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O Magazine
2015-2017

THE VALIDITY OF CERTAIN
FEMALE ARCHETYPES


By Violeta Kovacsics.



– The femme fatale putting at risk the lives of those around her is an archetype that doesn’t seem to want to abandon her place in fiction. Many contemporary works include women whose will is making others suffer for sentimental purposes.

Put the blame on me

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

ILLUSTRATION by
Manuel Clavero

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

Gillian Flynn: A good creator of bad women.

In an article about the femme fatale, Núria Bou pointed out the following: “It would seem, up to this point, that the femme fatal hasn’t got enough strength to create an own symbolic constellation: on the one hand, her attitudes and ambitions are the logical regenerating response to a corrupt masculinity in a moment of crisis of the traditional hero.” The context for this typology of characters is noir films, a genre “characterised by a certain degree of anxiety about existence and the definition of masculinity and normality,” as Richard Dyer described. The English author added: “Women in noir films are, above all, inscrutable. It isn’t so much their evilness as the inscrutable element in them (and their attractiveness) what makes them fatal for the hero. Since culture is defined by men, everything that is, everything that is known, is masculine. Thus, noir films rigorously divide the world of what is unknown and inscrutable (female) and, again only through inference, what is known (masculine).” Deep down, when we talk about a femme fatale, we’re talking about a typology of characters born and raised under the shade of certain masculine figures. That’s why Bou asked herself: “Does a characteristically feminine imagery exist in the profound structure of the turbulent passage that the genre evokes?”

Writer of mystery novels Gillian Flynn told an El País journalist: “I wanted to fight the idea that women are inherently good, motherly and all those assumptions that are made about us.” The three first books of the author of Gone Girl revolve around the idea of woman, even her most famous title, built on two voices, Nick and Amy Dunne’s, but above all lead by the second one, who is the one manipulating the events. Flynn located in the heart of one of her novels, Sharp Objects, the mother-daughter bond; but the interesting thing of these three mystery novels centred in female figures is the kind of characters they present. In Flynn’s stories, women are evil, unkind, nasty and unpleasant. Besides, apart from Amy in Gone Girl, the only one of her characters we could call a femme fatale, women aren’t usually criminals, but are forced to turn into investigators to solve other people’s crimes.

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

Rosemund Pike as Amy Dunne: she never stops plotting.

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

The Lady from Shangai: fractal fatalness.

If film noir’s context was the post-war period, Gone Girl‘s is another one: the end of the economic (and evidently moral) crisis. No Job, No Money and Now, No Wife, that’s how Manohla Dargis entitled her review of Gone Girl for The New York Times. Bou referred to noir’s femme fatale this way: “These liberated women, these essential goddesses of luxurious sanctuaries devoted to leisure and corruption, prefer to be with men whom, far from the battlefield, become rich thanks to war’s losses. Linked in this way to depraved masters, they are used to attract affable victims. But the femme fatale soon learns the language of seduction and, as perverse as men or even more so, starts using it for her own purposes and dreams about getting rid of her exploiting husband: this is the case of Rita Hayworth in The Lady of Shanghai and of Lizabeth Scott in Cul-se-sac.In the case of Amy, seduction hasn’t got to do only with the physical side, with beauty, but also with the intellectual side, due to Amy’s need to make Nick continually feel that they are made for each other, that they are equal. Her evilness is revealed both in relation to marriage as to her surroundings (in the film, the main character’s plan is befriending ‘the local idiot’). If the destiny of film noir heroes is eminently tragic, there’s nothing more frightening than what awaits Nick at the end of Gone Girl, trapped in the nest of his marriage, condemned to living with a wife that almost has him seated on the electric chair.

Flynn usually spices her stories up with banal but repulsive details, like the woman in Sharp Objects who gets out of the shower and uses a blanket to dry her body instead of a towel. Her characters are essentially unpleasant. The trick is similar to the one used in The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins’ best seller, in which one of the voices corresponds to an alcoholic and resentful woman. How to empathise or sympathise with these women? In Dark Places, probably her most limited novel, Flynn takes this idea to the extreme. The protagonist survived a massacre that put an end to the life of her eldest sisters and her mother, leaving her, the youngest one, the role of the victim, and her brother, the killer’s one. However, after the massacre, the girl grows up expecting to earn a living through the returns that the tragedy will bring. At a point in the novel, she remembers her aunt, who took care of her after her family died: “the following years, I bumped her car twice, broke her nose twice, stole and sold her credit cards and killed her dog.” That’s what Flynn’s characters are like, and that’s what the forerunners of perversely brilliant Amy Dunne are like.

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

Lizabeth Scott: a view to a kill.

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

Theda Bara: the origin of vamps.

If, in Sharp Objects, Flynn attacks the idea of the family in the most provincial US, in Dark Places she talks again about the family, but this time it is nothing more but a pretext, an excuse to talk about money, greed and meanness, in a plot that little by little unfolds to reveal the yearning of the characters to get hold of a few dollars. In Gone Girl, the focus is on marriage. The perversity we find on the pages written by Flynn is such that we don’t even need a corpse. In Sharp Objects, the disappearance of a girl is but a mere starting point; the most terrible thing is located somewhere else, in the female portraits the author composes, the self-destructive protagonist, her cold mother and her perverse half-sister. And what to say about Gone Girl? A novel in which the body takes a while to appear, and it’s not the main character’s. The crime is also somewhere else; it’s a perverse toy, a psychological damage, a sibylline plan.

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

Jessica Rabbit: the femme fatal as a caricature inherited from classicism.

The validity of certain female archetypes. – O Productora Audiovisual

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos: the femme fatale in Brian de Palma’s Femme Fatale.

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