Monday, July 5, 2010

I do the Bechdel Test for Movies this Weekend

Next time you go to a movie ask these three questions:

1.  Are there two or more women characters in the movie who have names?

2.  Do they talk to each other?

3.  Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

So, over the 4th of July Weekend I went to the movies.  On Saturday I went to see Winter’s Bone, the story of 17 year old Ree Dolly, a Missouri Ozarks girl trying to find her meth cooking, out-on-bond, missing dad who put the family cabin and land up to secure his bail bond.  There were multiple women in the movie who all had names and who talked to each other.   At first I wondered if the film would fail the Bechdel Test though because, although Ree had lots of conversations with other women, they were mostly about Ree’s dad or Milton, the scary backwoods male head of one of the many branches of Ree’s Ozarks family. 

Ree’s mom doesn’t talk (she had some kind of mental breakdown).  Ree’s conversations with her Ozarks women kin are about her dad or Milton.  Her conversation with her dad’s former “lady friend” April is all about her dad.  Ree does talk to the neighbor, Sonya, about taking care of their horse because she can’t feed it anymore and Sonya gives Ree some pain pills when Ree has been beat up.  And Ree and her best friend Gail do talk about what Ree is going to do with her little brother and sister – whether she needs to give them up to other people to raise.  Those conversations aren’t about a man.  But they are necessitated by the actions of a man – Ree’s dad.  

The film was written and directed by Debra Granik and it won best picture at Sundance.  It’s an odd story in which women are, simultaneously, under the thumb of abusive men and yet stronger than the men.  They enable the abusiveness of the men in many ways and yet go behind their backs to do what they think needs to be done. It is the women who decide to end Ree’s problem and tell her what she needs to know to save her homestead. 

As a movie, I think it is really well done and I really recommend it.  Go to see it.  It will provoke good conversation.  And it will also explain to you why I sometimes want to escape this State of Missouri.   At the end of the movie I said, “they either really did film that in the Ozarks or they found a place that looks exactly like it”.  I watched all the credits.  They really did film it here in Missouri.  In Christian County and Taney County in Southwest Missouri right down by the Arkansas border.  But you don’t have to go to the Ozarks to find insularity and people cooking meth.  You can go to Franklin County, right outside St. Louis, and be scared out of your wits.  And while insularity may be at its peak in the Ozarks, but you’ll find it all over this State.  In many ways this is one scary State. Ironically it is the cities that get the bad rap when it is rural Missouri that no one in their right mind would want to have their car break down in.

I also saw Toy Story III.  In 3D.  My first 3D movie.  What a waste of money.  Not the movie, which was quite cute.  But to pay double the price to see it in 3D.   It would have been perfectly fine in 2D.   The movie failed the Bechdel Test. It had women characters with names:  Mrs. Potato Head, Jessie (the cowgirl), Barbie (yes, THAT Barbie) and Dolly (yes, just Dolly).   And they didn’t only talk about men, they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to escape the daycare center to which they had been donated (and get back to Andy but they would have wanted to escape even if Andy wasn’t an option). But as far as I can remember they didn’t talk to each other.   Which leads me to wonder why it is necessary that two women characters talk to EACH OTHER in order for there to be a female presence in the film.  Why?   I’m still pondering that.