Are Women Taking Revenge on Celluloid?

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“Women in mainstream Hollywood dramas rarely use guns,” writes Anne Thompson in her Variety column. “Outside of the action fantasy realm, they don’t kill, and if they do, it’s a crime of passion involving a husband or lover. And they don’t kill repeatedly, for revenge.”

Thompson’s interview with Jodie Foster about her new film, “The Brave One,” speaks to the issue of women taking revenge on celluloid.

In the film, Foster plays a woman who, in retaliation for the brutal assault that killed her lover and transformed her, picks up a 9mm handgun and shoots to kill– repeatedly.

The film, which premiers at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, isn’t the first movie released this year that casts a woman in the role of avenger. In the recently released “Descent,” Rosario Dawson plays a college student who is raped, and ultimately finds a path to healing by raping her raper. And, released earlier this year, the gripping “Red Road” follows a women security guard as she seeks out and plots to take revenge on the man who did something (no spoilers here) that left her bereft.

These three films are quite different in story, style and tone– but they have several factors in common. First of all, they’re all psychological thrillers with intense, complex, fully realized women protagonists– who’re not at all like figures from graphic novels or comic books.

Thee films were all projects developed by women. Although “The Brave One” was directed by Neil Jordan, Foster was Executive Producer and worked with screenwriter Cynthia Mort to revise the script. “Descent” was co-written and directed by Talia Lugacy. “Red Road” was written and directed by Andrea Arnold.

And the three films are all about women who, when abused, fight back in an attempt to regain control of their lives.

Anne Thompson comments that in “The Brave One,” Foster’s character’s violent behavior is likely to make audiences uncomfortable. And, as quoted by Thompson, Foster says, “The movie is subversive. That is its strength. It will ask people to head down into a very shameful place. Some people will embrace that and feel empowered by it. And some will resent it. Some people will root for that revenge because they’re with the character. But it doesn’t mean she’s not wrong.”

How do you feel about women seeking violent revenge on celluloid? Is it a trend? Are the rules different for women protagonists, or should violent revenge in films be equal opportunity? We’d like to know your opinion, so please leave your comments.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).