Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Bechdel Movie Test

Have you read this article from the New York Times Magazine proclaiming 2012 a "Year for Movie Heroines"? Having been involved in the conversation about women's roles in society, and the reflection (or obfuscation) of these roles in art for six years (since my 2007 art history study abroad under the marvelous tutelage of Professor Martha Peacock), I blasted through all four pages of the article, totally engrossed! I was really moved by the following paragraph, a moment of contemplation tucked into the center of a rolling, energetic analysis of past and present film heroines and the motives they are ascribed:

"The rush to celebrate movies about women has a way of feeling both belated and disproportionate. Pieces of entertainment become public causes and punditical talking points, burdened with absurdly heavy expectations and outsize significance. It should not, after all, be a big deal that movies like “Bridesmaids” or “The Hunger Games” exist, perhaps because it should have been a bigger deal when such movies didn’t. In 1985, the comic-strip artist and memoirist Alison Bechdel first formulated what has since become known as the Bechdel test, which assesses movies according to a three-step formula. To pass the test, a film “1. has to have at least two [named] women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something besides a man.” It is a stunningly simple criterion, and stunning how few movies manage to fulfill it. (Though a visit to suggests that things have been improving recently.)"

What a fantastic formula. I thought about the movies I have been most excited about this year. Brothers, I'm sorry to tell you that all three Lord of the Rings movies failed in a big way (two women in each, but they don't converse), and something tells me the Hobbit will follow its siblings' patterns. (Maybe it's the promo poster of a bajillion male dwarves, I don't know):

Les Mis will be saved, but only by dint of the abusive conversations held by Cosette and Madame Thenardier.

Skyfall- fail.

Lincoln- fail.

It really gets you thinking! The isolation of female characters, the removal of the bond of female friendship, and writers' disdain to create conversations that don't link the females verbally to their male counterparts; all are intuited by us, female watchers, but often elided as we follow the injunction, "Just identify with the male characters!"

Thank heavens for Catniss. That's all I have to say.

PS. Don't forget to click on the photo stream of 2012's movie heroines. You'll find more stunning photographic portraits like these:

Emmanuelle Riva of Amour

Amy Adams of The Master and The Trouble with the Curve
Quvenzhan√© Wallis of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Elle Fanning

1 comment:

MOM said...

Wow... What a discovery! Thanks for the insight. It'll make me curious to watch movies with that simple test! LOVED the photo portraits!
(And that you managed to squeeze this in during your final papers!)