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SDG wrote:

: But you could say that about any popular art form that expresses rebellion against the system but is really part of the system, from the Rolling Stones to Che T-shirts.

I don't think so, because I don't think the Rolling Stones or the makers of Che T-shirts have incorporated the same kind of philosophical underpinnings into their work that the Wachowskis did. I don't believe, for example, that the rebellious youth of the 1960s were particularly AWARE of how their rebellion was actually part of the system and not against it; it may be that at least some of the Stones were in on the joke -- you can't keep a gig for as long as they have without SOME sort of savvy -- but did they try to raise that awareness in their audience?

: I thought the Oracle was a plot device mediating the themes of fate and chosenness. I thought she worked well as a black box, but any attempt to peer more closely at her nature would yield absurdity and contradiction.

That's it? Really? You find the confirmation that she is an AI less satisfying than the notion that she was nothing more than "a plot device"?

: I think my predictions were borne out brilliantly by the sequels; in fact, I think I am a shrewder analyst than your friend on this score. Do you actually find the sequels' explanation "satisfying," even "remotely" so?

Well, as I've already said, my friend's analysis was essentially proved right on only one point, but it was a very crucial point: namely, the fact that the Oracle is an AI. And yes, absolutely, I find that explanation eminently "satisfying". Like I said, I can't imagine a better way to explain the Oracle's seemingly permanent presence within the Matrix as well as the special role she plays among the humans.

Certainly, as a matter of world-creation appreciation, I would never have found "she's a plot device" to be a very satisfactory answer.

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My e-pal: I think the Oracle is an advanced form of that kind of program. She tells you what you need to hear. Did you ever read "Taran Wanderer" by Lloyd Alexander? The main character is on a quest to find himself, and he tries to find this magic "Mirror of Llunet", but the mirror turns out to be a simple pond that shows him his reflection.

See: Kung Fu Panda: There is no secret ingredient.

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I don't think so, because I don't think the Rolling Stones or the makers of Che T-shirts have incorporated the same kind of philosophical underpinnings into their work that the Wachowskis did. I don't believe, for example, that the rebellious youth of the 1960s were particularly AWARE of how their rebellion was actually part of the system and not against it; it may be that at least some of the Stones were in on the joke -- you can't keep a gig for as long as they have without SOME sort of savvy -- but did they try to raise that awareness in their audience?

Do you really think that the winks and nods in The Matrix amount to "trying to raise awareness in their audience"? Or were they addressed to those already in the know?

: I thought the Oracle was a plot device mediating the themes of fate and chosenness. I thought she worked well as a black box, but any attempt to peer more closely at her nature would yield absurdity and contradiction.

That's it? Really? You find the confirmation that she is an AI less satisfying than the notion that she was nothing more than "a plot device"?

By "a plot device" I mean that as long as her nature is indeterminate she can function dramatically as a mediator of the movie's themes of fate and chosenness. As soon as you pin her down as AI, fate and chosenness go out the window, and it's all just an absurd and meaningless series of coincidences.

Poor lonely Trinity just happened not to fall in love with who knows how many other guys, but did fall in love with Neo. The Oracle's message to Neo about having to make a choice between Morpheus and himself happened to come true on that very excursion into the Matrix. Trinity made an astonishing act of faith in the face of seemingly inevitable catastrophe, while Cypher defied the universe to produce the miracle to stop him from killing Neo -- and the universe absurdly backed up Trinity and refuted Cypher. And when Neo was dead or dying and the Sentinels cutting into the Nebuchadnezzar, Trinity made yet another act of faith, relying on Neo's chosenness and her love for him to mean that he must survive this present crisis -- and not only did Neo came back from the dead, he also managed to return from the Matrix in time for Morpheus just to save the ship by deploying the EMP.

Yes, I regard it as more satisfying to enjoy all of this as an actual story of fate and chosenness, even at the expense of not peering too closely at the Oracle's nature, than to say "But who is the Oracle really? Oh, she's AI. So actually it was all just meaningless coincidence. But hey, at least we know who the Oracle was."

Certainly, as a matter of world-creation appreciation, I would never have found "she's a plot device" to be a very satisfactory answer.

