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Fiction’s Fearless Females

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Sarah Connor

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Kathleen and I have joined up with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate for a second year in a row! A group of six of us are each picking a fictional fearless female to feature, and includes Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room. So far we have had posts celebrating Doctor Who, Batgirl, Dani from Midsommar and Queen Amidala- and this year I choose Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise. For clarity’s sake, I will be only writing about Linda Hamilton’s original version of Sarah in The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Terminator: Dark Fate. While other actresses have played Sarah, to me Linda Hamilton defines the character.

Pregnant Sarah preparing for the future and remembering Kyle. Photo credit- The Terminator

When we first meet Sarah Connor in the first film, she is a woman of her era (1984), ready for a good time and not too serious about her career. But destiny has another plan, as a cyborg terminator from the year 2029 has just arrived and is intent on killing her, as she is the future mother of John Connor, who will be a resistance leader in the future where robots who became sentient are trying to destroy all of humankind. As a countermeasure, John sends back a trusted soldier named Kyle from his time to save Sarah from the cyborg assassin. Luckily, Kyle finds Sarah before the Terminator does, but he naturally has a hard time convincing her of the truth. But as the Terminator begins leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake, Sarah is soon on the run with Kyle. Kyle and Sarah manage to have a night together, and you realize that Kyle is the father of John, which John must have known when he sent him back in time. Sadly, Kyle dies saving Sarah in the finale, but a flash-forward shows Sarah pregnant and ready to prepare for the coming apocalypse.

Sarah, buff and ready to fight! Photo credit- Terminator 2

The second film is set ten years in the future and shows Sarah as a hardened warrior, who seemingly has stripped away all her previous compassion so she can train John for what is to come. But her dogged determination has resulted in a stunted mother-son relationship and is further exasperated when she is institutionalized and he is placed with a foster family. No one believes her vision of the future, much less her son,  but when a new Terminator is sent back to kill John, Sarah escapes confinement to rejoin John and help him survive. Her off-the-grid living serves them well, and they fight back with a surprising helper, and Sarah is shown as still having a glimmer of mercy which is crucial to hold on to, even during the hardest of times. While her maternal side had to superseded by her need to keep John alive, she deeply loved him. (At the end of the post I included a scene that was cut from the theatrical release of Terminator 2 but included in the director’s cut. I adored the romance between Sarah and Kyle, and the first movie is my absolute favorite movie ever because of their chemistry. Watch it!)

Ever vigilant. Photo credit- Dark Fate

Other Terminator movies establish John’s further growth as a leader, and Sarah’s eventual demise, but for the 2019 movie, they are glossed over (thank God, as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and the reboot Terminator Genisys (2015) were not good at all) and Sarah’s story moves straight from Judgement Day to Dark Fate. So, in the most recent movie, 25 years have transpired and Sarah remains a warrior, but within the first few minutes, we are shocked to discover that Sarah’s life took a hard and unexpected turn years ago. (Aside- I’m still not on board with what happened and am still salty, but I will resist spoiling it). Sarah is now poised to be a mentor for another woman whose fate is about to change in radical ways.

In the most recent movie, there is a reference to Sarah as viewing herself a martyr for the cause, as purely a vessel for a future man to take center stage, and she resents that her protegee Dani is being terrorized as she had been. Eventually, Sarah, who is battle-weary, heartbroken and angry, learns that Dani’s fate is different than her own, and it connects with what her beloved Kyle told her years ago, “The future is not set- there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Sarah and John- her love for him was shadowed by her desire to protect him at all costs. Photo credit- Terminator 2

What I have appreciated about the role of Sarah over the years is her transformation from a damsel in distress victim in the first movie to a soldier willing to make hard choices. She sacrificed everything, including a loving relationship with her son, to prepare him and ultimately the rest of the human race for what she expected to happen. Indeed, she almost lost her humanity fighting against a future she wanted desperately to stop.

The recurring theme of No Fate weaves in and out of the Terminator franchise, and Sarah’s courage and empathy are the pillars for her willingness to continue fighting even when the future looks hopeless. And those two touchpoints are crucial in a time when we might feel all is lost, such as the difficult time we are facing today. Our very future looks uncertain, as we face down a pandemic that at best feels surreal, at worst possibly apocalyptic. How Sarah dealt with the hand she was given as her entire life crumbled away unexpectedly, can be a lesson to us all in how to fearlessly face our uncertain future.  Not only did Sarah fight for her son, but she continued to be ever vigilant in helping others, for she never ever gave up.

May Sarah be an example to us-  we alone can shape our fate, for it is not set, but we must be prepared to make it the best we can.

-Nancy

Next week join us as Rob from My Side of the Laundry Room brings the #FictionsFearlessFemales series to a close for the year!

Header picture credit: Buzz Feed News

To catch the other amazing women in this series, check out:

Michael’s: The Doctor

Kathleen’s: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Kalie’s: Dani from Midsommar

Jeff’s: Queen Amidala

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Queen Amidala

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Jeff of The Imperial Talker– who is an expert on all things Star Wars. His themed haikus are unmatched and deep love for the Star Wars franchise makes his blog a pleasure to read! 

Jeff of The Imperial Talker

Standing behind the doors leading into the royal hanger, the Queen of Naboo, surrounded by her loyal handmaidens and advisers, must make a choice. One path will keep the teenage monarch on Naboo, with her people, risking capture and death at the hands of the invading Trade Federation. The alternative path will take her off-world, traveling with the two Jedi escorting her, running the Trade Federation blockade above her world in the hopes of reaching Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, to plead for help directly to the Senate.

“Either choice presents great danger, to us all,” the Queen says as she turns her head and looks at the handmaiden standing next to her.

“We are brave, your Highness,” the handmaiden responds, calmly speaking for herself and the other handmaidens.

To be brave is to be fearless, to stand firm and unflinching when confronting danger. Either path the Queen takes includes the risk of death, to herself and her retinue, but these handmaidens will face the risk with fearless poise standing side-by-side with their monarch.

But there is something else at play here, another layer hidden in the dialogue between a Queen and her assistant. In this scene from The Phantom Menace, the Queen we see is not the real Queen. No, she is actually a handmaiden, a loyal bodyguard charged with protecting the Queen by serving as a decoy dressed in royal attire. And the real Queen, Padmé Amidala, she is the handmaiden who has spoken.

This truth will not be revealed until later in the film when standing before the Gungan Boss Nass this handmaiden, Padmé, will confidently step forward, risking her own safety, and declare that she is Queen Amidala. Even though this revelation takes place late in the movie the gravity of the revelation reverberates through the entire film. It is possible then to add an interpretation to the statement “We are brave” by considering that Padmé, as Queen-in-disguise, is using the royal “We” when she speaks. And by viewing the term through this lens one can easily believe that Padmé Amidala is not only affirming the bravery of the handmaidens, but she is subtly but confidently affirming, as the true sovereign of the Naboo, that she is fearless.

Amidala's Reveal
Stepping forward, Padmé reveals that she is Queen Amidala.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Again and again we see Amidala model her bravery, in word and deed, simultaneously as handmaiden/Queen throughout The Phantom Menace. This is obvious when she reveals her identity to Boss Nass. Begging for help as she gets down on her knees – an act of pragmatic and diplomatic submission – Queen Amidala places herself and her party at the grace the Gungans. It pays off as her act of fearless humility convinces Boss Nass that Gungans and the Naboo can be friends and allies.

The Queen’s courage is also obvious when she and her retinue travel to the planet Tatooine.

Their vessel damaged as it ran the Trade Federation blockade surrounding Naboo, the two Jedi accompanying the royal entourage must identify a location that is free from Federation control to perform repairs. Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi chooses a locale: the desert planet Tatooine. The head of the Queen’s guard, Captain Panaka, inquires how the Jedi know their Federation enemy is not present on the world to which Qui-Gon Jinn answers, “It’s controlled by the Hutts.” “You can’t take her royal Highness there! The Hutts are gangsters,” Panaka declares, immediately raising his concerns. Never-the-less, Tatooine, a lawless world on the fringe of the galaxy, remains their destination.

Upon landing in the desert Qui-Gon Jinn, accompanied by the astromech droid R2-D2 and the Gungan Jar Jar Binks, will head towards Mos Espa to seek out the parts they need to repair the damaged vessel. But as they head off Captain Panaka will stop them. With him is the handmaiden Padmé who remains silent as Qui-Gon and Panaka speak:

“Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you,” the Captain explains.

“No more commands from her Highness today, Captain,” Qui-Gon responds, “the spaceport is not going to be pleasant.”

“The Queen wishes it. She is curious about the planet,” Panaka retorts.

