Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.45.6: HELL HATH NO FURY . . . [FR]

Air-brushed Jodie Foster in The Brave One (2007)

Air-brushed Jodie Foster in The Brave One (2007)

Last week Hollywood released yet another Jodie Foster “vehicle.” Jodie is Hollywood’s favorite female victim, and Jodie the victim usually gets her revenge and sometimes an Oscar. Now that Charles Bronson has got his own “death wish,” a new sweeper of the streets of our cities of ugly, giddily murderous scumbags is required for the Reagan era “feel good” film–the one man/woman vigilante film.


The irony is that films like Brave One pose the city as the place where women are threatened. This may be somewhat of a cinematic convenience—the city is a place of much anonymity, a menagerie in which creeps and scumbags are a ready selection for the dramatis personae of the mean streets. After all, that’s where Foster got her first big recognition, playing 13-year-old prostitute in Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, where the film’s star, Robert DeNiro (Travis Bickle) dreams of sweeping the streets of the city clear of urban social scum. So Jodie’s Brave One character studied at the feet of the master.


Foster seemed like she might be in some real danger from her role in Taxi Driver, not from some tough-looking gang-bangers, but a choir-boy looking John Hinckley, would-be assassin of President Ronald Reagan. Hinckley wasn’t out to kill Reagan for falsely claiming that he had brought down the Soviet Union, he was out to impress Ms Foster, upon who he had (and seems to have maintained) a mad fan’s infatuation.   Hinckley molders in prison where perhaps he has had then opportunity to watch the arc of Ms Foster’s celebrated career as a movie victim/heroine progress. Did he see her in Flight plan (2005) where her husband is murdered and her child kidnapped (on the plane), but she is conveniently an aeronautical engineer. Jodie does her patented stressed, panicky, manic running around until she gets pissed, finds her kid, and blows up the bad guy?   Speaking of panic, did Hinckley see The Panic Room (2002), where burglars force her and her diabetic daughter into a safe room because they are after some valuable documents in there.   Again, she vanquishes her male foes.   How about Silence of the Lambs (1991) in which she manages to survive the cannibalistic urges of Hannibal Lecter and some psycho who likes to skin women?   Foster received her second Academy Award for best actress for her role as a Federal agent. [1]   She was more of a victim in The Accused (1988) in which she is gang-raped in a bar and uses the legal system to go after her attackers after she is accused of having lead them on. This role was based on an actual victim, and Foster won her first best actress award for her portrayal.


As the father of two daughters and twin granddaughters [2] I have to admit that something inside me roots for the cinematic female victim who gets her revenge.   I enjoyed Thelma and Louise , a film where there do not have to be helpful dialogue scenes that “explain” to you what the film is about, and where you walk out of the theater not thinking “gee, didn’t I experience that same bunch of clichés is some of her other movies?”   The “victims” in Thelma and Louise might be a bit stereotyped (the date-rapist and the foul-mouthed trucker), but it is no doubt the stupid, insensitive husbands, who most discomfit male viewers.   But Foster’s street thugs are plucked from the same box of stereotypes that Bronson massacred for a half-dozen films.


Such films no doubt fuel the angst of males who make the anti-feminist complaint that women have become to bold, assertive and difficult. [3]   Women like those played by Foster and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, among others, are not content to lay there and ”enjoy it” while they are being raped and beaten; they just might come after their assailants “with extreme prejudice” and probably make a lot of their sisters is the audience “feel good” about it.   Unfortunately, that is not the situation of the great part of females all over the world.   Untold numbers of them never make it past the first few breaths of life, untold numbers of them are sold into bondage to rich men who use and abuse them sexually and discard them to brothels or other kinds of abuse.   Untold numbers of them commit suicide to escape “arranged marriages.”[4]   They would be content just to escape their captors, and abusive husbands, much less than stalking and exterminating them in the dramatic manner of a Hollywood revenge film.  


Moreover, many more of them are in villages and countryside, not big metropolises.  Their assailants are fare less often young gang bangers out for thrills beating their victims to death (as happens to Jodie Foster’s boyfriend in The Brave One ), or gang raping (as was is in The Accused ) that they are people who are known to them, relatives and spouses, or supposed lovers who lure them into kidnap and slavery.   In other settings their assailants are probably less of the scumbag street thug than the John Hinckley-looking frat boy who spikes her drink for a bit of raping that might even be videotaped for extra humiliation and fun.


The Brave One tries to squeeze some thoughtfulness and social relevance from the clichés—that’s the “don’t try putting a 9mm in the ear of a scumbag and pulling the trigger at home” warning that helps keep the rating down—but we have already learned from the Death Wish andDirty Harry films that the “box office” in these flicks is in the vicarious “getting off.”   There are all the usual rationalizations—the creeps will be back for more, the system that is supposed to protect women doesn’t, [5] nobody else loves me enough to take revenge for me, etc.—and that makes revenge OK.   Actually, it is hard to blame the “brave ones” for taking justice in their hands; what’s amazing, given the access to weapons in this country, is that we are not finding a lot more bodies. Then there is that ending in Thelma and Louise , the two of them, driving off that cliff in that convertible, smiling their “death-victory” smiles in their final act of defiance, because they know the system isn’t ready to see their side of things.   “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,” but he’s usually busy with other things, and he still seems rather pissed off at Eve.


Hinckley has been trying to get himself out of prison for several years, but his requests for parole have been denied. Reagan is beyond further harm, but Foster is still around.   My advice to Hinckley is: stay where you are, it’s safer.

©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 9.21.2007)

[1] The same year that Gene Davis and Susan Sarandon, who were both more deserving of the Oscar than Foster, were nominated for Thelma and Louise, but probably split the voting for each other.

[2] I began exploring the theme of the city as liberator of women in a KPBS-FM radio essay in 1987 on the occasion of what was called “Women’s Opportunities Week.”

[3] See also, DCJournal Archives No. 42. 6 “Guys (sort of ) Strike Back.”

[4] Recently, in a rare instance of justice, and then after many years of expense and effort by her family, and Indian woman received some sort of revenge.  Her husband and mother in law were convicted of murder in England for having hired killers to assassinate her because she wanted out of her arranged marriage.

[5] You can still hear the cross-examination strategy—“weren’t your dresses in a provocative and revealing outfit, miss?”—in courtrooms today. Recently, a television documentary stated that a woman in the U.S. Army has a 1 in 7 change of being the victim of sexual assault by a fellow soldier or superior officer..