See, this is exactly my point: As per my comments in the first sentence of my review of The Matrix Reloaded, long before any Matrix sequels came along I had realized that "world creation" was the last thing that interested me about The Matrix. If I have to choose between a rip-roaring story with evocative themes set in a fictional universe with some seams and loose ends that are better not pulled, or a more fully explored world in which all the seams and loose ends are pulled and the fabric of the rip-roaring story and evocative themes I was enjoying earlier comes apart, I prefer not to pull at the seams.

I don't want a sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that lays an economically satisfactory groundwork for tobacco and marmalade in the Witch's winter by revealing how Aslan and the White Witch were in league all along to exploit the Narnians. Of course that's stretching an analogy to the breaking point, because Lewis really believed the message he was trying to put across in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Wachowskis never believed the themes of fate and chosenness that they wove into The Matrix, and left clues to that effect. But they also told a story that works well dramatically as a story of fate and chosenness, and doesn't work well dramatically if it's anything else.

The fact that Lewis believed one thing about his story and the Wachowskis believed something else about theirs doesn't change the fact that the stories are more satisfying as written, loose ends and all, than if you subvert the meaning that made the original story engaging in the first place. At least, engaging to me. Perhaps Baudrillardians enjoy Neo's superhuman heroics all the more contemplating how pointless rebellion is since the system always absorbs rebellion into itself. Perhaps for them Morpheus's speech about how people are blinded by the illusion of the Matrix and will fight to protect it, etc., is more interesting than Trinity looking into Neo's big, pretty blue eyes and saying "Yes." Not to me.

Edited by SDG

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SDG wrote:

: Do you really think that the winks and nods in The Matrix amount to "trying to raise awareness in their audience"? Or were they addressed to those already in the know?

Well, both, really. The winks and nods caught the attention of those in the know, and then those in the know fleshed out the meaning of those winks and nods for audience members such as myself.

: By "a plot device" I mean that as long as her nature is indeterminate she can function dramatically as a mediator of the movie's themes of fate and chosenness. As soon as you pin her down as AI, fate and chosenness go out the window, and it's all just an absurd and meaningless series of coincidences.

And how would things be any better if she were just another human dwelling in a pod (or, alternatively, sitting in one of those VR chairs)?

: . . . the Wachowskis never believed the themes of fate and chosenness that they wove into The Matrix, and left clues to that effect. But they also told a story that works well dramatically as a story of fate and chosenness, and doesn't work well dramatically if it's anything else.

Well, sorry, but those clues WERE there. And if there's one thing I appreciate about the sequels, it is that they exposed the folly of all those churches and youth pastors who glommed on to the messianic "story of fate and chosenness" and ignored all the clues (both little, such as the Baudrillard book, and big, such as the slaughter of the security guards) that the story was actually more complicated than that.

: The fact that Lewis believed one thing about his story and the Wachowskis believed something else about theirs doesn't change the fact that the stories are more satisfying as written, loose ends and all, than if you subvert the meaning that made the original story engaging in the first place.

Ah, but engaging TO WHAT END? Here, the difference between Lewis and the Wachowskis becomes absolutely crucial to the meaning of the stories and is not just something that can be brushed aside.

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: By "a plot device" I mean that as long as her nature is indeterminate she can function dramatically as a mediator of the movie's themes of fate and chosenness. As soon as you pin her down as AI, fate and chosenness go out the window, and it's all just an absurd and meaningless series of coincidences.

And how would things be any better if she were just another human dwelling in a pod (or, alternatively, sitting in one of those VR chairs)?

: . . . the Wachowskis never believed the themes of fate and chosenness that they wove into The Matrix, and left clues to that effect. But they also told a story that works well dramatically as a story of fate and chosenness, and doesn't work well dramatically if it's anything else.

Well, sorry, but those clues WERE there. And if there's one thing I appreciate about the sequels, it is that they exposed the folly of all those churches and youth pastors who glommed on to the messianic "story of fate and chosenness" and ignored all the clues (both little, such as the Baudrillard book, and big, such as the slaughter of the security guards) that the story was actually more complicated than that.