“This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon warns. “Stay close to me,” he tells the handmaiden as the group continues towards Mos Espa.

Padme joins the Group
The “handmaiden” remains silent while Captain Panaka and Qui-Gon Jinn discuss whether she should join the group.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The exchange may not seem like much but it serves a clear purpose: to account for Padmé being part of the group heading into Mos Espa. Fair enough, but narratively this should not be necessary. If the handmaiden was part of the group to begin with we would think nothing of it. She would just be someone else who is seeking the parts for the damaged hyperdrive. So why bother briefly pausing the plot to account for the handmaiden tagging along with the party? Because Padmé is no ordinary handmaiden. Armed with the knowledge that “her Highness” IS the handmaiden, this exchange is no longer a narrative curiosity but a narrative necessity, a way of demonstrating, and reinforcing, that behind the veil of “handmaiden” resides a formidable monarch who is exercising her power and displaying her strengths.

Captain Panaka, as noted, expressed his reservation to the Jedi about taking “her royal Highness” to Hutt-controlled Tatooine. While we do not see it, we can presume he shared these reservations with the Queen herself. But now, in a surprising twist, the Captain has escorted the Queen, dressed as a commoner, into the hot desert to join the repair party. Why does he do this? Because “Her Highness” has issued a “command.” She has used her authority and given an order which the Captain is duty-bound to follow.

The command she has given – for a handmaiden to join the party – is a clever trick on the part of Amidala, a way to insert herself while maintaining anonymity. This does not come without risk. Captain Panaka is not wrong that Tatooine, being controlled by galactic gangsters, is a dangerous world. Qui-Gon Jinn acknowledges this as well, admitting that “the spaceport is not going be pleasant.” The Queen does not flinch. Instead, she is putting words into action, showing “We are brave” by placing herself in an unpredictable and potentially precarious situation.

Granted, this decision does seem ill-advised. Being fearless is laudable, but it is difficult to justify being reckless. “This is not a good idea,” Qui-Gon explains, a clear indication that he does not want anyone else to be put in danger, even a young handmaiden (although, for the record, I believe he knows Padmé is the Queen but that is a conversation for another time). Were something to happen to Amidala in Mos Espa – a run in with the Hutts, for example – the consequences could imperil not only her safety but the safety of the planet Naboo. So how can one justify her decision to join?

For starters, we can think about why she is joining the group. As Captain Panaka explains, the Queen “wishes” for the handmaiden to go with Qui-Gon Jinn because “she is curious about the planet.” Thus, we are explicitly told that the Queen is inquisitive, a quality which demonstrates her desire to lead effectively, gaining new insights and perspectives which will inform future decisions. Stuck on Tatooine for the time being, Queen Amidala chooses to step out of the comfort of her royal yacht so she might gain firsthand knowledge about her galaxy. Notably, this is exactly what happens when she meets Anakin Skywalker, a precocious 9-year-old boy, and is shocked by the revelation that he is a slave. The Queen was clearly under the impression that the abominable institution did not exist. In turn, after meeting Anakin’s mother Shmi, the Amidala learns that the Republic’s anti-slavery laws do not extend to every planet. A sobering truth that challenges her understanding of the Galactic Republic’s legal and moral reach, this discovery foreshadows the truth she learns a short time later about the ineffectiveness of the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor.

Padme and Anakin
Padmé meets Anakin Skywalker and learns a harsh truth: he is a slave.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Like her fearlessness, Amidala’s inquisitiveness is laudable. Yet, it does not entirely justify her decision to risk danger in the spaceport. Except, it does if we view it not solely as a pursuit for galactic knowledge. Rather, it should be interpreted as an example of the Queen’s strategic thinking. While Mos Espa is “not pleasant” and dangerous, given the situation it is also the safest place Queen Amidala can possibly be, a fact she must be aware of since she has given the command to “take her handmaiden.” Think of it like this: if the Trade Federation does track them down, discovering the royal yacht on the outskirts of Mos Espa, Amidala will not be there. Instead, the enemy will find the decoy Queen, along with the other handmaidens, the captain of the royal guard, and even a Jedi protector.

Meanwhile, Queen Amidala will be blending into the crowded streets of the unpleasant spaceport as the handmaiden Padmé. She will be fearlessly hiding in plain sight, as she does throughout The Phantom Menace, with no one the wiser.


Fiction’s Fearless Females is in it’s second year! Yay! The series runs for the month of March and along with myself will feature posts by Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, and Mike of My Comic Relief. Be sure to follow each of these blogs (as if you don’t already!) and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series.

*****

The Imperial Talker is Jeffrey Cagle. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from Mercyhurst College and a Masters of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University.  A lifelong fan of everything Star Wars, Jeffrey enjoys combining his academic interests with his love of the “galaxy far, far away.” When he is not lost in his imagination, he is spending time with his family or coaching volleyball.

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dani from Midsommar

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full– whose intelligent blog is all about horror books and movies. Her posts are a must-read, for her writing is dread-fully insightful!

By Kalie of Just Dread-Full

Dani Midsommar 5
Dani and her emotionally distant boyfriend, Christian

Warning: Because of the film I’ve decided to talk about, the following subject matter will be unavoidably uncomfortable and dismal. Second Warning: If you’ve not yet seen Midsommar and you want to see it, well, first of all, get to it 🙂 (it’s free on Amazon Prime), and second, you may encounter some spoilers. Okay, you’ve been warned, onward:

I think it would be remiss to discuss the inception of this post without discussing the context. First of all, I’m writing in the fairly early morning of March 20th, which I’ve already mistaken for March 19th, because at this point we’re all basically quarantining ourselves (to the extent that we haven’t been governmentally mandated to quarantine) and the days are starting to slip assiduously into one another. Second, I, the super-introvert who initially prized herself on her abilities to hide out alone in her apartment while interacting with the outside world predominantly via telephone, almost lost my shit trying to execute my original idea: a first person monologue of the naked, decaying, monstrous half-corpse in The Shining who emerges from the shower of room 237 first (presumably) for Danny – in the movie – and second, more overtly, for Jack. You need to understand, I was perhaps overly excited about the idea of a first-person fictional exploration, and one that gave a voice to an otherwise voiceless female, until I tried to make it happen and felt that it flopped completely (the piece was so odd that it was utterly unrelatable). So, here I am, at 6:30 a.m., attempting to execute a “backup” plan for my “Fiction’s Fearless Females”* post before I run to the grocery store to go apocalypse shopping.

So, instead of creating a monologue by a startlingly voiceless naked monster-woman who lurks in the bathroom of an expensive hotel, I’m going to take an easier route and discuss Dani (played by Florence Pugh) in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, because she’s nothing if not a complex, often difficult to understand but ultimately at least somewhat fearless fictional female. Michael suggested writing about Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyog’o, in Us, and I almost did that – because she is fascinating and brilliantly acted – both the original character and the “tethered” version of her character – but I ultimately had more of the “Dani” post already in my head, and felt I could write about her without re-watching Midsommar (I can’t say the same for Adelaide) so I went with my easiest bet, especially since my post is late already (and yes, for that I blame the plague).

Dani Midsommar 6So what we learn about Dani in the beginning of Midsommar is that she seems perpetually concerned about, and perhaps overly responsible for, her sister, who has Bi-Polar Disorder; we don’t know much about her sister beyond that. The sister’s mental illness seems like her defining marker and is the presumed impetus of the calamity that will ensue after the first couple minutes of the film. I tend to be wary of the use of mental illness as a stereotypically cheap plot device, but I guess that’s neither here nor there right now – indeed, it’s another post entirely. So Dani reads an e-mail from her sister about not being able to take it anymore, about “going away” and taking her parents with her, and while Dani’s somewhat coldly indifferent boyfriend, Christian, assures Dani that her sister has said similar things before and it’s an attention-getting ploy, we learn a few minutes later that Dani’s sister has killed herself and the girls’ parents by running a hose from the toxic gas emission of a car through various parts of the home that Dani’s parents and sister share. And, if I recall the film correctly, Dani’s the one who finds them all dead. Though there’s not much in the way of typical horror movie gore, the scene is both chilling and gruesome through its terse, simple camera shots, and the whole ordeal invokes that macabre sense of morbidity that is, in my opinion, becoming such a hallmark of Aster films as he continues to add to his repertoire.

Losing your entire immediate family to a murder-suicide, finding the bodies, and being in a situation where you can (wrongly) justify your responsibility for the travesty’s occurrence is a catastrophic trio of trauma. Indeed, this sequence of events seems noteworthy and calamitous enough to comprise a cinematic climax, and yet, all these events do is lay the foundation for a plot that’s enigmatic and emotionally grueling – for at least some of the main characters in the diegetic narrative, and for the viewers, who are likely astounded to contemplate what direction a film that starts such a way will go, based on its sinister and disturbing beginning.

