That Hollywood is a boy’s club is so self-evident, I have zero interest in repeating the common arguments or restating the common evidence. If you have any doubt about the lack of roles for women in front of the camera or behind it, just google it. It’s not new information, and it’s already disappointed and frustrated enough people, so I’m going to assume that it’s a given. Hollywood is not friendly to women, and it sucks.
What makes me so irritated about Gravity is that it pretends it is a film depicting female empowerment. At the very least, I give it credit for the fact that the lead (and basically only character) is a female. Thanks for that, Hollywood. That was refreshing. But beyond that, no thanks.
That hero shot? Near the end? That just made me want to throw things at the screen, because it is nothing more than a feel good moment, a pretty little Band-Aid on a wound that is gaping open. It looks nice for a second or too, concealing the massive bleeding underneath, but it’s not actually doing anything of substance.
[Spoiler alert: Do not read further if you have not seen the movie.]
Because, see, here’s the thing. Ryan, Sandra Bullock’s character, is not empowered. She looks badass, her body is amazing (all the usual criteria by which we judge women’s on-screen capabilities), but in actuality, when you stop and think about it, her character kind of sucks.
The basic plot is such: Ryan gets trapped in space because one thing after another go wrong. Matthew, George Clooney’s character, keeps telling her how to fix each thing after they go wrong. He is such an adorable little fixer that he even comes back from the dead to tell her how to save herself. She is about to give up and lie back and let death come to her, even though he proactively gave up his life to save hers, but then he comes back, all cute, and fixes things.
In the final moment, when she’s on her trajectory to Earth, when she could say, “I’m coming home” or “Let’s do this” or “I’m back, motherfucker” (I really wanted a Ripley:”Get away from her, you bitch!” moment), she instead says, “Alright, I’m going to live or I’m going to die, and whichever it will be is okay with me.” Then she leans back in her seat and waits for her landing or her death, whichever comes first.
I don’t remember exactly what she says at that moment because that’s how unmemorable the line is. The line where she fights her last battle with everything that has gone wrong, the line where everything is at stake, the line that should mark her heroic defiance, the line that should demonstrate how much her character has evolved and grown as a person—that’s the line I can’t remember. Because that line basically just says, hey, I’m along for the ride.
It is the job of the protagonist to evolve over the course of a film. The protagonist is supposed to grow, change, mature, strengthen, whatever. The antagonist can (and should) stay the same, but the protagonist should end the film in a different place than where he/she started. However, other than ending up in a different place geographically, I’m not sure Ryan ends up in a different place psychologically.
If I’m wrong, and I missed something in this film that I know so many people adore, please tell me. Because if not, the fact that the film pretends it has this feminist message makes it all the more insidious to me that it only reinforces the same old tropes.
For now, I’ll just keep thinking fondly about this other movie about a really badass chick in space.