What part of "indeterminate" is confusing to you? :lol:

Look, I agree that it's naive and wrong-headed simply to embrace The Matrix as a "story of fate and chosenness" full stop -- and that the bandwagon-jumping youth pastors and such more or less deserved the shellacking they got with the sequels. There are elements, above all the lobby scene, that clearly tilt in a nihilist direction. But there are also elements, above all the repeated intrusions of fate into the story, that clearly tilt in a non-nihilist direction. You say "those clues were there," but BOTH sets of clues were there, and neither explains or dissolves the other. If you embrace the fate-and-chosennness storyline, then the nihilist elements don't fit; if you embrace the nihilist elements, then the fate-and-chosenness elements don't fit.

The fate-and-chosenness elements can't be used to sideline the nihilist elements, because the nihilist lobby scene is right at the root of Neo's climactic messianic character arc. But the nihilist elements can't satisfactorally absorb the fate-and-chosenness elements either, because the universe backs Neo too overtly and often. If Neo were truly a messiah worth his salt, he wouldn't have begun his rise to full enlightenment by massacring innocents. If Neo's world were truly nihilistic, Neo, Morpheus and probably the whole crew of the Nebuchadnezzar would be dead when the story ends.

The story as it stands includes the contrary elements side by side, without reconciling them, which is another way of saying that the story, like the Oracle, is indeterminate. However, that's not to say that the story as a whole doesn't predominantly tilt one way or the other. It does, and it tilts in the fate-and-chosennness direction.

One can't bracket the nihilist elements -- they're too structurally prominent -- but if one had to take one set of contrary elements and excise the others, one would do less damage to the story we have if you excised the nihilistic elements than the fate-and-chosenness elements. Cut out the lobby scene and Morpheus's training-program speech, and suddenly you've got a pretty viable fate-and-chosenness story with little if anything in the way of overt nihilism. Try to imagine a cut of The Matrix with the glaring intrusions of fate excised. What's left?

That's why I say the Wachowskis have told a story that works (for the most part) as a story of fate and chosenness, and doesn't work well as anything else, countervailing "clues" or elements that point in another direction notwithstanding. It's a messianic narrative that flirts with nihilism, not the other way around.

You say "What other explanation for the Oracle can you imagine?" I say, the sequels don't explain the Oracle at all. They don't explain the things she knows and predicts. As she functions in The Matrix, the Oracle is a mouthpiece of fate. The sequels don't explain that.

If I absolutely had to come up with a rival explanation for who the Oracle was for a proposed series of sequels, my first thought would be to posit that the Oracle is neither human nor AI, but some sort of quasi-angelic figure -- an extraterrestrial and probably noncorporeal intelligence projected into the Matrix in order to guide mankind from slavery toward freedom. I would further posit that it was the extraterrestrial power that the Oracle represents that freed the First One from the Matrix. And I would develop these beings as existing, like the wormhole aliens in DS9, in some way outside of linear time, which would explain the Oracle's foreknowledge.

Obviously that would be a very different story from the one the Wachowskis wanted to tell. However, part of the fascination of The Matrix was its evocation of the ideas of fate and chosenness, countervailing elements notwithstanding. Having come down decisively on the other side of the coin and left those element hanging out to dry as metaphysical orphans, they can't blame people for finding the trilogy as a whole anticlimactic and less interesting than the evocative first film by itself. To an extent, they contrived in the first film to have their cake and eat it too -- but once they manifestly ate it in the sequels, they could no longer have it, now could they?

: The fact that Lewis believed one thing about his story and the Wachowskis believed something else about theirs doesn't change the fact that the stories are more satisfying as written, loose ends and all, than if you subvert the meaning that made the original story engaging in the first place.

Ah, but engaging TO WHAT END? Here, the difference between Lewis and the Wachowskis becomes absolutely crucial to the meaning of the stories and is not just something that can be brushed aside.

Um, okay. Engaging to what end, then?

Edited by SDG

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Another possible Oracle, less informed by Christian imagination but still on the side of a sort of transcendence: The Oracle might be an embodiment of a kind of collective unconscious psychic rebellion of all of the Matrix's unknowing prisoners.

