Women are bit players in The Road, John Hillcoat's gloomy adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. In The Book of Eli, another post-apocalyptic movie which opens here in May, most of the female characters are whores or rape victims.
A coincidence? Not according to Cinematical's Monika Bartyzel, who argues that futuristic movies have been giving women a raw deal for years, since Mad Max if not earlier.
“Women are repeatedly taught that should they survive an apocalypse, the aftermath will bring nothing but rape, servitude, and death,” she contends. “Beating and raping women seem to be the easiest way for a film to shout out the desperation of an apocalypse. Hurt a woman and you've succeeded in showing the bleakness of the scenario. It's lazy and tiresome.”
Directed by brothers Allen and Albert Hughes, The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as a solitary figure in a world devastated by a global disaster. The plot revolves around his efforts to protect a sacred book from falling into the hands of gang overlord Gary Oldman.
Bartyzel accuses the film of “using every opportunity it can to portray women as bait, whores, and victims of grisly rape. The only solace for this future is having a male partner who can share in the fighting and defence. With a man, there's some slim chance of survival. Without? Women are doomed.”
She believes this theme has been embraced in movies such as The Road, Waterworld, Cyborg, Tank Girl and Mad Max, although she concedes Tina Turner played a powerful character in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
“It seems like Hollywood is prepping a real Children of Men,” she writes. “Not a world where women can no longer conceive, but rather a post-apocalyptic landscape where women should save themselves the horror and off themselves if the apocalypse ever descends. Then men can be the ones who use sex to gain power and information, and turn on each other to satisfy their sexual appetites. Something tells me if that's a scenario Hollywood entertained, the men in those plots would be doing everything they could to stay strong and tough.”
I'm not sure about her thesis. There have been plenty of strong female characters in action movies, from Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise through to Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
I haven't seen The Book of Eli but it's drawn a sizable audience in the US, grossing more than $74 million, unlike The Road, which brought in less than $8 million.