Dani Midsommar 7
Pelle comforting Dani, something Christian has trouble doing

One element of the film that interests me, of course, is Dani’s reaction to the trauma she faces, and how her reaction drives the narrative. I’m also tempted to make the case, as I analyze Dani a little bit closer, that while I do like her character, her “fearlessness” in this film might be – depending on how you read the film – her shortcoming, her Achilles heel, her downfall, even if it’s a laudable characteristic. Fear, after all, though sometimes needlessly hyperbolic and speculative, and though pretty much always unpleasant, has served its purpose for centuries when it creeps through our psyche and settles in the deepest recesses of our mind. And it is also, in some sense, a leveler – an irrevocable marker of the human condition. The word “fearless,” to that end, is always used with a certain implicit qualifier: the reality that everyone is afraid at some point, even if they appear confident, even if they walk through their terror with grace and seem to surmount it. At the same time, when we rally against fear, from a religious or socio-cultural standpoint, what we seem to be rallying against the most is an excessive amount of fear that traps us and mutates our daily life into a chaotic labyrinth of “what ifs” and “I hope nots.” In fact, it seems especially appropriate in these times to admit both that fear is indelible (and indispensable) while warning ourselves that too much fear will consume us. Fear itself, in reasonable doses, keeps us from touching hot flames and fighting bears. In the abstract, it’s not such a deplorable emotion.

And in Midsommar’s narrative, it could have been an emotion that saved Dani from a lot more trauma – trauma compounded upon the initial trauma of losing her family in a horrible way. It is obvious to the viewer that Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, is not “good boyfriend” material. Though he’s not malicious, his friends are a pack of immature douchebags who happen to be anthropology PhD students, and Christian is much more of a follower than a leader. This is a group of guys who puts Dani down, keeps trying to persuade Christian to break up with her, and objectifies women constantly and consistently when they’re together. So when, in a gesture of fearlessness, Dani talks Christian into taking her with him and his group of friends to experience a Midsommar festival in Sweden, her fearlessness is a bit distressing. We’ve already seen her constantly try to appease Christian and to make him think and feel that he’s right about every one of their disagreements by this point in the film – and we don’t criticize her for it, because it’s understandable given her situation, and anyway she’s still remarkably level-headed for a young 20-something year-old woman who’s lost her entire family in the blink of an eye. But it would be reasonable, based on her desire to go to Sweden with Christian, to infer that she really does think he’s right about all their disagreements, that she deems herself wrong for wanting the amount of support and affection she secretly desires (and certainly deserves) from her boyfriend. The film keeps Dani in her place just enough for us to assume we know better than her, and it thus tempts us all to say that if we were in Dani’s situation, we’d never go on a trip with a bunch of immature assholes to watch an unusual, possibly religious ceremony in another country, especially if the option followed shortly after the deaths of our entire family. But, what we fail to realize when making that self-assessment is that most of us have never been and will never be in Dani’s position. Whether she is afraid of Christian’s month-long absence or desperate to escape the sadness of her post-traumatic daily life (or some combination thereof), we are likely to sympathize with her desire to go to Sweden with Christian and his friends, even as we cringe at the precariousness of the situation.

Dani’s perhaps harmful and hyperbolic fearlessness is evident almost immediately when the trip begins. Pelle, one of Christian’s anthropology friends, the one who’s from Sweden and invited the rest of the guys to the festival, offers the group some ceremonial fungus to celebrate the oncoming tradition. While popping hallucinogens might not seem like the most enticing undertaking for a person who’s witnessed a major trauma and is in an unfamiliar place with a “boyfriend” who only half-likes her, Dani’s fearlessness (of the consequences) and/or her fear (of not fitting in with the guys) drives her to take the mushrooms anyway. Of course, when she does, it’s not a pleasant experience for her – a reality that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read or heard the least amount of information about hallucinogens. Such drugs tend to morph with your mood, to emphasize, exaggerate, and re-create your most salient or your most subdued, secret insecurities, fears, and impulses, so the fact that Dani takes the mushrooms is a decision that could underscore the degree of naivete embedded in her fearlessness; it does not seem inaccurate to argue that, perhaps, she believes she can handle more discomfort (more additional trauma, even) than she actually can.

Dani Midsommar 4
Dani mid-ceremony as May Queen

While I could dissect this film scene by scene, doing so might actually require that I re-watch it (and, as you probably know, life in an apocalyptic plague is surprisingly busy), and I think such an article might get tedious. After having done some of my own research on the film, there are two slightly overlapping but dichotomous reads of the events that ensue once the group reaches Sweden. For a little background, the rest of the plot takes us through the often gruesome, always unpredictable, generally strange Midsommar festival, with its sacrifices (homicides), dining rituals, and bizarre sex scenes, and we’re likely to learn that after a certain point, rather early in the film, Dani couldn’t escape the festival if she wanted to. Indeed, the visitors who do try to escape after witnessing the first “sacrifice” (the ostensible suicide of two village elders) only show up later as semi-mutilated corpses that the cult caught and killed. So the question of Dani’s decision making, to the extent that it was ever relevant, becomes eclipsed by the question of her agency: Dani, we come to see, fairly early in the film, loses the ability to choose. Indeed, the cult and its Midsommar ritual seem so careful, so calculating, and so manipulative, that Dani becomes more or less an object tossed about amid more knowing subjects, a person following the mandates of greater forces – with trepidation, but without much option to do otherwise.

Until, that is, we reach the concluding scene of the film – and here’s where our different readings of the film might impact how we assess Dani’s fearlessness. The last scene of the film foregrounds a tent full of corpses – corpses of other visitors that have been killed, stuffed with straw like scarecrows, and positioned upright in the tent like deranged dolls. The corpses await their final burning – the ultimate sacrificial gesture committed by the cult, after a variety of dining scenes, games, and unusual rituals – but they require one more body to sacrifice. So they present Dani with an option: she can sacrifice Christian (who has not only mistreated her, but cheated on her when coerced into a sex ritual at one point in the film), or a presumably innocent man that she doesn’t know. They’ve given Christian a drug that paralyzes him so he can’t try to escape, and they sit him next to an innocent stranger. Presumably because of the coldness, even the cruelty, that Dani has experienced from Christian, Dani chooses to sacrifice him, and one of the final scenes of the film focuses on Christian being burned wearing a giant bear suit in the tent that he shares with the other corpses, while the rest of the members of the cult dance in celebratory unison outside the tent.

Some viewers consider this conclusion a happy ending, and if we take that route, it’s easy to position Dani as the fearless victor, despite the fact that joining a murderous cult and becoming their revered “May Queen” during a strange ceremony are both rather fortuitous occurrences. It’s obvious throughout the film that Pelle, who invited most of the group to Sweden knowing full-well they’d be sacrificed, has always liked Dani. Indeed, throughout the film, he treats her more kindly than Christian does. So Dani exercises the power given to her by the cult, mandates Christian’s sacrificial execution, and will live in Sweden with her new family, the cult – a family that includes Pelle, who we might presume was hoping for this ending the entire time. I’ve even read speculation that the death of Dani’s parents and sister were a set up by Pelle, a way to dictate her circumstances so that she’d chose to accompany Christian to Sweden. I don’t know if I completely accept this reading of the film, but it does position Dani as both intrepid explorer and ultimate victor against her creep of a boyfriend.

Dani Midsommar 9
Danny and Christian watch a sacrificial cliff jump.

My read of the film tends to be, I suppose, more traditional. I don’t doubt that the read I just provided is more original, that it “reads between the lines” in an interesting way. Indeed, those who adhere to the aforementioned reading tend to see Hereditary and Midsommar as Aster’s cinematic couple – one depressing and dismal (Hereditary), and the other airy and light (Midsommar). Such a read supposes that death and terror are always going to be imbricated in the narrative of a horror film, but that even horror films, with all their concomitant hideousness, can produce hopeful messages. I, on the other hand, don’t view Midsommar as particularly hopeful. Like all the visitors who visit the cult, Dani tends to be tossed around by their traditions; she fills the role they tell her to fill during the ceremony, even though she gets to wear a crown of pretty flowers and becomes the May queen. We have no reason to infer that her queenly status will last past the Midsommar festival, and after that, who knows what strange events she’ll have to undergo at the behest of her new cult-family. Even her position of “power” at the end of the film puts her in a tenuous space: she must select a person to die. Though she can use her temporary power as a means to get back at her asshole of a boyfriend (an option she chooses, in the end), she doesn’t have the power to reject sacrificial killing completely, and the elaborate drawings that adorn the walls of one of the buildings owned by the cult – drawings that rightly predict the end of the Midsommar ceremony – lead us to believe that more uncomfortable, even horrific traditions await Dani. What’s more – she’s stuck. This isn’t a chosen family; it’s a family she accidentally stumbled into and one – if those who tried to escape previously are any indication – one that she can’t leave.

