Is Die Hard (1988) a Feminist Film?

I have read essays and theories on both sides of the question. The lack of representation of women shows it is not a feminist text. The fact that Holly is an intelligent, working woman means it is a feminist text.

While watching Die Hard, I noticed that there were only about 5 women in the entire film, even in the background. Each of these women were hostages. I could conclude that this means that women are all weak and helpless. But, at a closer look at Holly’s character it could be seen in another way.

Holly is a smart, career driven woman. Even as a hostage, she shows strength and intelligence when facing Hans Gruber. She calmly bargains with him for a place for a pregnant woman to lie down. She keeps her composure and is smart enough to have a fairly peaceful conversation with a terrorist.

McClain is taken aback by his wife using her maiden name, a choice that is entirely up to her. He chose to grow estranged from her by staying in New York as her career progressed. Rather than telling her how he feels, he holds back his thoughts and emotions about the situation in order to protect his masculinity. The question is—does the film want us to blame Holly or blame McClain?

There is a moment when Holly acts in a physical manner. After the chaos is over, she punches a reporter in the face. This is the only time a woman physically poses a threat in the film. This seems like an attempt at making her a more empowered woman by the filmmaker. It is a stereotypical trope that viewers have seen before. This surge of power is a result of the fighting that her husband did before. She didn’t pose a physical threat when there was actual danger, only after the big fight was over.

She is also used as a bargaining chip by Gruber, resulting in the stereotype of damsel in distress, as well as being hit on by a coworker, which is obviously an unwanted advance.

I can see both sides of the argument. Die Hard could be read as a feminist text with an intelligent, competent female character, or it could be read as commentary on the threat of feminism and the working woman.

The film could be viewed as persistence of the patriarchy, and some people I know that have viewed this film dislike Holly’s choice of work over her husband. McClain is meant to be the protagonist, after all, so audiences empathize with him.  But couldn’t it be seen as McClain choosing his job over family? If so, why is it okay for him to do it, but wrong for Holly to do it?

What do you think?

-B

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Whole Wide World of Movies: Foreign Cinema

It’s sad to me how many movies people miss out on each year because they’re too lazy to read subtitles. I myself am guilty of this. I scroll past the foreign section on Netflix each time I see it.

However, my film theory class listed the Korean film Oldboy (2003) on the syllabus. Not knowing anything about the film, I searched it on Netflix. I was already dreading having to watch it, which is only because of my inexperience and ignorance of foreign films. My viewpoint quickly changed as I watched the film.

In the beginning I was only partly paying attention, getting distracted and not fully reading the subtitles. I kept rewinding to figure out what was happening. My movie-watching brain just isn’t used to watching a film and reading subtitles at the same time. However, halfway through the film I was totally engrossed. Yes, part of it is probably because Oldboy is completely disturbing on a variety of levels. It’s kind of like a car accident. You want to look away but you can’t. But my perspective of foreign films was evolving as I watched.

Oldboy was remade by Spike Lee in 2013 for an American audience. But…isn’t the original already good enough for an American audience? Sure, it’s not in English, but it is translated. It’s not as if you have to be educated about every single aspect of Korean culture to understand it. Think about it in this way—big American films are made for international audiences. They don’t all understand American culture, but they watch American films. The original Oldboy was much better received than the remake, which has been called things such as “unnecessary” and “abhorrent” compared to it’s predecessor.

To me, it was interesting to see a film that isn’t made in traditional American Hollywood fashion. I learned about another culture a bit more and started to comprehend that all Asian cinema shouldn’t be lumped into one category. There are a variety of different genres and styles of American films, which is the same as Korea, China, Japan, etc. It’s not just Kung Fu movies and ridiculous fight sequences. Everything I’m writing should be common knowledge. Sadly, many people remain ignorant about all that movies from other countries have to offer.

There’s a whole world of movies that the majority of mainstream America has yet to experience. I bet we’re missing out on some incredible films, simply because of our ignorance and unwillingness to compromise.

