Sunday, September 02, 2007

Coining the Feminine Fortification Flick

There would seem to be a new genre of cinema which has developed over the past few years, passing under the radar as summer action fare. Distinct from the phallocentric summer smash 'em / blow-up pic, we have recently found women struggling against the perils of urbanity to rescue their children from some unfathomable nasty. This nasty may come in the form of an absurdly convoluted hijacking scheme or an alien virus from space which overtakes the body. In any event, the narrative requires our female protagonists to deny her trust in fellow man and coast on impulse (contra logic) to keep her dear child from the harm at hand. Call it the Feminine Fortification Flick. Two years ago it came in the shape of the Jodi Foster vehicle, Flightplan. A woman, bereaving the recent death of her husband, takes her daughter on the newest, coolest plane ever only to have that child robbed from her. Shot from the estrogentatious point of view of our woman in peril, every figure in the film (read, masculine) is, not merely in her way, but the cause of her duress. Urban man's selfishness has caused many a woman to lose her child.

For the sake of this umpteenth remake of The Body Snatchers, in steps Nicole Kidman's Carol - a statuary figure of maternity if ever there was one. When we first lay eyes on her, donning the tightest white tee and see through sleep slacks - neither of which leave anything to the imagination, she's a marble sex object setting the breakfast table for her son. There's been a space shuttle catastrophe and all of the backwater ruralites just can't help touchin' the shards. These shards, of course, contain some alien compound which causes a cellular takeover in the toucher. All they need to do is go to sleep. They then become expressionless communists. Only problem is, until informed that, in order to pass as one of these reds, you must never show emotion, Kidman never shows a drop of humanism. She flatly declares the adoration of her son and she doesn't get hot from kissing (a horribly bored) Daniel Craig. To me, that's inhuman. But no, she's one of the remaining few who has not succumbed to the infectious bile these alien clones spew. In explaining the benefits to this new conformity, someone dear to her reminds her of a trip to the country. To take part in this alien race is to be interconnected(continuous), "like those trees in the forest" and see the end of world hunger and poverty. Doesn't really sound like much of a bad thing. And yet the narrative drives this woman to divorce herself from compassion towards fellow man as a means of survival. People run down the street crying and Kidman watches as they're hauled off to be sedated. Don't intervene cause then you're next. (Hating to be a contrarian, but haven't we learned anything from that whole holocaust thing?)

One must certainly take into account the target audience for these pictures - the suburban multiplexes of mid-America. In writing on consumer society, theorist Jean Baudrillard warns, "the tranquility of the private sphere has to appear as a value preserved only with great difficulty, constantly under threat and beset by the dangers of a catastrophic destiny. The violence and inhumanity of the outside world are needed not just so that security may be experienced more deeply as security...but also so that it should be felt justifiable at every moment as an option." Within the confines of our narrative, Kidman's passivity is this justification, translated for the patrons of the world who fortify themselves deeper within the home - buy the bigger cars, get the security system, do not talk to strangers - and shut out the possibility of urban peril. If society is your foe, the remedy is simple. This is the message these films purport.

As a film, The Invasion is irrevocably preposterous, and anyone who still maintains Kidman's strength as an actress must be exposed to this positively stoney performance. But the fact remains, this offering in FFF criminally justifies selfishness and brutality, even. The film's closing shadows a frightening justification on our occupation in Iraq - as a purely human impulse. "Own it," it would seem. That's what makes us human, a voice-over reminds, as if peace were something so alien to humanity that to embrace it would transform us into something else entirely. But that, it would seem, is terrain for Nicole to traverse.


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