In light of Dani’s situation, we might suggest that she’ll have to maintain a certain level of her already evident fearlessness to adapt to the new life that sits in front of her. It’s tempting to see the floral head-wear and the kindness of Pelle as inviting signals that Dani’s found a better place, a better group of people, but I doubt that. Dani, who certainly exhibits a type of fearlessness that we can all applaud when she moves on with her life after her family’s death, when she asserts herself and emphasizes that she wants to go to Sweden with Christian, is ultimately – or may ultimately – be a victim of her own courage. One reading of Midsommar definitely does not reward female fearlessness, to be sure. But perhaps what my dear mother says about life is true: The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe Dani’s situation isn’t ideal now that she’s a member of a hidden Swedish cult, but is the situation really much better than living in a city and country where your parents have been killed and your sister killed herself, sharing a house with a cold, distant boyfriend who stays with you because he’s afraid to break up? Quite truthfully, I’m tempted to invoke the cliché, “six to one, half-dozen to another” to answer this question. After the death of her parents and sister, Dani’s position in the world is cruel and traumatic no matter what line of plot twists we choose. And she does buckle under this cruelty, but she never breaks. For maintaining her sanity in the face of chaos, for maintaining her sense of self in the face of a boyfriend who constantly ignores or disparages her, Dani is, truly, a fearless fictional female.

Just Dread-full’s note: The “Fiction’s Fearless Females” series is a tradition that was started last year between multiple blog. This year, participating blogs include Graphic Novelty2 (Nancy and Kathleen), My Side of the Laundry Room (Rob), The Imperial Talker (Jeff), My Comic Relief (Michael) and me! Because life has been busy, I haven’t posted any other installments of this series, but I likely will in the days to come. In doing so, I plan to broaden my generally genre-specific blog to allow space for some new voices and perspectives. As such, stay tuned! (P.S.: Pardon the inconsistent italics; WordPress is being counter-intuitive).

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Fiction’s Fearless Females is back! That’s right folks, your favorite bloggers are back with this series for Women’s History Month: Nancy and I, Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room. Michael kicked off the series earlier this week with his wonderful post on the 13th iteration of Doctor Who (which you can read on his blog or on ours). Not to worry, for more posts featuring your favorite fictional females from all these other fabulous bloggers will be served up all month long 😉

This year for #FictionsFearlessFemales, I’ve chosen Barbara Gordon! Barbara was the original Batgirl, and became the hero Oracle after the events of The Killing Joke. Though Barbara Gordon is not the first superheroine (that mantle goes to Wonder Woman, as chronicled in last year’s FFF post), she is one of the first examples of a heroine derivative of a male hero: in this case, Batman. That doesn’t mean she is exactly like Batman, however, as we will see! Barbara was also the first superheroine to have a disability, making her debut as Oracle hugely important for representation in the comic industry.

Batgirl was written into Batman and Robin’s comics series at the request of the producers of the 1960’s Batman TV show. The creators of the show wanted to create a character who would appeal to a female audience, but they wanted her to premiere in the comics first. Therefore, William Dozier (executive producer and uncredited narrator of Batman), Julius Schwartz (DC comics editor), and Carmine Infantino (DC comics artist) collaborated to create Batgirl! She first appeared in Detective Comics #359 in January of 1967, the title of which was “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” In September of that same year, her first appearance on the TV show was aired, in the episode called “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin.” She was played by the late Yvonne Craig. (Wikipedia)

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Yvonne Craig as Batgirl from the 1960’s Batman TV show. (Source)

What I found particularly charming about Batgirl’s early comics (seen in her Bronze Age omnibus) was how easily and cheerfully she forcefully integrated herself into the Dynamic Duo to make it a Batfamily. Batman and Robin are puzzled and even alarmed at Batgirl’s sudden appearance, and they don’t believe she can be a good crime-fighter. They mince no words making their doubts known to her. Do those doubts bother Batgirl? Heck no! She razzes them right back, giving as good as she gets. Mostly, she lets her actions do the talking: using her brains and physical prowess to prove herself rather than her words. Barbara doesn’t let their misguided, misogynistic views of her get in the way of doing what’s right: joining their crusade to keep Gotham safe. Her persistence leaves Batman and Robin little choice but to accept her once they realize she’s not going anywhere!

Once they do accept Batgirl, she proves to be an invaluable member of the team. Though Batgirl is of course derivative of Batman, the two characters are very different. Barbara Gordon in her very first incarnation was the head librarian of the Gotham City Library by day (which, as a librarian myself, I cannot tell you how inspiring I find that and how much that means to me!!!). Her specialty from the start lay in information: finding it, distilling it, and following it to solve crimes. Later, after she became Oracle, the methods of her information gathering changed as she became a tech/computer wizard, and she delivered information to the right people rather than using it herself. But therein is her main difference from Batman: while he may be the World’s Greatest Detective, the best at deducing information, Batgirl is the expert of information gathering.

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An excerpt from “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl,” showing librarian Barbara Gordon first putting on the Batgirl costume for a Policeman’s Masquerade Ball. (Source)

Over her long and varied career, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl has fought crime, kept her identity a secret from her father (Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon), and even ran for the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. in the early 1970’s. Some of this story appears in the Bronze Age omnibus linked above. This was the start of the retirement of the character, with both Barbara and Batgirl appearing on and off in various DC titles until 1988. Her official retirement title, “Batgirl Special #1″ was published in July of that year.

Remember, however, that The Killing Joke (linked above) was published in March of 1988. Though Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s story was initially meant to be a one-shot about the Joker, it proved immensely popular both with long-time fans and newcomers. In the story, as the Joker tries to tell us his story, his origin is interspersed with the present-day, where he shoots Barbara Gordon through the spine (paralyzing her from the waist down), kidnaps Commissioner Jim Gordon, and attempts to torture him into losing his sanity. He tries to prove that anyone can go insane by having “one bad day,” like the day he had that ultimately drove him over the edge. That one-shot was so popular and influential to DC’s overall storyline that Barbara’s paralysis became canon. It was written into her last title, the “Batgirl Special #1″ mentioned above.

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The cover of the infamous Killing Joke graphic novel.

If you’ve never read The Killing Joke, I recommend you do on the basis of it being a milestone story in the overarching Batman lore. For my part, I could only stomach it one time, due to what I deem to be excessive violence against Barbara’s character (I wish I’m joking when I say that it gave me nightmares). Comic book author Gail Simone added Barbara (as Batgirl I) to her website “Women in Refrigerators,” in which she lists female comic book characters who have been killed, tortured, or otherwise depowered in some other way, often for the sake of a male character’s personal or story development. So, Barbara, up until this point, had been a popular character in her own right. She was connected to the ever-popular Batman, sure, but she was her own person, with her own title. In order to serve the story Moore and Bolland were trying to tell (to drive her father and Batman insane), her power was stripped away with a gunshot from the Joker.

… Or was it?

In 1996, a story called “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope” was published in The Batman Chronicles #5 (I know I’ve read and reviewed it here, but can’t find the omnibus I read it in to link!). This story, penned by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, shows the events of The Killing Joke and the year after from Barbara’s point of view. We see her struggle to accept her paralysis and with her physical therapy. But, we also see her discover her affinity with computers and hacking on the early internet. We see her learn to defend herself though she is now bound to a wheelchair. We see her find her purpose again.

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The end panel of “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope,” in which we see Barbara voice her complete transformation (Source).

Thus, Barbara Gordon becomes Oracle, expert computer wizard, hacker, and information broker not only to Batman, but to other superheroes and organizations as needed.

Also in 1996, Chuck Dixon’s crossover Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey was published, beginning my very favorite comic book series of all time: Birds of Prey. Oracle reaches out to the Black Canary, and the two form an unlikely partnership which later blossoms into friendship. In 2000, Gail Simone herself took over writing the BoP title, added Huntress to the main roster, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Volume 3 of the original Birds of Prey run, which was the first volume written by Gail Simone, and the first appearance of Huntress in the team!

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times. Birds of Prey is unequivocally my favorite comic book series. The Birds of Prey are THE landmark girl power group in comics. You have Barbara Gordon as Oracle, of course, Dinah Lance as the Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress. Separately, the three heroines are very different in crime fighting methods, race and nationality, socio-economic status, and abilities. Despite their differences, they learn to work together as a team. They eventually become much more than a team: they become a family.

