Last week, we were blessed with Hollywood's latest post-apocalyptic offering --The Book of Eli. A short and pulpy plot stretched into an almost 2-hour-long dramatic feature, the Hughes Brothers' film is bipolar at best. Long and dusty scenes fail to evoke the same bleakness that The Road offers, and they are an awkward inclusion to a snarky story about a man who can slice things up quicker and easier than the ladies of Kill Bill as desperate sickos sneer and cannibals enjoy tea parties. Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman put only partial effort into their performances, and it all leads to jarring final moments that seem more Resident Evil than The Road.
But the one aspect that melds perfectly with the like-minded cinema that comes before it is that women are doomed in a post-apocalyptic world. The Book of Eli embraces this notion with fervor, using every opportunity it can to portray women as bait, whores, and victims of grisly rape. The only solace for this future is having a male partner who can share in the fighting and defense. With a man, there's some slim chance of survival. Without? Women are doomed.
It's a theme well-worn in the genre, but it's time we moved beyond it. I'd never dare argue that such a future is not a distinct possibility -- desperation, lack of education, and depravity are a dangerous and lethal combination. It might even be the most likely scenario. But the world is not black and white, and in an industry that focuses on creative expression, it baffles me that filmmakers and writers aren't interested in coming up with anything different. Instead, women are repeatedly taught that should they survive an apocalypse, the aftermath will bring nothing but rape, servitude, and death.
It's everywhere. The notion is carried through critical darlings like The Road. It's a solid part of Mad Max, although they at least give Tina Turner some power in Beyond Thunderdome. The extended cut of Waterworld entertains the idea that Helen and Enola will be sold to slave traders. Cyborg finds a young Haley mentally tortured by Fender's gang before being ruled by him, and while they might have a woman act as the savior of the world, she had to become a cyborg for the honor. It's even the future of Tank Girl until Lori Petty's Rebecca Buck transcends expectation to become the kickass, water-releasing savior of a desert world.
Beating and raping women seem to be the easiest way for a film to shout out the desperation of an apocalypse. Hurt a woman and you've succeeded in showing the bleakness of the scenario. It's lazy and tiresome, and sadly, Eli seems stuck on it. The idea of women as property is not enough. The film includes two drawn-out and grisly rape/attempted rape scenes, lingering on desperate screams and struggle. They don't evoke a sense of desperation, or futility. Instead, they feel like nothing more than torture porn -- especially when they're matched with a cinematic world where women seem to be nothing but sex objects. They're bait. They're raped. They're powerless.*
Women don't even get the littlest of perks -- unless you consider being property that gets a shampoo now and then a perk. I love Tom Waits on the big screen, but it would've been nice to see even one woman have more gainful employment, handy skills, or a more equal life. Solara might work as a bartender, but only until Carnegie decides to make her "useful." Women make up almost half the population in our world, and many have a handy knowledge-base, but none of the females with useful know-how and strength seem to have survived in Eli. (Or many of the other post-apocalyptic films for that matter.)
It seems like Hollywood is prepping a real Children of Men. Not a world where women can no longer conceive, but rather a post-apocalyptic landscape where women should save themselves the horror and off themselves if the apocalypse ever descends. Then men can be the ones who use sex to gain power and information, and turn on each other to satisfy their sexual appetites. Something tells me if that's a scenario Hollywood entertained, the men in those plots would be doing everything they could to stay strong and tough.
It's sad that the same can't be said for women, even on the littlest degree.
Thoughts? Have you seen a film that challenges this? Weigh in below.
Also, be sure to check out Dawn Taylor and Jenni Miller's reviews of the film.
* SPOILER ALERT
Some might argue that Solara transcends these notions, but I'd disagree. By the end she manages to be free, but that doesn't change the reality of her situation, even if she has a pretty knife and is made to look like she's morphed into a lady butt-kicker. Unless her new-found faith is going to protect her and instill mighty knife-wielding moves, she's still setting back out into a world that sees her as nothing more than a piece of meat, without real skills to survive.