Perhaps in joining the entire human race in a sort of shared dreamworld, the machines unwittingly created the conditions for a kind of shared human unconscious, as it were pooling mankind's latent awareness of our own inner divinity, and with it our collective aptitude for mysticism or psychic awareness (something that with their mechanistic rationalism they can't possibly understand).

On this proposal, the Oracle's foreknowledge would be the collective human equivalent of any ordinary experience of precognition or clairvoyance, and the voice of the Oracle is the voice of the collective god within, just as the individual voice of, say, conscience (or desire or self-determination) is conceived as the voice of the individual god within.

Its psychic resources pooled in this way, mankind becomes collectively (though unconsciously) aware of its destiny to be free, and realizes that the machines cannot hold us forever. Mankind then tells itself this through the voice of the Oracle.

Naturally, the more consciously aware people become of mankind's state and the more directly connected they become to the shared human voice of the Oracle, the more the shared power of mankind's unconscious resources enables them to bend and finally break the Matrix's rules.

Eventually, the human race collectively chooses One of our number upon which to focus and manifest the sum total of human brain power -- something vastly more complex than all the computer programs ever written -- thereby enabling the One to break free completely from the Matrix's power.

Edited by SDG

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Last Monday was the film's 15th anniversary. And since Gnosticism-in-the-movies has been such a hot, hot topic lately (for completely unwarranted reasons, as far as I'm concerned, but hey!), I've re-posted all my Matrix trilogy reviews, along with my reviews of the previous year's Gnostic (or quasi-Gnostic) parables Dark City, The Truman Show and Pleasantville (the last of which ends on a note eerily similar to the note on which the Matrix trilogy ends).

 

Now *those* were Gnostic movies. And I don't see any parallel whatsoever between what those movies were doing and what Noah supposedly does.

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Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve has, as far as I know, coined the term "Trinity Syndrome" to characterize the condition of strong, badass female characters who are ultimately given nothing to do. 
 
Man, I wish I'd thought of that. 
 
 

There’s been a cultural push going on for years now to get female characters in mainstream films some agency, self-respect, confidence, and capability, to make them more than the cringing victims and eventual trophies of 1980s action films, or the grunting, glowering, sexless-yet-sexualized types that followed, modeled on the groundbreaking badass Vasquez in Aliens. The idea of the Strong Female Character—someone with her own identity, agenda, and story purpose—has thoroughly pervaded the conversation about what’s wrong with the way women are often perceived and portrayed today, in comics, videogames, and film especially. Sophia McDougall has intelligently dissected and dismissed the phrase, and artists Kate Beaton, Carly Monardo, Meredith Gran have hilariously lampooned what it often becomes in comics. “Strong Female Character” is just as often used derisively as descriptively, because it’s such a simplistic, low bar to vault, and it’s more a marketing term than a meaningful goal. But just as it remains frustratingly uncommon for films to fail the simple, low-bar Bechdel Test, it’s still rare to see films in the mainstream action/horror/science-fiction/fantasy realm introduce women with any kind of meaningful strength, or women who go past a few simple stereotypes.
 
And even when they do, the writers often seem lost after that point. Bringing in a Strong Female Character™ isn’t actually a feminist statement, or an inclusionary statement, or even a basic equality statement, if the character doesn’t have any reason to be in the story except to let filmmakers point at her on the poster and say “See? This film totally respects strong women!”

  
The immediate occasion for this devastating rant was the introduction of Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2, whom I'm gratified to note I observed in my review the filmmakers gave very little to do, along with Astrid. (I even offered some suggestions for how they could have been better used.) 

Other recent examples of Strong Female Characters suffering from Trinity Syndrome include The Desolation of Smaug's Tauriel, Alice Eve's Carol Marcus in Into Darkness, the Asian heroine in Pacific Rim and of course The Lego Movie's Wyldstyle, a pretty straightforward Trinity knockoff.

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Waddya know ... you set up an affirmative-action standard, foreground characters' sex while denying sex differences and the result is ... this.

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Waddya know ... you set up an affirmative-action standard, foreground characters' sex while denying sex differences and the result is ... this.

Especially when you have overwhelmingly male filmmakers copying male filmmakers in genres defined for decades by vying for the eyeballs of 18 to 35-year-old males. 