This series having such a special place in my heart is in no small part due to Barbara Gordon. She may have started out as Batgirl, but she grew and evolved in ways that not many female comic book characters would have after her paralysis. If it weren’t for Ostrander and Yale’s intervention, Barbara might not have seen the light of day again in DC comic canon. She would have been shot, paralyzed, and retired permanently. Perhaps she would have made a few guest appearances here and there as Commissioner Gordon’s crippled daughter – but Ostrander and Yale knew better than that. They knew Barbara wouldn’t have resigned herself to that fate. They knew she would have fought to make something of herself again, and that is EXACTLY what she did.

Barbara might not have been able to physically kick ass as Oracle, but she served an important role in being one of the first physically disabled superheroes. She proved that even after suffering a horrific and life-changing experience, one can still pick themselves back up. One can fight through and even come out stronger on the other side – not necessarily in the same way, but that’s not a bad thing! Barbara proved that her worth was not necessarily in her body or in her physical accomplishments, but in her mind, her ability to think and to find, recall, and communicate information.

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Barbara as both Batgirl and Oracle, using information seeking skills to fight crime! (Source)

This is a very important distinction to make between Barbara Gordon and, say, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. Wonder Woman’s powers were bestowed upon her by her patron gods. Supergirl’s powers come from how our yellow sun’s rays interact with her Kryptonian (alien) DNA. Jessica Cruz, like all Green Lanterns, was chosen by a power ring, through which she can create corporeal constructs using her own willpower. Wonder Woman and Supergirl have amazing supernatural and physical capabilities that they were born with or that they were given. Though Green Lanterns need extraordinary mind- and willpower in order to create constructs through their ring – they need the supernatural device of their power ring in order to do so.

Barbara doesn’t have any of that. She has no supernatural crutches, so to speak. She only has her her human body and her sharp, analytical mind. Batgirl showed the world that girls can play in the boys’ sandbox (and damned what they think), but Oracle showed the world that the mind is what Barbara Gordon’s best asset is, and what ultimately makes her a hero.

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The cover of the first volume of New 52 Batgirl, which sees Barbara make her return as Batgirl.

For the New 52 that DC launched in 2011, we got to see Barbara (literally) stand up and become Batgirl once more. While the New 52 established a new continuity after the effects of Flashpoint, many previously canonical things were different – but not for Barbara. The events of The Killing Joke still happened, and Barbara really WAS paralyzed. She regained the use of her legs and her paralysis was reversed by way of an experimental surgery in the New 52. Gail Simone returned to pen Barbara’s second debut as Batgirl, this time as trying to relearn how to be Batgirl, and trying to work through the trauma and PTSD that the events of The Killing Joke had left her. Though she was no longer bound to a wheelchair, there were still inner demons to overcome in order to be a hero. Even a powerful mind such as Barbara’s struggles with roadblocks, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks. And that’s powerful stuff.

Barbara Gordon has been both Batgirl and Oracle since the launch of the New 52, into Rebirth. The first volume of Rebirth’s Birds of Prey sees the newly re-formed Birds trying to uncover who has stolen Barbara’s Oracle mantle. Barbara is shown as a young adult, as she has been for most of her career, but this time with all of today’s technology – and she’s still very good at it 😉

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Probably my favorite costume – the Burnside one ❤ This is the textless variant of Batgirl #31. (Source)

Barbara Gordon is my Fiction’s Fearless Female for this year, but she is also one that is very near and dear to my own heart. She started out as a librarian (like me!), and used not just physical abilities, but mental abilities in order to fight crime and make a difference. She didn’t let Batman or Robin’s vocal disapproval stand in her way. Even after being shot and paralyzed by the Joker in 1988’s The Killing Joke, Barbara continued to be a hero under the mantle of Oracle and found new strength and purpose in not only the Oracle guise but in the Birds of Prey. Though she is now back as Batgirl after the New 52, Barbara’s heroism is mostly defined by her mind, not necessarily for supernatural abilities or physical prowess.

Barbara Gordon ultimately proves that women don’t need to kick ass to be badass.

Kathleen

Next week, look for Kalie’s Fictional Fearless Female on her blog, Just Dread-full. Join us back here for Jeff of The Imperial Talker and then Nancy’s post. Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room will wrap up this year’s series! Please continue to join us in this celebration of #FictionsFearlessFemales during Women’s History Month!

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dr. Who

Today is International Women’s Day, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the second year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of:  Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. First up is Michael from My Comic Relief– whose blog is must reading for his brilliant views on comics, Star Wars, social justice, and of course Dr. Who! 

By Michael Miller of My Comic Relief

In celebration of International Women’s Day today and Women’s History Month to follow, I’ve teamed up with a group of other bloggers to write a series saluting some of our favorite female characters. Going first was a bit intimidating. Who could I write about? Who has the gravitas worthy of beginning our month-long celebration of these incredible characters? Then it hit me – it’s the Doctor! It seemed so obvious once I thought of her. So, in honor of International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month, and to kick-off our month-long series I’m exploring the Doctor, as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker in Series Eleven and Twelve (with more to come!) of Doctor Who. Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dr. Who”

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Wendy Torrance

The last of our planned eight piece series on Fiction’s Fearless Females is here! In celebration of Women’s History Month and beyond, both of us here at Graphic Novelty² joined forces with some amazing bloggers to celebrate women. Kalie of Just Dread-full features Wendy Torrance, the scream queen of the Stephen King movie The Shining, and brings us home with her post. While Wendy might seem an atypical choice for this series, Kalie expertly shows how Wendy persevered despite her fear. And while you are checking out Kalie’s post, make sure you read the rest of her blog about horror books and movies, for her writing is dread-fully insightful!

Guest Blogger: Kalie of Just Dread-full

Photo Credit — The Shining

One of my favorite scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a two or three second shock during which a series of terrifying events happen.  At this point in the film, Danny has been replaced by Tony, who’s saying “Redrum” in a voice that’s robotic at first and amplifies in intensity and urgency as Jack’s presence gets closer.  As Danny—or “Tony,” his psychic alter-ego—screams “Redrum,” Wendy reads the words backward in the mirror.  The camera pans in on the word “murder” written in childish handwriting with blood-red lipstick.  Almost as soon as we, the viewers, read “murder” in the mirror, we hear the unnerving sound of an ax chopping through wood and the camera moves to Jack, who wields the huge, sharp, silver device and uses it to slice through the wooden door of the caretaker’s quarters, where Danny and Wendy reside.  As if this nexus of sensation weren’t enough to alarm us, the viewers, and pull as even a little more deeply into The Shining’s sinister, unpredictable world, Wendy’s voice intercepts this moment with a simultaneously frenetic and bone-chilling scream—a scream that we’ll hear different variations of for the rest of the movie.  In turn, we, as the viewers—at least a little bit—start feeling Wendy’s maddening fear, and our cognition is ultimately forced to accept a mis-en-scene and narrative moment that’s eliminated anything reassuring or comforting for us to latch onto.  We are, in a sense, in the void, and we are there with Wendy.

Photo Credit — The Shining

Wendy may seem like an unusual choice to write about for a series entitled “Fiction’s Fearless Females,” for as any cursory fan of The Shining knows, Wendy—played by scream queen Shelly Duvall—is a flawed, often anxious character who lapses into a state of unbridled, near hysterical terror as the horror in The Overlook Hotel intensifies.  It occurred to me shortly after electing my character for this series that I may have chosen a character who I happen to love, but who doesn’t quite qualify as “fearless.”  Isn’t fearlessness something like maintaining impeccable sangfroid in the face of sometimes unspeakably horrifying, life-or-death situations?  Maybe fearlessness is only Princess Leia’s impressive, almost unwavering calmness and confidence, despite every obstacle she faces, in Episodes IV-VI of Star Wars.  Maybe fearlessness is only Ripley’s stolid leadership and remarkable competence as large, gooey, sharp-toothed, aggressive otherworldly beings invade a vulnerable ship floating around in outer-space.  Maybe—as some of my students suggested when we watched The Shining in my Reading the Monster class—maybe Wendy reifies some stereotypes of the quintessential “hysterical” woman.  Maybe she exercises bad judgement when she stays in the hotel with Danny as long as she does.  Maybe she exercises bad judgement because she’s stayed with Jack for so long, period.  Maybe she’s a door-mat.  Maybe she’s a chicken-shit.

