Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Woman on a train

So Emily Blunt is not pregnant in her latest film, The Girl on the Train, and that is where her problems start, at least ostensibly. And I guess if you could look this good pregnant you would feel bad if it didn't happen for you (we all look beautiful pregnant, I know, but it helps to have height).

But, according to Time film critic Stephanie Zacharek 'the sad thing' about this film, and Blunt's role in it, is not that she fails to fall pregnant and, as a result, becomes a sad tormented alcoholic with paranoid delusions and fantasies about people she sees from the train, but that she is not 'bad' enough.

According to Stephanie Zacharek, the film is spoiled by a society 'trying to be progressive' and in that effort, not allowing 'classic bag girls' to be portrayed on film anymore.

For Zacharek, this failing is a sign of a feminism gone wrong as, she says, it paints women as flimsy creatures who 'are not wholly responsible for their behaviour.'

Is anyone wholly responsible for their behaviour?

This strikes me as distinctly unhelpful commentary in a world that continues to struggle with the basic idea of feminism: namely, that women's lives have been, and continue to be, constrained on every level by men, often through violence, and that one of the most powerful weapons that men have used to sustain this oppression, is to blame women for the violence inflicted upon them, from rape to domestic homicide. Courts have upheld this reasoning and the real life violence of men has continued unpunished.

A more helpful and interesting review of this film that I found intriguing, if a little disjointed in the first half, comes from Eileen G'Sell (strange name) who compares it with Fatal Attraction, a film that presumably would qualify for Zacharek's 'classic bad girl' acclaim.

G'Sell calls her review 'the rise of the sane angry woman' and says that after decades of portraying psychotic angry women, Hollywood has finally sided with female rage in this film, to take the woman's perspective, for a change, instead of the man's.

She mentions, too, that Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction took the part understanding that her character kills herself in the end, but when preview audiences weren't responding and they changed the ending to make her proper psychotic and homicidal to be finally killed by Douglas -- a box office smash -- she was not at all happy about this change. She knew that it undermined the integrity and truth of her character and sold out women. She was not wrong.

The change might have done wonders for her career, but still she would rather not have had to sink to reproducing the stereotype that perpetuates the myth that women are psychotic and often ask for the violence committed against them.

That was the 80s. If you believe Zacharek, we have degenerated as a society since them in 'trying to be progressive' and failing. I'll agree we are trying today, some of us. But some, like Close, were trying back then, and others, like Gloria Steinem, were trying back in the 60s, and many others were trying much further back than that still. We will always be trying, some of us.

And Zacharek wouldn't have the job she has -- Time's first female film critic? -- if some of these triers hadn't succeeded in making society more progressive and gender equal, too.

But more would succeed, there is no doubt, if there weren't so many -- women, like Zacharek included -- determined to fight against this progress by mocking the efforts, often of women, as in the case of this film, to present more realistic and substantial women on screen, and more realistic men, too, not the Michael Douglas of Fatal Attraction who is pushed to kill Close by her psychotic jealousy.

To read any serious study about the real life violence between men and women in relationships, is to know that the psychotic, and all too often homicidal jealousy of men -- not women -- is the single biggest factor driving the abuse that destroys millions of families (one in three), the world over.

So, well done to the women involved with The Girl on the Train for giving us a slightly more realistic glimpse into this sad reality, and to Emily Blunt for bringing the main character, a real woman, to life with so much feeling and depth. This is progress indeed.


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