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Waddya know ... you set up an affirmative-action standard, foreground characters' sex while denying sex differences and the result is ... this.

Especially when you have overwhelmingly male filmmakers copying male filmmakers in genres defined for decades by vying for the eyeballs of 18 to 35-year-old males. 

 

If the last of those three is true (and it is) ... the other two are irrelevant. And the "sexism" is not a problem that won't be exacerbated by self-conscious attempts by the feminist-inclined to fix it (as Robinson inadvertently proves).

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Waddya know ... you set up an affirmative-action standard, foreground characters' sex while denying sex differences and the result is ... this.

Especially when you have overwhelmingly male filmmakers copying male filmmakers in genres defined for decades by vying for the eyeballs of 18 to 35-year-old males.

 

If the last of those three is true (and it is) ... the other two are irrelevant.

Only if we assume that neither nature nor nurture and culture has given men and women tendencies to see and express things differently. And, since essentially no one thinks that, well.

And the "sexism" is not a problem that won't be exacerbated by self-conscious attempts by the feminist-inclined to fix it (as Robinson inadvertently proves).

In the sense that asking overwhelmingly male filmmakers in a male-dominated culture to think like women isn't the most promising way of addressing the problem.

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Waddya know ... you set up an affirmative-action standard, foreground characters' sex while denying sex differences and the result is ... this.

Especially when you have overwhelmingly male filmmakers copying male filmmakers in genres defined for decades by vying for the eyeballs of 18 to 35-year-old males.

 

 

If the last of those three is true (and it is) ... the other two are irrelevant.

 

Only if we assume that neither nature nor nurture and culture has given men and women tendencies to see and express things differently. And, since essentially no one thinks that, well. 

 

I'm not making myself clear. I am saying that if a genre's audience is essentially young males (or in principle, any Definable Group X), any commercial, capital-intensive enterprise in that genre must necessarily focus on what Group X wants. That usually will be so, and always should be so, regardless of the characteristics of the people behind the camera, now or in the past.

Edited by vjmorton

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Of course, one of the "male filmmakers" in this case is a female now. Or something like that. (S/he says s/he doesn't really believe in "a binary gender narrative", if I remember the quote correctly.)

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I'm not making myself clear. I am saying that if a genre's audience is essentially young males (or in principle, any Definable Group X), any commercial, capital-intensive enterprise in that genre must necessarily focus on what Group X wants. That usually will be so, and always should be so, regardless of the characteristics of the people behind the camera, now or in the past.

And I am saying that even in the act of catering to an audience largely made up of young males, male and female storytellers will think differently, write differently, direct differently. The logic is much less "male audience" = "only the male characters actually count" than it is "male storytellers" = "only the male characters count."

 

Of course, one of the "male filmmakers" in this case is a female now. Or something like that. (S/he says s/he doesn't really believe in "a binary gender narrative", if I remember the quote correctly.)

 

Whatever that means. There's a reason he chooses to identify as female rather than male. If there were no difference, he wouldn't bother. 

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Incidentally, I'm wondering if "Trinity Syndrome" is really a fair label here. In the *original* movie, Trinity was a very consequential character, from her recruitment of Neo all the way to her reviving of him with the fairy-tale kiss. It was only in the *sequels* that the filmmakers lost track of the character... but they lost track of other characters too, like Morpheus, who ended up being just along for the ride. And I don't know if it's fair to define the character by what happened to her in the sequels.

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Incidentally, I'm wondering if "Trinity Syndrome" is really a fair label here. In the *original* movie, Trinity was a very consequential character, from her recruitment of Neo all the way to her reviving of him with the fairy-tale kiss. It was only in the *sequels* that the filmmakers lost track of the character... but they lost track of other characters too, like Morpheus, who ended up being just along for the ride. And I don't know if it's fair to define the character by what happened to her in the sequels.

 

Yeah, that occurred to me too. To be fair, the term is flexible enough to cover female characters who recruit the hero, if that's their only role, but as you point out Trinity is much more important than that. 

 

I think the sense of the term is later filmmakers want a character like Trinity, but it's just for the sake of having her, without integrating her into the story in the same way. WyldStyle would be a textbook example here. 