Photo Credit — The Shining

Maybe.  The aforementioned observations are all compelling ones.  Reasonable minds could agree with all of them.  Most reasonable minds might agree with some of them.  For myself, personally, I’m inclined to think that by the time Wendy has reason to make her way down a mountain in what kind of equals a glorified snowmobile, Jack has annihilated all her escape options.  And it’s quite possible that she’s been emotionally abused by Jack throughout their whole marriage—at least, in Kubrick’s rendition of King’s story—and therefore is trapped in a typical cycle of abuse, a cycle that often precludes even the “strongest” women from breaking free as soon as they otherwise could or as soon as we often estimate they should.  What’s more, when it comes down to it, Wendy is plenty willing to sacrifice Jack to save herself and Danny.  After all, she conks Jack over the head with a bat and locks him in a freezer, with the intent of leaving him there while she escapes from The Overlook with Danny on a trip down a mountain, in the snow-cat, in the middle of fierce Colorado winter. And she befriends a sizeable kitchen knife during her ordeals so that she can stave off her raving husband by any means necessary.  So, we may be able to argue against some assertions that would make us question Wendy’s alleged “strength.”  But despite all of the possible arguments and counter-arguments about Wendy’s fortitude, at the end of the day, I’m not so sure any of it matters.  Wendy is evidently under insuperable distress.  In some ways, she’s a little bit of a mess before and during this distress.  Therein, I argue, lies not only her charm, but her ticket into this series.

Photo Credit – The Shining

I was having a conversation about courage once a long time ago.  One wise friend asserted that courage is that calm feeling of reassurance you have in your heart, the absence of fear in the face of incredible f***ing danger.  Shit, I thought to myself, in that case, I don’t know that I’ve ever had courage in my life. Luckily for me, another friend interjected and argued that courage was the decision to move forward, to take action, no matter how afraid you are.  Fearlessness, in this analysis—however paradoxically—lies not so much in the absence of fear, per se, but in the ability to push through that fear and act, no matter how much trepidation lies in your heart, no matter how riled up you might appear.  It is the refusal to let fear stop you when you’re called to action, and to perform the action anyway.  This definition, I’ll admit, I much preferred as I listened to the conversation, and it’s the one I tend to adopt in my life, though not always successfully.  It turns out that even being “fearless” in this way—demonstrating fearlessness by acting, no matter how scared you are—is a fairly daunting goal—as anyone who’s lived a few years on this earth can probably understand.  But it is this sort of fearlessness that Wendy accomplishes, despite whatever flaws she may have, despite her indisputably evident outward terror—and that, I think, is why I love her.

Photo Credit – The Shining

It would be easy, after all, to give up in Wendy’s situation.  She’s in a secluded hotel in the middle of the winter, and I would be inclined to argue that not only does she have a psychic son who’s a partial victim of his own power, not only is she warring against a mad husband who is malicious and mean beyond reason, to the point of murderous nefariousness, but she has—as I view the film—an entire, active pantheon of ghosts, an essentially vengeful, psychic hotel that encapsulates a wide range of unhappy spirits, acting against her.  It’s a force that exists beyond human force, a force that wants to kill her, a force that wants to subsume her husband and eliminate that pesky psychic son.  The situation is, in some senses, hopeless.  But, as the saying goes, “nevertheless, she persisted.”  Wendy shrieks and jumps and screams and cries and fights, and she plans and she reasons and she fights some more, and she puts Danny’s life first while simultaneously trying to preserve her own, if, primarily, for his well-being.  In fact, I’d argue that in the midst of traumatizing absolute terror, she makes smart decision after smart decision, and as a result, she and her unusually smart son beat the hotel at its own game.

Photo Credit — The Shining

Wendy is a jolting, electric force without being perfect, and I like that about her because in my own life, I find that coveting perfection can be beneficial, but it can also be counterproductive.  I often envision a more organized self who moves effortlessly and quickly through her PhD program, who is a dynamic, engaging teacher every single day and at the same time a perfect friend, girlfriend, sister and daughter – someone with strong convictions and a good heart, who keeps a meticulous house and eats leafy greens with every meal.  I want to be a grad student who’s always dressed impeccably and stylishly, but whose savings account is always ample as well.  I want to be centered and peaceful, to create the perfect interior and exterior—and maybe, if I have time, the perfect social media persona.  Sometimes, in fact, my ideal self becomes so exhausting to think about (and so far from the real story) that it’s no wonder I resent perfection. It definitely has its place in film; there are a lot of almost “perfect” film characters that I adore—and I certainly believe in striving to be better in my own life, despite how I might meander, at times—but good God, trying to live up to my own ideal of perfection is exhausting.  And I think that’s kind of how perfection works for most of us—the desire to improve is a motivator, for sure, but taken to extremes, visions of perfection can also be barriers to fulfillment.

Photo Credit – The Shining

Jacques Lacan said that human existence is defined by lack. This is how I understand his point: To some extent, our inner selves are always consciously seeking a more perfect version of the ego, a better “self” to replace the self that we perceive doesn’t have enough of one quality or another.  When I first heard this concept, it really resonated with me, because I think I’m someone who’s always been far quicker to register what she lacks than what she possesses.  But to Lacan, this is a universal element of being human; we all wish we had certain attributes that we don’t, and so we define ourselves by what we aren’t, instead of what we are.  This is the appeal of characters like Wendy, characters who don’t embody complete perfection.  As someone who tends to wish she were a little more “calm and collected,” a little more pulled together than she is, I get Wendy when she’s screaming and crying and wheezing while she’s trying to stave off her maniacal, murdering husband, even though I could never fully imagine being in an ordeal like hers.  And I doubt, most of the times, that I’d be doing her job as competently as she does it toward the conclusion of Kubrick’s film.  She is a spasmodic mess at points in the film, but she gets the job done—and she’s a good person, on top of it all.

Photo Credit — The Shining

When we walk away from Kubrick’s narrative, after all, we leave behind a Jack Torrance who’s an opaque shade of candy-colored white-blue, sitting, frozen stiff, in the cold.  Wendy and Danny have escaped.  We’ve seen them run to the snow cat that Dick Halloran drove when he demonstrated his own act of fearlessness and traveled to The Overlook to try and help the family.  The blustery winter is still formidable, and it may well be a symbolic harbinger of the blustering winter that lies ahead for Wendy and Danny—a life that will never feel completely safe or comfortable, a life without Jack, a life that will never be the same since madness and malice have further disrupted their already seemingly tumultuous relationships.  After all, any realistic viewer knows when they watch Wendy and Danny run through the snow to the snow cat, that should they make it down the mountain, it’s not the whimsical happily ever after that I perhaps imagined when I first watched the movie at age eleven and sighed with a sort of exultant relief at their surprising escape.  Life, which is just sort of inherently hard, will be harder for them, yet.  And still, they are alive.  And they are still alive, in large part, because of Wendy—a Wendy who emits maddening screams and tears, a Wendy who has her own flaws, a Wendy who can be hysterical to the point of spastic, but a Wendy perseveres and ultimately triumphs.

[Kalie’s Note: I wrote this piece as part of an epic blog team-up aimed at celebrating Fiction’s Fearless Females. The series launched on International Women’s Day and continues through…my belated post. Other awesome bloggers in this super-awesome series include: Kathleen and Nancy of Graphic Novelty2 , Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, Michael of My Comic Relief, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, and Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous. ]

Catch up on all the other Fiction’s Fearless Females:

Ellen Ripley

Captain Janeway

Amy Pond

Wonder Woman

Scarlett

Princess Leia

Rey 

 

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Rey

In celebration of Women’s History Month and beyondboth of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! This is the seventh of our planned eight piece series, and Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous features Rey of Star Wars!  In Kiri’s Star Wars blog she shares heartfelt reasons why Rey is fearless and connects the theme to love and her own life. Make sure you check out out her site and her thoughts on a galaxy far, far away…

Guest Blogger: Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous 

I have heard that the opposite of love is fear, not hate, which may be first emotion that comes to mind due to the love/hate analogies we often make. If we go by that assumption, then someone who is fearless, or without fear, is someone who loves immensely.

When asked by My Comic Relief to join in on the #FictionsFearlessFemales and write about a character from Star Wars, I immediately thought of Rey. Not Leia, like so many people often think of when they think about a fearless woman from Star Wars. Not Leia, but Rey.

Why is that?

As I dove deeper into my own exploration of Rey versus Leia and why I think Rey epitomizes a fearless woman more, I realized that much of why I like Rey is due to her relatability. Leia is stone, Rey is warmth. It’s not to say that Leia is not fearless, but more that I believe Rey is easier for me to relate to in her fearlessness.

