The femme fatale.
“A dangerously seductive and fateful woman.”
I’ve been watching a ton of classic film noirs. And a re-watching thrillers.
(“Sea Of Love” with Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin…how great is that film!?)
And that iconic, fascinating role keeps on coming up …
The Femme Fatale.
Funnily enough, when you Google the archetype, a whole load of modern feminist literature pops up.
I mean, the role was ground-breaking in it’s hey day because the femme fatale avoided standard, constricting roles.
She avoided the “women should be this” label.
But to say the femme fatale was put in movies ONLY to empower the woman and “put a man in his place” is kind of missing the point, I think.
The femme fatale was put on screen to re-empower the male!
Think about it.
It’s the femme fatale who takes our male hero to his next level.
Elevates him into something greater.
She does what the cute and sweet girl next door (yawn) can’t- she challenges him, gets him out of his comfort zone, so he’s forced to grow.
Okay “unman-ing” the male lead is required at first to shake him up a bit, especially in down ending films, where he’s beaten to such a degree that both are destroyed (see “Double Indemnity” for details).
But lets not forget these movies, on the whole, especially in the 40s, were made by men.
And I’m hesitant to think that there’s some purely feminist agenda going on when these writers and directors weren’t just tapping into the female fantasy of women being sexy and smart and sassy, they were tapping into their own fantasy…
…the guy fantasy.
Hell, film noir and unruly women captured the male imagination so much in “traditional times,” when it might have been more “frowned upon” to be an assertive woman, that Rita Hayworth’s poster of “Gilda” was the number one pinup poster across America!!!
(See Shawshank Redemption for cult status).
Old school men were fascinated by the femme fatale.
She was part of their desires.
A desire to be challenged, even if it wasn’t good for them.
But what’s “good for them.”
Not so easy, not so quick to figure out?
Being nebulous tests his mind, raises the bar on his own masculine capacities.
And often the femme fatale may seem to have more gutso than the male lead initially but for good reason…
…to enable the man to become even more of a man.
Usually, we start with the male lead engaging in an action where he first meets the femme fatale and for the first time in his life he has to step up to the plate more than usual…
…she is different…
…she isn’t as simple as the other girls.
He finds himself for once being tested.
And the entire movie becomes a massive 2-sided power play. So once the lead has conquered and won over the femme fatale, he has not just won her over…
…he has won himself over.
He has taken himself to the next level.
Raised his own bar.
Again, he has become…MORE OF A MAN.
Even in ones with ironic endings like Basic Instinct.
Sharon Stone reaches for the ice pick but does she use it?
Detective Nick Curran has gotten to her.
She leaves it.
He won her over.
Yup, just like Johnny Farrell did with Gilda, Catherine Tremell has been “tamed.”
(Okay, so Gilda’s not a murder like Catherine but still, same theme…right?)
And I don’t mean “tamed” in the misogynist sense, I mean, calmed her down, just like she’s calmed him down. (Interesting by the way that the leads, often detectives, have their own inner demons that, like the femme fatale, they need to conquer.)
And this is especially the case for men that are in general pretty successful with women, right?
The femme fatale suddenly provides a jolt, a hump in the as-of-now easy road…
…a test to their masculinity that they must recover.
Yes, despite what critics say, the femme fatale is not just about women getting more interesting in movies.
It’s about the men getting more interesting too.
And secretly, deep, deep, down, wanting to tame the wild one.
Yes, the male lead may declare he hates the femme fatale, he may pull out his hair, throw insults at her and say “how dare she” but guess what- there are lots of beautiful “straight and narrow” gals out there, so why doesn’t he just stick with them?
Because he doesn’t want straight and narrow…secretly…deep down.
And that’s what makes the ending or the unification between male lead and femme fatale so much more significant.
Two disruptive, damaged, trouble-making people finally find completion in each other.
They find their own happy ending.
On their terms.
That was kind of dramatic, I realize.
P.S. Next time: A guide on how to become a femme fatale.
“And I’ve always had this idea for making a movie about a femme fatale, because I like these characters. They’re a lot of fun. They’re sexy, they’re manipulative, they’re dangerous.” (Brian De Palma)
Brit Chick in Hollywoodland
Friday, 20 September 2013