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Isn't Wyldstyle a creation of a ten year old boy?  (That is, within the story).  Wouldn't she typically fulfill the role set out for her by a ten year old?  Cool, glamorous, has a boyfriend?  I'm not sure that she's a legit candidate for Trinity Syndrome.  I thought part of the genius of the Lego Movie was that its central plot seemed as if it was conceived by a child. 

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I'm not making myself clear. I am saying that if a genre's audience is essentially young males (or in principle, any Definable Group X), any commercial, capital-intensive enterprise in that genre must necessarily focus on what Group X wants. That usually will be so, and always should be so, regardless of the characteristics of the people behind the camera, now or in the past.

And I am saying that even in the act of catering to an audience largely made up of young males, male and female storytellers will think differently, write differently, direct differently. The logic is much less "male audience" = "only the male characters actually count" than it is "male storytellers" = "only the male characters count."

I have no argument with SDG's reply, but I would like to add to it.

It does not seem to me that putting the responsibility on the audience or the genre for the way female characters are often handled by filmmakers holds up very well. Ellen Ripley was the lead character in Alien and Aliens. Sarah Connor was the lead character in The Terminator. These are iconic movies of the sf/action genre. They were beloved by the young males in their audience who never, as far as I have ever been able to tell, ever voiced the slightest objection to the movies having had female lead characters. Further, female characters do not have to be lead/action characters to be successful as characters in sf/action movies. Carol Marcus is an important character in Star Trek II; she is both the lead developer of the Genesis Device as well as Kirk's former lover and (as is revealed) the mother of his son. In Blade Runner, the terrible plight of Raechel makes her far more in the movie than just Deckard's love interest.

Finally, as a general observation, talking about who is the audience for a genre and what the audience's wants are as things that exist prior to the actual works of the genre and which are therefore responsible for the characteristics of those works does not seem like a sound line of thinking to me. The Hunger Games movies are clearly sf/action but have a lead female character AND a primarily female audience AND have been huge commercial successes. If other sf movies have had mainly male audiences, it clearly is not because female audiences have some natural antipathy to sf, that gosh-darn-it-hard-as-they-try-male-filmmakers-just-can't-overcome.

Edited by Rachel Anne

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Ellen Ripley wasn't the lead character in Alien. She was simply the only character who *survived* -- which made her, by default, the lead character in the *sequels*. My understanding is that many audience members back in the day assumed that Tom Skeritt, if anyone, was going to be the lead -- partly because he was playing the captain -- but after he died halfway into the film, all bets were off.

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I'm not making myself clear. I am saying that if a genre's audience is essentially young males (or in principle, any Definable Group X), any commercial, capital-intensive enterprise in that genre must necessarily focus on what Group X wants. That usually will be so, and always should be so, regardless of the characteristics of the people behind the camera, now or in the past.

And I am saying that even in the act of catering to an audience largely made up of young males, male and female storytellers will think differently, write differently, direct differently. The logic is much less "male audience" = "only the male characters actually count" than it is "male storytellers" = "only the male characters count."

 

I have no argument with SDG's reply, but I would like to add to it.

 

It does not seem to me that putting the responsibility on the audience or the genre for the way female characters are often handled by filmmakers doesn't seem to me to hold up very well. Ellen Ripley was the lead character in Alien and Aliens. Sarah Connor was the lead character in The Terminator. These are iconic movies of the sf/action genre. They were beloved by the young males in their audience who never, as far as I have ever been able to tell, ever voiced the slightest objection to the movies having had female lead characters. Further, female characters do not have to be lead/action characters to be successful as characters in sf/action movies. Carol Marcus is an important character in Star Trek II; she is both the lead developer of the Genesis Device as well as Kirk's former lover and (as is revealed) the mother of his son. In Blade Runner, the terrible plight of Raechel makes her far more in the movie than just Deckard's love interest.