When going by the theory that the opposite of fear is love, Rey demonstrates that in full capacity. When loving to your fullest extent, you:

  1. Love yourself
  2. Love others
  3. Love life

That is how you are fearless.

My past 6 months have been a whirlwind of horrible fear. In a nutshell, I have been bombarded with heavy subjects like drugs, addiction, overdose, death, and loss of money. I was not fearless. Even just writing this makes my heart rate rise and I get clammy hands. It was like an earthquake happened in my life. I am still dealing with aftershocks of this earthquake which namely include my lack of sleep due to hypnic jerks which leave me awake until 2 or 3am that happen night after night, physical symptoms that have been knots in my stomach for months so much so that I can’t distinguish happy or tense emotions from general anxiety, and pins and needles in my chest from sleeping in the fetal position every night.

I am not fearless. I am fear-filled.

To break away from fear, you need to love. You need to accept your limitations and others and love the life you have.

LOVE YOURSELF

Rey loves herself. I think she had to learn to love herself and be okay with waiting days on end for parents to return to her. This was part of her core and it gave her hope on Jakku. Even after the horrible realization that her parents were nobodies in The Last Jedi, she did not give into fear. Giving into fear would have been joining Kylo Ren because he would then represent the safety that she had been looking for in her parents. But Rey realized, or had possibly been beginning to realize through her training and with the mirror, that the safety and home she was looking for could only be found in herself.

Loving yourself means having a strong conviction and not deterring from it. Rey shows that stronger than any other Star Wars character, except possibly Luke in the Original Trilogy. In The Last Jedi, we are bombarded with the message of the movie: hope. But I think the message of the movie is always doing what you think is right, no matter what others think. Rey exemplifies this throughout both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but especially in The Last Jedi. I would not be able to continue to do what was right after

being turned away by Luke. She followed her feelings and went to save Kylo, even if it didn’t work out. She went back to the Resistance, instead of going back to Luke at the end of the movie even though it may have made more sense to continue her training. She knew she was needed with the Resistance, to bring them hope again. Rey’s sense of self makes her more fearless than many people I know in my everyday life.

LOVE OTHERS

Rey shows her love for others unabashedly. It’s one of the character traits that I aspire to – the fact that she can show her emotions and not fear her emotions.

So often our society tells us to hide our emotions and Hollywood perpetuates this with their definition of “strong”. I think it is the main reason that I could not relate to Leia when I grew up but related more to Luke. The one scene that I would act out over and over again when I was younger was when Luke tells Leia about Vader being her father. It’s the one scene where she lets her guard down, where her emotions overtake her and she needs to be held by Han at the end. It’s a glimmer of emotion.

I immediately connected to Rey after the first viewing of The Force Awakens. She laughs with such joy over simple fixes in the Millennium Falcon, her excitement over meeting Han Solo is so real, and her devastation over Finn’s possible death and serious wounds tugged my heart strings. Rey wears her heart on her sleeve and I love her for that.

She continues this in The Last Jedi. Her anger at Kylo erupts from her when she yells at him for not appreciating his father, her frustration with Luke at his unwillingness to help culminates in physical fight, and her delight in seeing Finn at the end of the movie reminds us of her loyalty to her friends and the Resistance.

I hope that we see more women like this in movies as Hollywood continues to evolve. Not only for women, but also for men. It’s okay to cry and it’s okay to be unrestrained in your joy. We don’t need to act like toddlers with no control whatsoever, but we need to get over our fear of showing our emotions. We need to become fearless, like Rey.

LOVE LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

We love life by walking through it without fear holding us back. We take leaps of chance, hoping it turns out okay, and if it doesn’t, knowing that we will be okay in the end. When you’re filled with fear, you don’t follow your passions, it’s hard to make attachments and your focus is keeping yourself safe.

While safety is important, if we are always full of fear about something happening, we miss out on the beauty life offers us.

Rey waited around on Jakku for her parents to return for a long time and with a lot of patience. But when Finn and BB-8 were thrown into her life, she accepted the change and went along with what life threw at her. She had an adventure of a lifetime.

Rey loved herself enough to know that she would harness life and try new things without fear. She felt the Force, and used it to get out of her jail cell. She went off in search of Luke Skywalker and stayed there until she knew life was pushing her in a different direction. Rey could have stayed on Ahch-To long past when she left, insisting on doing things the “right” way and getting a complete training. But instead, she followed a different path and believed that life and the Force would take her where she needed to be.

We may not have the Force, but we do have gut feelings. We are only given one life, as far as we know. Don’t give into the fear of feeling like nothing will work out and that you need to remain safe. That is a fear trap.

If you made it to the end of the post, I hope you are swayed on how Rey is fearless, and perhaps more fearless than Leia. Today is my birthday and while I was writing this, I knew that this next year had to be one of less fear and more love. To stop worrying because what will be, will be. I no longer want to feel the chains of fear, but instead to have more conviction in my beliefs, show more emotion, and take chances that throw me into an adventure.

In short, I hope to be more like Rey and be FEARLESS.

******

I’ve joined forces with some other exciting bloggers and YouTubers – Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief and Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog – for a little salute to “Fiction’s Fearless Females.” Starting on International Women’s Day and going forward over the next couple months, a different contributor will offer their take on a favorite female who harbors a fearless spirit. Click on the links below to read about the other women being profiled.

Fiction’s Fearless Females

Ellen Ripley

Captain Janeway

Amy Pond

Wonder Woman

Scarlett

Princess Leia

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Princess Leia

In celebration of Women’s History Monthboth of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! This is the sixth of our planned eight piece series, and Jeff of The Imperial Talker features Princess Leia of Star Wars! I do not think it was a coincidence he posted the feature on his site the day before the first trailer dropped for Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (OMG, the movie looks fantastic!). Read on to find out what this Star Wars expert has to say about the indomitable Leia Organa!  

Guest Blogger: Jeff of The Imperial Talker

There is a line in Star Wars: A New Hope which often gets lost in the greater scope of the film, a quote which points to the toughness of the movie’s lone female protagonist, Princess Leia. It comes when Darth Vader, the movie’s villain, speaks to Grand Moff Tarkin, the secondary villain in the film. Pacing back and forth as if annoyed, Vader admits that, “Her [Leia’s] resistance to the mind probe is considerable. It will be some time before we can extract any information from her.” Prior to this admission, we saw Vader enter Princess Leia’s prison cell with an interrogation droid floating behind him, a needle protruding from the droid and Leia’s face giving off subtle apprehension. Now, Vader states that it was for not, that the Princess has resisted this “mind probe” and that breaking her will take more time.

I have always loved this line; it has always resonated with me because it points directly to the fearless resolve which resides in the heart of Princess Leia. Even before Vader utters these words, we know that Leia is a force to be reckoned with, a whirlwind of confidence capable of holding her own. After all, it is Leia who was leading the mission to Tatooine to find Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi at the film’s outset. When the ship fell under attack, Leia created a new plan to secure Kenobi’s help EVEN AS IMPERIAL SOLDIERS STORMED THE VESSEL! Dispatching the droid R2-D2 to Tatooine’s surface, Leia awaited her inevitable capture, and even shoots/kills an Imperial stormtrooper before she is apprehended.

Leia and Vader
Leia confronts Darth Vader after her ship is attacked and she is captured.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Captured by the Empire’s white-armored soldiers, Princess Leia is escorted before Darth Vader, the nefarious and imposing villain we were JUST formally introduced to as he lifted a man by the neck and crushed his windpipe. The black-clad Vader towers above the petite, white dressed Princess, an obvious visual meant to represent the power of the evil Empire towering over the small, fledgling Rebellion. But Leia is far from intimidated. Oh no, not only does she stand tall next to this masked monster, she speaks first AND is the one who chastises him with palpable disdain!!!

In just a few frames, Leia presents herself as competent and fearless, especially under pressure. Rather than quivering and backing down, she boldly stands her ground against imposing odds. It is no wonder then that later, when Darth Vader assaults Leia, probing her mind for the “location of the Rebel base”, her resistance is “considerable.” Princess Leia is the embodiment of fearless resolve, the very heart and soul of the small Rebellion against an Empire which spans a galaxy. There was never a chance the mind probe would work, it was always going to be an act of futility on the part of Vader.

An Alternative Form of Persuasion

It is Grand Moff Tarkin who chooses a new tactic to extract the information they seek following the failure of the mind-probe. Rather than probing her mind, Tarkin gives Leia a choice: give up the location of the Rebel base OR watch as her home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star superweapon. It is a brilliant move on Tarkin’s part, one that catches Leia off-guard. Pleading with him, the Princess turns into a supplicant as she tells the Grand Moff her planet is “peaceful” and has “no weapons.” Tarkin, of course, does not care and, presenting the question again, demands to know where the Rebel base is located. It is now that Leia gives in: “Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.”

