Monday, March 31, 2008


My last post was entitled Perceptions but I guess it really should have been called Perspective. At any rate, here we go again.

This weekend Collette and I caught up with a movie called The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster. Huge fan of this actor, I really think she can do more with silence than most actors of any gender, can do with pages of script.

This movie is Death Wish (and a little bit of Taxi Driver) with a female protagonist. That's a genuine POV. Often when I'm struggling with some fiction storyline, particularly something with an adventure/action perspective, I can ingest new life into it by switching out the gender of the hero. There are differences between men and women (really Vic? wow, make a note of that). Changing that perspective forces you to look at your character and their situations in a new light.
So now we have The Brave One, switch out Charles Bronson for Jodie Foster. Same locale (New York City) same basic situation (innocent person falls prey to violence and begins to feel helpless) same conflict (in an attempt to feel safe the hero buys a gun but in so doing have they stopped being a victim or become a vigilante)

I was more interested in the differences between the two movies rather than the similarities. In Brave One, Foster is the direct victim of senseless violence, along with her boyfriend. In Death Wish, it is Bronson's daughter and wife who are assaulted. I find this fascinating. In the movie with the male protagonist, we had to have someone close to him, perhaps even helpless (his daughter) assaulted in order to spring our hero into action; was it that if Bronson had been assaulted we couldn't imagine him feeling like a victim? He needed the "protector" reflex to make his actions seem plausible. In the Brave One its not enough for Foster to be assaulted, her boyfriend needed to be killed as well. Losing the male in her life gives Foster that feeling of total helplessness required to justify her actions. If she herself have been assaulted alone, well, she would have had the boyfriend to help her, he would have become the avenger. Was the addition of the male character something to distract us from the rumours of Foster's sexuality?

In Death Wish, after his wife dies of her injuries and the daughter slips into a coma, Bronson goes to Arizona and is introduced to old west gun lovery (no, its not a word and yeh, I'm still going to use it). He gets himself a six shooter and returns to New York for some old school retribution.

In Brave One, things are different for Jodie Foster. She is the victim (ah, the perspective is different even beyond gender). It is more difficult for her than for Bronson. She struggle to come to terms with the fear, struggles to even leave her apartment. How the two acquire their guns is interesting; Bronson the avenger is given the gun, Foster the victim gets the gun herself.
This is Taxi Driver territory; Travis Bickle in the hotel room with the suitcase full of weapons. Except, Bickle was nuts and trying to defend Jodie Foster. This time, Foster has to do it herself.

I love this point. Foster gets the gun herself. Perhaps she gets it out of a feeling of helplessness at first, but she gets it herself. Bronson, a peace loving man in his movie, even after this terrible thing happens to his family is given the gun. In Arizona is almost seduced by his gun loving buddies into taking the gun. He needs to be pushed because his motivation would be more vengeance than protection. He doesn't need to protect himself, Foster does. Is it because one is male and the other female? Or because one was a third party victim and the other the hardcore, first person real deal.

There are more parallels between the movies. Both movies have a police officer as an important character. Death Wish has Vincent Guardenia. Brave One has Terrence Howard. The Death Wish cop enters the story later, once Bronson begins his vengeance trail; in Brave One we meet the cop earlier on, although the character does not become involved with Foster until she, too, goes on the hunt. In Death Wish the cop is after Bronson, there is a certain grudging admiration, but he has a job to do, even after public opinion builds in the vigilante's favour. In Brave One (Spoiler Alert) the cop takes a much more active role.

What informs this different perspectives on the two cops. In Brave One there is a definite relationship between Foster and Howard. It never becomes sexual but they touch each other, they connect with one another. He is divorced, her boyfriend is dead. Howard is black but Foster's boyfriend was Indian so hey, she could be into the interracial thing. In 1970s Death Wish there could never be any thought of a relationship between two men (though the gun nut Bronson meets in Arizona definitely had a twinkle in his eye). Bronson is still out there on his own. In Brave One, Foster pretty much acquires the cop as an aid, he does in fact help her in the end. Could it be we could never have that single woman fulfill her mission of old west vengeance without a man by her side?

Hannie Calder is an old Raquel Welch western. A true old west woman on the vengeance path flick. In that movie, Hannie needs the aid of a man (Robert Culp) to fufill her mission. But there is some practicality here, the Culp character teaches Welch how to handle a gun and kill men. In Brave One Foster teaches herself but in the final scene, she needs Howard's help; he saves her life and essentially grants her her freedom.

Death Wish is an ambiguous movie. Its a good movie. It certainly attempted to examine some of the issues around violence, vengeance, the vigilante myth. The Bronson character is never really portrayed as the Kick ass no nonsense Chuck Norris vengeance machine. Sometimes we see him going over the edge. And, in a truly great scene, we see Bronson, while going after a bad guy, try to illicit a gunfight that could result in his own death. As if he wants to die, knowing that all he is doing may have no purpose, cannot really correct all the wrong done to him and his.

Brave One takes a different tack. By having the cop actively assist Foster in getting the guys who hurt her, it feels more like justification of her actions. I think we are supposed to feel some conflict here but as Foster is leaves the scene, even able to recover her pet that the bad guys had taken from her, it feels more like a conclusion.

The last shot in Death Wish is chilling. The cop in that movie knows who Bronson is, knows what he is but, under the premise of "having no proof" allows him to leave. Is this aiding and abetting? Guardenia wants the vigilante out of his city and he feels there is too much public support for Bronson ever to go to prison. On the train platform, about to leave the city, Bronson kneels by his bag, looks up and with that enigmatic cryllic smile he could so well, cocks his finger and shoots. So perhaps there is some justification here as well.

These are two good movies. Two very good, very different performances. Changing the gender of the protagonists changes the POV, changes the perspective. Is one better than the other? Is either one more "honest" than the other?

Keep watching. Maybe the perspective will change again.

PS: Just a note from my POV, I wrote a blog all about vengeance and discovered I had no idea how to spell the word.

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