For women characters in contemporary film, the important thing is no longer (only) to love. The progressive normalisation of female roles promotes that their protagonists define themselves more independently from their men, be it a husband, lover, brother, father or son. We welcome the still scarce amount of action women, adventurers, super heroines, detectives, leaders, rebels, and warriors… To the professionals that give themselves to their work to the point of not having time to devote to their private lives. To the friends that share their experiences without paying attention to whether a man is watching them or not. Also to comedians who have introduced a feminist perspective into comedy… Is there no longer space, thus, in current films for a woman who loves beyond everything else, above all if she isn’t loved back?
Modern literature is born, in part, from the respective adulteries of three female characters. Their stories don’t seem too glorious at first sight. Emma Bovary is little more than a petite burgeoise with airs who takes refuge in a romantic illusion to escape the boring panorama of her provincial married life. Anna Karenina falls in love with a young man without too much substance to end up, like Emma, taking her own life. Nora Helmer, the main character in Ibsen’s Doll’s House, undertakes the most symbolic gesture of them all when she abandons husband and sons without the appearance of any other man in the picture, sick of being treated as a second-class citizen. But in the three cases, the escape from a traditional marriage to embrace a (possibly) more exciting passion entails a form of rebellion against social conventions, against their own medium and the role they had been assigned as women. There’s no male equivalent to the fatal love of these women. For young Werther, unrequited love wasn’t at any point a challenge or a sentence to ostracism…
Love will tear us apart (again)
In a scene from Brief Encounter, we hear the voice-over of Laura, the protagonist played by Celia Johnson, who silently confesses to her husband: “I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” Celia’s thoughts summarise the extraordinary condition of love in the everyday life of most mortals, as was understood by romantics and surrealists.
When romantic writers attributed themselves the capacity of dying for love and the surrealists advocated from their fiction to jump into the abyss of l’amour fou, they aspired to the same eternal intellectual glory. Women who love too much tend to do it without any kind of theoretical mattress to soften their fall. Feminism has done a necessary revision of the idea of romanticism understood as a straitjacket that limits and conditions women, and which from fiction works as an opium balsam to calm frustrations. But love can be also understood as a form of rebellion against a social order that has never made things easy for females. Let’s vindicate, thus, those women who, in film, have never feared to love beyond conventions, turning their attitude into a form of individual affirmation that often condemns them to loneliness or ostracism.