Subtitles are worth it if the film expands your knowledge of cinema.

-B

PS: If you haven’t seen Oldboy, it’s a great place to start your foreign film education (although you may not want to eat while you watch it)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Terror of the Mind

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about watching the 1974 film Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Tobe Hooper for the first time. But after viewing it, I found it holds up better than most horror films from the past decade.

The film was revolutionary to the horror genre. Taking the classic Hitchcock film Psycho and expanding upon it in a new way, Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped define what we know now as the slasher film. Hooper’s movie is vile, disturbing, and wreaks havoc on the psyche of audience members. With little to no gore, the focus of terror is purely based on the viewers mind. We don’t see a close up of the chainsaw digging into poor Franklin’s chest–our mind does the work for us. What we can imagine is far worse than what Hooper could have portrayed on screen. It makes all out gory films seem lazy and lackluster, relying on visible and tangible disgust rather than psychological terror.

The viewers find themselves thrust into a story of disillusionment and straight up insanity, and they feel every bit of it along with the characters. The simple images evoke so much distress, such as the family of killers eating dinner in front of Sally, which is presumably her deceased friend, Pam. The décor of the house is enough to revulsion and dread, as we hear the crunching of bones on the floor and see the severed arms of human beings tied onto chairs. It’s completely sadistic and absolutely repugnant, but the cinematography is expertly crafted to provide a dizzying contrast to the dark subject matter.

The famous scene from the film is the ending, as Leatherface performs a sort of sick, twisted ballet as he holds the chainsaw over his head. The sun provides a soft, typically romantic lighting on a disgusting and nauseating, aiding the disorientation viewers have felt the entire film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a gorgeous movie about an inbred, cannibalistic family that brutally murders a group teenagers. That last shot represents the films conflicting beauty and horror, which leaves the audience with a haunting feeling of discomfort, but also satisfaction.

I’d like to see a horror movie from the last two decades wreak that much psychological terror on an audience while simultaneously looking aesthetically gorgeous.

-B

The Importance of Tangerine (2015)

What do you get when you put together two transgender sex workers, an iPhone 5s, and an Armenian Taxi driver? Sean Baker’s Tangerine.

Quirky, progressive, and emotional, Tangerine demolishes clichés and redefines trans representation in film. Movies illustrate the world and how we interact with it, so it makes sense for there to be diverse depictions of people. Baker’s film takes a stigma-ridden group of individuals and shoves them in the audience’s faces, not just as “transgender” but as real human beings.

The film presents the main characters with honesty, realism, and tolerance that isn’t present in most so-called “trans inclusive” films. The transgender population in Los Angeles is truly explored and portrayed onscreen without an ounce of judgement. The two main characters, Sin-Dee and Alexandra (Maya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez), are played by real-life transwomen of color. Baker followed the actresses around as they ad-libbed lines, giving the film an even deeper feeling of energetic realism, which simply could not be achieved with a cisgendered actor dressed in drag.

This indie comedy has disguised serious, life-altering issues in a mask of hilarity, all wrapped up with a bittersweet ending. The Armenian taxi driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), is trying to maintain a respectable family, but on the side he picks up trans women to fulfill his sexual needs. Sin-Dee is presented to us as having a drug addiction. Alexandra has dreams of singing that can’t seem to come true, so she sells her body to make money. However, each of these seemingly twisted issues is presented in a completely impartial light. There is absolutely no judgement from the filmmaker’s perspective, echoing the message that the audience should react with compassion for all people rather than hate. It works to normalize the trans experience and that’s something I’ve never seen on film before.

Not only are the main characters transgender, but they are also black. Think about the last time you saw a film this inclusive–probably never. These actors didn’t play stereotypes. Their gender identity wasn’t used for laughs, nor was their skin color. They didn’t talk a lot about being trans women. They just simply were. And that’s what’s so beautiful about this film. It represents trans men and trans women as exactly what they are: people.

-B