 

Finally, as a general observation, talking about who is the audience for a genre and what the audience's wants are as things that exist prior to the actual works of the genre and which are therefore responsible for the characteristics of those works does not seem like a sound line of thinking to me. The Hunger Games movies are clearly sf/action but have a lead female character AND a primarily female audience AND have been huge commercial successes. If other sf movies have had mainly male audiences, it clearly is not because female audiences have some natural antipathy to sf, that gosh-darn-it-hard-as-they-try-male-filmmakers-just-can't-overcome.

 

 

All of this. The problem doesn't seem to be the audience so much as it's a reliance on a single formula. In other words, it isn't feminism--it's a failure of imagination--that produces the Trinity Paradox. To imply otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand both the nature of feminism and the nature of storytelling.

 

Ripley's interesting [not least because, iirc, the character was written as a male]; she may not be the main character in the first movie, but she becomes such retroactively through the sequels. So I think it's still fair to call her the "lead" even if the original Alien didn't portray her in that way.

Edited by NBooth

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Yeah, I believe *all* the characters in Alien were written as gender neutral. Though I can think of at least one line of dialogue that must have been written *after* the characters were assigned their genders.

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Ellen Ripley wasn't the lead character in Alien. She was simply the only character who *survived* -- which made her, by default, the lead character in the *sequels*. My understanding is that many audience members back in the day assumed that Tom Skeritt, if anyone, was going to be the lead -- partly because he was playing the captain -- but after he died halfway into the film, all bets were off.

I would agree of course that Alien is very much of an ensemble movie. The a priori assumption that "the Captain" was going to be the lead is itself interesting in that it reflects ideas based on the sf side of its heritage, as opposed to the horror aspect of its heritage, which would actually make the Captain/authority figure a pretty near certain corpse.

None of this has any bearing on my general argument about the way women are handled in sf/action movies, obviously. But that doesn't mean it can't be an interesting subject in its own right.

Edited by Rachel Anne

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Rachel Anne wrote:
: The a priori assumption that "the Captain" was going to be the lead is itself interesting in that it reflects ideas based on the sf side of its heritage, as opposed to the horror aspect of its heritage, which would actually make the Captain/authority figure a pretty near certain corpse.

 

Perhaps. It may also reflect the fact that Tom Skerritt was a bigger name than some of the other actors at the time. ("Star" doesn't *quite* seem like the right word.) He'd been busy in film and TV since the early '60s, including one of the three or four main roles in M*A*S*H, whereas Sigourney Weaver hadn't done *anything* prior to Alien (except for two TV gigs, neither of which I know anything about, and a bit part in Annie Hall where she's standing so far off in the distance you can't even make out that it's her).

 

I've always thought that James Cameron was fortunate, when he got around to making Aliens, that the one actor who survived the original Alien had gone on to become something of a movie star in her own right, thanks to The Year of Living Dangerously and Ghostbusters. It made casting her as the lead in Aliens a much "safer" bet than it might have been otherwise.

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Of course, one of the "male filmmakers" in this case is a female now. Or something like that. (S/he says s/he doesn't really believe in "a binary gender narrative", if I remember the quote correctly.)

 

Whatever that means. There's a reason he chooses to identify as female rather than male. If there were no difference, he wouldn't bother. 

 

 

Given that Lana has not personally chosen to expand on her meaning here, I am at some risk in attempting to do so on her behalf. But generally, denying the gender binary is used to endorse two ideas:

 

(1) that many traits treated as two wholly separate points, one "male" and one "female" actually exist as a line, where people can be found anywhere along it.

 

(2) that people often embody a mix of "male" or "female" traits; that statistical or cultural distinctions are often mistaken for absolute or natural ones.

 

Obviously there is a lot of ambiguity at this level as to what traits we're talking about, and even if I suspect I understand Lana's meaning at this general level, I don't think I could guess her positions on a more particular level. A denial of the gender binary, however, is not the same thing as an assertion of universal androgyneity, so yes, it could still make a difference.

 

Finally, I would note that trans people generally regard it as offensive to refer to them by pronouns that deny the reality of their transition, and Lana has made herself clear that she shares this general feeling. If you wish to show respect: "she", and not: "s/he" or "he", is the way to do it. If you wish to show disrespect, well, frankly, you have many options available to you. No doubt she will have heard all of them before. No doubt I will have too.

Edited by Rachel Anne

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