Leia Stares Down Tarkin
Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin square-off.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

That Leia gives in to Tarkin is shocking, but all the more painful as Leia must continue to stand and watch as Alderaan is destroyed. This is an unsurprising move on Tarkin’s part, an obvious example being made to the whole galaxy (and the Princess) that no one, not even “peaceful” worlds, are safe from Imperial military might. Now, the fearless young woman who stood her ground at the film’s opening, who chastised Vader and resisted his mind probe must steel herself as she watches her home world and her family perish in a ball of fire.

And yet, what we do not realize in this moment is that Leia has tricked Tarkin. Presented with the choice of Alderaan being destroyed OR the Rebellion being destroyed, the quick-thinking Princess chose a different route: an open-ended lie. We do not discover this right away, not until an Imperial officer informs Tarkin that scout ships discovered a deserted Rebel base on Dantooine. Furious, but more importantly humiliated, the Grand Moff orders the immediate execution of the Princess.

That Leia lies about the location of the Rebel base is brilliant, a narrative misdirect that leads Tarkin and the audience alike to THINK this strong-willed woman has caved under pressure. It is easy to forget this, as later we DO discover the real location of the Rebel base. But in this instance, we are led to believe Leia has given it up, that Dantooine is, in fact, the location. Instead, what we discover a few scenes later is that Princess Leia was in control the entire time, and while her plea to the Grand Moff that “Alderaan is peaceful” is certainly genuine, it, too, was also part of her quick thinking plan to save both Alderaan AND the Rebellion.

Awaiting Tarkin’s Fury

Knowing she has lied to Grand Moff, we can surmise that after being returned to her cell that the Princess sat and waited for Tarkin’s fury. Surely, too, she sat there in mourning, the loss of her world and family weighing heavily on her heart. One could hardly criticize the fearless female if she did break down and cry, although it is hardly necessary to know whether she did. The imagination is enough in this case.

Regardless, when we next see Leia she is reclining on the hard bench in her detention cell. Luke Skywalker, wearing stormtrooper armor, barges in to the rescue and, without missing a beat, the reclined Princess – certainly suspecting Tarkin’s fury has arrived – directs a shot of insulting sarcasm at the soldier: “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” While Vader’s comment about her resistance to the mind-probe directly points to Leia’s strong-willed personality, this shot of sarcasm – coupled with the sarcasm she throws at Tarkin earlier (see video clip) – highlights her constant disposition towards her Imperial foes. Basically, Leia is always ready to level an attack against the Empire, even if that attack is in the form of words alone.

But she is also more than happy to criticize her own allies, in this case her rescuers: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Cornered by Imperial soldiers in the detention center, the Princess chastises the films heroic men, noting that it “Looks like you managed to cut off our only escape route.” What makes this all the better is that the quick-thinking Princess – who, we should remember, was not anticipating a rescue – immediately comes up with a plan and puts it into action. Taking the blaster from Skywalker, Leia blasts open the wall across from her and demands that everyone jump into the garbage chute. Before objections can be raised, Leia is already on her way into the depths of a Death Star trash compactor.

To be perfectly honest, this has always been my favorite “Leia Moment” in A New Hope. On one hand, her action makes the film’s heroes – Luke and Han – look incredibly foolish for not actually thinking about HOW they should go about completing their rescue mission. On the other hand, and more importantly, this moment demonstrates a clear reversal in fortune for the Princess. When the film begins, and her ship falls under attack, the protocol droid C-3PO tells R2-D2, “There will be no escape for the Princess this time.” True in that moment, C-3PO is ultimately proven wrong as Leia not only escapes, but does so by taking control of her own rescue when she and her allies are quite literally backed into a corner.

Into the Garbage Chute
“Into the garbage chute, flyboy!” – Princess Leia
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

But there is an additional element of control which Leia brings to her escape: her decision to travel directly to the Rebel Base on Yavin 4. Why, if Leia knew the Millennium Falcon was being tracked, would she willingly lead the Empire to the Rebel Base, the location she resisted sharing with Vader and Tarkin? For some time, I felt this was a curious move on her part, a clear flaw in her thinking. Yet, the deeper I have considered it, the more I have realized that it is the safest choice given the stakes. With Alderaan destroyed and Obi-Wan Kenobi dead, Princess Leia is left with the only choice that makes any sense: getting the Death Star schematics stored in R2-D2 to the Rebel High Command as quickly as possible. A detour to another world, or a stop to acquire a new ship, runs the risk of Imperial capture, while traveling directly to the Rebellion ensures that the Death Star information (not to mention her own life) is protected. Besides, the sooner the schematics are delivered, the sooner the Rebellion can craft a plan of attack to destroy the planet-killing superweapon.

A Beacon of Hope

Once Leia and company arrive at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 her role in the film becomes primarily observational. While Luke Skywalker will jump into an X-Wing to participate in the impending engagement, and Han Solo will get a reward and leave before the fight begins, Leia will stand in the Rebel Command Center watching the battle unfold on display screens. Admittedly, it is a bit odd that with the Death Star approaching and preparing to destroy the Rebel Base, Leia (along with others) choose to stand-around watching rather than evacuating. On some level, this sorta gives away what we know the inevitable outcome of the battle will be: the Rebels will win and the Death Star will be destroyed.

On another level, though, that Leia remains in the Command Center puts the final stamp of bravery on her fearless nature. With the Death Star approaching and preparing to destroy Yavin 4, it is conceivable that the Princess was asked (perhaps even ordered!) to evacuate before the battle begins, her safety and importance to the Rebellion being tantamount. Instead, by remaining, Princess Leia reveals once more that she is the very heart of the Rebel cause, a beacon of hope for the Rebel soldiers fighting the Imperial war machine. She may not be in an X-Wing or Y-Wing fighting the battle, nor giving orders as a General, but Leia’s stoic presence in the face of imminent death testifies not only to her personal resolve, but also the resolve of the Rebel Alliance.

Given her status and importance to the Rebellion, it is unsurprising that Princess Leia is the one to bestow medallions upon Luke Skywalker and Han Solo following the Battle of Yavin. With the Death Star destroyed, the two men (accompanied by Chewbacca) will march down the center of a great hall, flanked on both sides by the entire assembly of Rebels on Yavin 4. Arriving at the bottom of a staircase, the trio ascend the steps until they are standing before, albeit slightly below, the magnificently dressed Leia. This is the only point in the film in which Leia has changed clothing, and she is now without the iconic hair “buns.” Wearing a gown, with her hair in a braided updo and jewlery draping her neck, Leia now, officially and formally, looks like a Princess. Never-the-less, while she is resplendent in her royal attire, we also know that there is far more to her than meets the eye, and that what makes Princess Leia truly regal is her considerable fearlessness and capacity for hope in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Princess
The Princess
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope


I’ve joined forces with some other exciting bloggers and YouTubers – Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief and Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog – for a little salute to “Fiction’s Fearless Females.” Starting on International Women’s Day and going forward over the next couple months, a different contributor will offer their take on a favorite female who harbors a fearless spirit. Click on the links below to read about the other women being profiled.

Fiction’s Fearless Females

Ellen Ripley

Captain Janeway

Amy Pond

Wonder Woman

Scarlett

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Scarlett

In celebration of Women’s History Monthboth of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! This is the fifth of our planned eight piece series, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room features Scarlett of the GI Joe franchise who was one of his first introductions as a child to a fearless female. Rob’s blog about 80’s nostalgia (and much more) has now evolved into an incredible YouTube channel, and also often features his good friend Chris. So make sure you check out his videos and subscribe! 

Guest Blogger: Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room

When the subject of fearless women in fiction ever comes up, my thoughts instantly go to the first woman I ever idolized. Her name was Scarlett and she was a member of G.I. Joe. When I was a kid growing up in the 80s, G.I. Joe had three separate “universes”. There was the toyline, the cartoon, and the comic book. These three things weaved together from time to time but usually they distanced themselves from each other, only coming together with one goal in mind…making Hasbro Toys money.

One of the things that remained a constant between these three “universes” was the strength and awesomeness of the character of Scarlett. In this weeks video I take a look at some of these moments of strength and awesomeness from my childhood.

To help celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month (March), I along with some of WordPress’s best bloggers are teaming up to shine a spotlight on some of our favorite fearless females from movies, comics, television, and beyond.

Other Fearless Females:

Ellen Ripley by The Green Onion

Captain Janeway by Nancy

Amy Pond by Michael of My Comic Relief

Wonder Woman by Kathleen

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