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Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men III

*Spoilers*

Instead of X-Men III "The Last Stand," a more apt title for the third X-Men movie might have been X Men III "Fear and Loathing (for Female Sexuality)"

Because really, that's what the movie is about once you dig beneath the CGI.

I found the film to be incredibly misogynistic, surprising because I didn't think one could express so much vitriol towards the female body in a film in which no character has more than 40-odd lines.

Jean Grey's character, The Phoenix, is brought back in a deluge of water imagery, imagery which pounds you until the climax of the film. But she's no longer Jean, we find out, not the Jean we saw at the end of the second film, who gave her life for her compatriots and her husband.

The audience is informed that as a student under Professor X, she developed some kind of split personality, the more destructive and carnal of which Professor X had to confine to some region of her subconcious keep her safe (from herself, ostensibly). Upon her rebirth, the Phoenix is released, with pleasure-seeking hedonism and destructive, chaotic tendancies in tow. As is evidenced by her first action after she is reborn, the sexual pleasure and the destruction go hand-in-hand.

In painting her character this way, the filmmakers depict a female body which is to be feared for its appetites and destructive powers. And worst of all, she is not in control of her body - instead, her appetites control her.

Attempts by Professor X and Magneto to either control or use the Phoenix are met with failure. Professor X's "noble" desire to help Jean is "necessary" because she cannot control herself, and is ultimately futile because the Professor's mental powers, and attempts to reason, do not match Jean's telekinetic powers, and her powers in the physical world. Magneto's attempt to recruit Jean, or to use her as a figure of revolution (something very unclear that the film never articulates) is thwarted because she simply will not serve a cause other than herself.

It takes Wolverine, a man whose carnality and impetuous attitude matches hers, to bring about an end to her rampage, which of course involves an act of physical penetration. But even before the climax, he notes to Professor X that one cannot "cage the beast." He knows this from experience, and he sees in the Phoenix a beast to be feared. That beast, of course, is the feminine sexuality, and all the accompanying mystique, fear and destruction.

Part of the reason the misogyny is so blatant is because the filmmakers refused to characterize Jean in any substantial manner. She rarely speaks, which is curious. Even stranger is the fact that she is rarely spoken about, besides in hushed tones regarding location and a vague sense of danger. The name "Phoenix" is merely mentioned once or twice, and its connotations are completely glossed over. Rather than say something about the Phoenix representing the destruction of mankind and the rebirth of humans as mutants, Magneto makes his grandiose speeches with Jean at his side, standing there like a statue, or a queen on a chessboard. The chess imagery is obvious, as it was central to the first film of the series as well.

But this is a queen that stands for nothing - not Magneto's cause, nor the death-rebirth imagery of her name. She is but power embodied in the female form, sexual, silent, and uncontrollable. She never even expresses a purpose for herself, and instead embodies some kind of vagina dentata, a threat of castration which endangers all of mankind.

If I were making this film, and had to work with the same plot (the Phoenix as Jean's uncontrollable alter ego, Wolverine as the one who has to save everything), I would have at the least presented some kind of allegory between the two characters of Jean and Logan.

The characters of Jean and Logan would make an excellent allegeory for the Hindu God and Goddess Shiva (Logan) and Kali (Jean). Kali, like the Phoenix, represents death as well as birth. Shiva is the destroyer of evil, as well as the ideal lover and the husband of Kali. They still represent distinctly male and female entities, but there is at least a significant amount of meaning to be explored there (death and rebirth, energy and substance, and most importantly, one's codependancy on the other), as opposed to this film, which merely presents Jean's uncontrollable form as a sexual, mindless destroyer.

Now, one might point out that the comics, especially the Marvel and DC versions, have never been the greatest medium for progressive women's roles. But for a series that has been recently (and often) hailed for its metaphors that pertain to homosexuality and treatment of minorities, we might want to re-examine the other sexual stereotypes and metaphors presented in the film before we start applauding.

8 Comments:

Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Interesting stuff .. I hadn't thought about it that way, because, frankly the movie was bad for so many reasons it was hard to pick a few to focus on!

5:25 AM  
Blogger Satchmo said...

You're absolutely right - there were plenty of other things wrong about the movie.

Despite the fact that I didn't hate Kelsey Grammar's look, even though I thought I would, Beast wasn't especially well done - he's supposed to be eloquent, so I figure a pre-battle pump-up roar wasn't the greatest of directorial moves.

Scene cuts were mighty choppy, and when characters weren't told "Go Here!" the transitions were atrocious.

11:25 AM  
Blogger panda said...

http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/books/06/01/batwoman.uncloseted.ap/index.html

10:13 PM  
Blogger Satchmo said...

Well, it would be interesting if they were able to contrast the experience of coming out of the closet (the article mentions connections with Bruce Wayne and then a relationship with Renee Montoya) with her assumption of the superhero identity.

For instance, is her lesbianism going to be as evident when she is in the costume than out? Why or why not? Is her sexuality something she wants to hide, just like the superheroine alter ego?

There are uncomfortable issues at hand here regarding sexuality, acceptance in the everyday world, and how one chooses to present themselves (masks, meet Judith Butler, Judith Butler, meet masks).

I don't know if the writers at DC can make statements about the above without being too heavy handed, but it would certainly be interesting to see how they handle it.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous puke7 said...

This post reads like person in denial of their own manhood. All of this well articulated focus on femininity in a film and no mention of the other two main female characters : Rogue & Storm. If the Pheonix is to represent the chaos imbued by Mother Earth then why would such a character want to speak? All of the Pheonix's lashing outs can easily be construed as self preservation. While you focus on Hindu deities you also shoot right past a very basic understanding of male and female cosmogenies.
I pity the fool that looks to Hollywood for any kind of mythological symbolic meaning of life. Our culture is fucked.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Satchmo said...

