Feminism is Weird: The Career of Mia Wasikowska

Some feminists say women in film should wear more clothes. Some say less. But more or less we agree the primary concern is characterization vs. objectification. The problem is a matter of scarcity. Unfortunately, Scarlett Johansson and Joss Whedon faced decades of pent up frustration after Age of Ultron due to the film’s exploration of the Black Widow’s personal traumas – and which traumas they chose to present. The thing is – there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the story, and the only major problem that stands up under scrutiny is that this kind of trauma is not only familiar, but fairly predictable. Again, don’t get me wrong. The story was well done, and the subject matter was handled carefully. But when one considers the dearth of female characters who have major traumas unrelated to their ability to make children/the act of making children, things get pretty frustrating pretty fast.

There are more female characters in film and television than there used to be, but the number of worthwhile roles simply isn’t enough to occupy more than a sliver of a fraction of Hollywood’s A-list female actors. Worse – most of those roles are alarmingly similar. There aren’t enough roles to accurately depict anything close to the range of women in reality – so feminists often end up fighting each other over things that don’t actually matter. Some women wear more clothes than others. There just aren’t enough roles for women to be both flirty and conservative, quiet and brazen, leaders and followers.

So thank Cthulhu for Mia Wasikowska and her ever-expanding portfolio of perfectly bizarre variety.

Although she has played roles in many genres, the bulk of her fame has been won in the weirder corners of genre fiction. Best of all, that fame comes from a variety of characters who have little in common besides being active female protagonists.

Alice in Wonderland

Curious and sulky, honest and almost painfully direct, Alice describes herself best: “I’m Alice.” In Wonderland, particularly when she is in the White Queen’s court (aka Hero Central), Alice is freed of many gender roles the audience watched her family and friends overtly pushed on her in England. When she first arrives, the Hatter remarks that she has lost her “muchness,” which is easily translated as self. This fits. Alice stumbled into Wonderland to avoid making a choice that pitted social demands against dreams and identity. Alice has lost at least one of her defining characteristics. She is compromised. After finding her “muchness,” she handles the un-winnable situation with honesty rather than manners, and she faces each of her problems head-on.

The success of this franchise can be attested by the sequel – scheduled to premiere next year. So break out the tea and top hats.

Crimson Peak

Edith in Crimson Peak could easily slip into the role of sugar-sweet heroine. It’s a sad fact that although gothic romance has long been a treasure trove for academic critique, and several heroines (including Jane Eyre) break from the traditional womanly roles to bear the weight of convoluted and emotive storytelling, there are still many that fall back to the idea of the fainting damsel in distress (who only grows enough backbone to stand between a gun and the man of her dreams – before fainting again). The thing is – Edith doesn’t. Edith is certainly optimistic – which ties into her symbolic role of love, hope, and new life – but she is no push-over. She doesn’t throw herself into harm’s way because that is what the audience demands. She isn’t heartless, but she acts like any human being would in her shoes – with a sizeable consideration for basic instincts of self preservation.

Gothic romance is one of the strangest genres you can find. This is likely because it doesn’t place love in a vacuum. Romance comes packed between the macabre and a fashionable dose of horror. It’s about the messy sides of life, which come together in the most beautiful and most repulsive ways possible – often at the same time. It’s a fantastic ground to examine character sexuality and broader concepts of gender roles and equality. Edith’s careful observation and open heart made for a powerfully relatable character through which the audience could experience the phenomenon that is gothic romance.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is one of those books students pick up in high school or college that somehow survives the great purge at the end of every school year. It’s an artist’s story, and the Focus Film Ms. Wasikowska stars in uses the quiet intensity of Jane’s character to fashion the entire film – from pace to cinematography to tint.

When the book was first published, Jane’s character and final fate brought a hailstorm of polite judgment from the “better” parts of society. Jane was too bold. She was too domineering. She dared take her fate into her own hands. It wasn’t entirely unheard of, but it was more than a little frowned upon. The story survives today due less to its shock factor and more to its characters. It has inspired many films, but Focus Films did an exceptionally good job using Jane’s character to inform the story as a whole.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


 

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