forces beyond its control. The way that it is shot, with one odd composition after another, necessitating long takes because a viewer cannot immediately parse what it is looking at, and where the people are situated in relation to each other is a mystery until they move.

Miss Bala is about a woman who lives in poverty in mexico, who sees a way out by entering a beauty contest. She is then swept up in a conflict between drug lords and the DEA. She stands not for all women, but for all civilians, in a wartorn and politicized landscape. It is about being a victim, and feeling empathy with people in situations beyond their control, rather than playing into a wish-fulfillment idea where people "take action," as the action depicted is psychotic and unknowable. It is not an action movie, although it contains action, or rather, violence, and the tension comes in watching this woman run past people shooting at each other from behind barricades of cars, or curdling in the fetal position in the front seat of a car as its windshield is shot out. It is never "thrilling," never cathartic, it is always tense. The bits that are thrilling are the brief moments where the woman is able to be by herself, and see herself as pretty and possibly possessing a future she can direct herself. The film basically shuns voyeurism, and it is in these moments where the viewer gets to take the lead in as an actress, as a physical body as something other than a stand-in for their own potential victimization. It feels feminist for real, is what I'm saying, and in doing so functions as a challenge to presumptions about action narrative and heroism in so many ways that it is not likely duplicated anytime soon.


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erin said...

you have always been andy rooney.

although jason, moreso.