I'll respond to your comments backwards.

Our culture is fucked? Well then go ahead and get off the train, my friend. While I think Hollywood is unfortunately empty and mired in self-absorbtion, and to a large extent, has been for a long time, there's a rich history in cinema that you can't ignore.

You can put meaning and metaphor into film. Film is art. Art has meaning. Pardon me for the analysis. And it's not as if I want to find the meaning of life in X-Men III - if you think I do, perhaps you need to learn to read better.

My point is merely that this film (and all film) does not need to exist on a, what you see is what you get level, which then actually says a lot about the filmmakers themselves.

As for cosmogenies, by all means, if I leave things out, correct me. What am I missing out on? If you're referring to some kind of universal idea of masculine and feminine, then we might have an interesting conversation on that topic.

The reason I didn't look at Rogue and Storm is simply because the film neglects them as much as it does Jean. The focus on my post is Phoenix - who is supposed to be a main character in this film.

Rogue disappears for the majority of the movie, and there's very little exploration into what could have been a very interesting choice. It's very surprising, considering the correlation drawn between Mutants and oppression, because we find out very little about what motivates Rogue.

As for Storm, Halle Berry's need for more lines didn't tell us any more about the character - she's a teacher, I suppose, and a successor to Professor X. And a foil to Wolverine's impetuosity. Besides that, she's not much else. And I found her rather sadistic frying of Calypso (I think that was Calypso) a bit disturbing.

Also, what's that Mother Earth and chaos stuff have to do with Jean's speaking lines?

If your point is that omnipotent characters shouldn't have to speak (actions speak louder than words? is that your point?), then certainly the filmmakers could have explored her character a little by showing us better motivation for the actions.

Instead, by making her so powerful, yet so subservient to her own sexuality, the filmmakers make an implicit statement about the feminine body.

12:53 AM  
Anonymous puke7 said...

I wish I could get of the train but I live here. There is a lot of history in cinema -- like the silent era where characters said as little as possible.

I get confused as you say "all film) does not need to exist on a, what you see is what you get level" but sound like you want to be spoonfed a more desirable narrative according to your own ego. And for one reason or another I found your post - now my ego is bent...

I found the movie did a well round job of focusing on many many mutant characters. How much of Rogue's choice do you really need to understand? She wants an intimate relationship and her power kills people in that situation. Halle Barry's Storm didn't seem like a healthy, strong & independant female to you at all?

It's not that I think you "want to find the meaning of life in X-Men III" -- I just think "I can't believe someone took the time and wrote that." And here I am taking the time to try and explain my perspective.

I whole heartedly agree that film is mostly devoid of useful cultural impact. I agree with Joseph Campbell's notions of pedagogical duty. But as George Lucas has showed us, starting with the Ewoks, there is a much deeper responsibility to the almighty buck. I don't know how much you buy into a grand conspiracy but if you educate people about their subconscious then the buck begins to fail. Or that's one of many theories....

You can put almost any meaning into film that you want (i.e. He-Man is a Nazi).

By gender cosmogenesis I am refering to the concept of female being the energy of life or meta-matter and male being the imparting force which molds it. This can be scaled from the forming of our celestial bodies to the Earth being female, mankind as male or just within our own race. Male penetrates female - that is a general way of life.

Stating that the Pheonix was "subservient to her own sexuality" is simply a sign to me that books about how cultural conditioning making American men wishy-washy sissy boys are correct. Unless you are a female then I sympathise with your confusion. If you found Storm's "sadistic frying of Calypso" disturbing... welll... I found Magneto tearing up the Golden Gate bridge just to park it at Alcatraz Isle innovative.

If the film makers would have taken the time to add extra dialogue and reasons behind things I would have been bored by the film.

Suggested reading ---
"IRON JOHN" by Rober Bly &
"The SECRET DOCTRINE" by Blavatsky

12:25 PM  
Blogger Satchmo said...

Interesting comments, but I'm afraid I disagree with several of your points.

While I do agree that people like Lucas, and the people who greenlighted and made this film, put an emphasis on the dollar, I don't think film is devoid of cultural impact. I mean, that's a huge generalization. Do you really mean that?

As a side note, you say starting with the Ewoks - how much do you value Ep IV and V's Lucas?

Back to the topic at hand, take post-War II Japan for instance. Japanese film after the war was extremely concerned with cultural identity, generational gaps, and gender roles. And those films (made by individuals like Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa) inspired significant debate.

Even if we're talking about contemporary film, I don't think the statement is correct. Granted, we shouldn't look to people like Lucas and Spielberg to be insightful, nor should we confuse the trends they inspire with relevant impact.

But to say film doesn't have meaningful cultural impact is like saying nothing is original anymore.

As for why I wrote my review, it was because I felt the movie made some pretty horrible statements. It took me about 15 minutes to write while watching an afternoon baseball game, I assure you, I didn't wrack my brain over it trying to pieces of the movie fit my interpretation.

On gender cosmogenesis - how much of gender is universal? how much of it is cultural artifact? I'm thinking from your statements that we divide pretty sharply on this one. "Male penetrates female - that is a general way of life"? Isn't there a difference between gender roles and sexuality?

And last, how exactly is my statement that "Phoenix is subservient to her sexuality" indicative of me being a sissy? I just don't get the connection there. Would you rather me find a way to drool in an expository form?

2:45 PM  

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