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Movie Mom

Lucy and the Box Office: The Good News and the Bad News

posted by Nell Minow
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Last week, “Lucy” beat “Hercules” at the box office, good news for those who still think that women-led action films can’t make money. As blog The Mary Sue put it succinctly: “Today In Female-Led-Movies-Obviously-Don’t-Make-Money News, Lucy Beat Out Hercules This Weekend.”

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Make no mistake, readers: as Susana Polo pointed out in her review on FridayLucy is not a good film and probably not worth spending money on to watch in-theaters (though neither is Hercules, of course). And yet, it made about 1.5 times more than Hercules at the box office this weekend.

On the other hand, this is not exactly a big step forward for stories that illuminate the experience of being a woman.  It does not pass the Bechdel test.  Jezebel’s Powder Room blog has a thoughtful assessment from C. Rhodes.  And also

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Because the titular role is the only significant speaking role for a woman in the entire damned movie. We cannot (CANNOT) settle for this being a movie “for” feminism.

Because the trope of a woman getting psychically violated and used by a group of men is old, reinforces a lot of negative gender stereotypes on both sides, and frankly if you combine Brokedown Palace and Limitless we’ve already had this movie poured into our long-suffering eye-holes.

And because, most importantly, it’s one of the most racist things on a screen right now. The bad guys? Asian men. The entire movie focuses on her need to get out from under the grips of a group of villains who are pretty exclusively people of color…and if that’s not a loaded message, I don’t know what is.

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For an opposing view, take a look at a column by Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff, who argues that “Lucy is a staunchly feminist film that sometimes seems terrified of feminism.”  I’m not persuaded by his argument, which seems to rest on two points: (1) Lucy has to become less of a woman and less of a human to combat the evil forces and (2) her violence is directed against men.  But it is an interesting point of view.

Besson’s interest in archetypal feminist action heroes in the vein of Ripley from Aliens or many of his prior female leads gives way here to something slightly more complicated. Yes, Lucy gets to a place where she kicks ass and takes names, but there’s always something disquieting about it. For Lucy, to become a badass action hero requires largely getting rid of her humanity….Lucy is a film about smashing the patriarchy that also has some degree of ambivalence about what that might actually look like. After all, consider the figure that Lucy becomes: she kills or dismisses men without a second thought, she is in control of her sexual agency completely and implicitly, and she eventually evolves past men (and the rest of humanity) entirely. Then she deigns to leave humanity with a tiny gift that contains her vastly superior knowledge.

  • Matty J.

    And here I was thinking it was simply a well executed action thriller with a bit of intelligence thrown in that happened to star a woman. Silly me.

    • Nell Minow

      Not sure that such a thing exists, Matty J. Even the most light-weight, unambitious storyline has some implications, and Luc Besson is too smart for us to assume otherwise. So, none of these comments seemed valid to you?

      • Matty J.

        I can sort of understand the tendency to attach deeper meaning to a character that the director may or may not have intended (I doubt Besson set out to be racist.) I just feel like it goes to extremes sometimes. As soon as I read “Lucy is not a good film” it sort of discredits the rest of the article for me (but I read it anyway.)

        I’m not completely buying that ‘Lucy is a film about smashing the patriarchy’ because I can imagine a man in that role and loving the movie just as much (minus a few scenes that wouldn’t make sense had Lucy been a man.)

        It could be that I’m just simple-minded sometimes but I happened to enjoy Lucy on a level that didn’t involve feminism, racism or complex gender roles. I saw it because Besson’s name was on it, not Johansson’s, so maybe it was just my state of mind at the time.

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