Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mad Max vs. The Babadook: Australian Feminist (And "Feminist") Movies

Two movies. Both from Australia. Both with feminist themes.

Mad Max has a male director, and The Babadook has a female one.

Mad Max has a tumblr about how feminist it is. But in terms of story mechanics, only one of the female characters takes actions or makes decisions which push the story in any direction at all. And that female character sports a masculine look.

I knew a screenwriter once who said that not every actor gets to play a character. What an actor calls a character only counts as a character in screenwriting terms if they play a role in shaping the story. Some actors just play window dressing, situations, punchlines, or MacGuffins. He was talking about movies like Mad Max.

This "feminist" movie is packed to the gills with women who act as props. They take a backseat for almost the entire film. I'm not even speaking figuratively. There is a backseat, and they sit in it.

Story is what makes people give a shit. For the first hour of Mad Max, I thought I would be coming back the next day to see it three or four times in the theaters. After the first hour, I was bored and ready to leave - especially since the second hour is basically just a repeat of the first hour, but with motivations that make much, much less sense.

I heard a snort of contempt from someone else in the audience when Imperator Furiosa did her weird little "we're not white people" tribal gestures with her long-lost fam. A dude somewhere behind me barked an aggressive, approving laugh when Max told Furiosa that she was the only woman who could get in the truck. You lose the audience, you have nothing.


The Babadook centers on a woman, and it puts that woman in conflict with her sister, her sister's (female) friend, her niece, a little old lady who lives next door, and a female bureaucrat. These female characters, in actor terms, are female characters in screenwriting terms as well. They make the story happen.

It's a horror movie, and it's scary as fuck. It's also emotionally moving; because there's so much story, there's also a ton of giving a shit.

If you're a female actor and you got a role in Mad Max, it's not much different than working on the average rap video. You're going to wear revealing clothing. You'll mostly just be standing around looking pretty the whole time - but this time, you're doing it for feminism.

The kind of feminism where the only woman who actually matters in the entire movie dresses like a man. Backed with the kind of story that would never persuade anyone who didn't already agree.

Meanwhile, if you're a female actor and you got a role in The Babadook, you're going to have to work, because your role affects the story.

And the worst misogynist could watch this thing, feel sympathy for this woman, and want her to succeed.

I know a lot of people are starved for feminist semiotics in cinema, yet for some reason they won't satiate that hunger by seeing any movies except for obvious Hollywood stuff. They're happy about Mad Max, and I'm glad they got at least a taste of what they wanted. But if you want the real thing, you don't have to look very hard.

If you're hungry for feminism in movies, you should know that The Babadook is a tomato, and Mad Max is the kind of ketchup they make out of corn starch and red food coloring.

One of these movies is an awe-inspiring chase scene, punctuated by terrible dialog, and followed up by a crappy remake of its own first hour. As a chase scene, it's a work of genius. If it ended after the first hour, it would be the best short film ever made.

But the other one is an actual movie.