Strong Women in Cinema: Case Studies
by Sofia Galli
Movies mirror ourselves, our desires, our passions. We convert the cinematic settings into the circumstances we live in, we set goals according to what characters achieve, and in them, we see the reflections of diverse life possibilities, prospects, inner revolutions. Thus far, films represent of the most accessible forms of art, so that it is crucial for them to both maintain a core of likelihood, even when they take place in sci-fi realities, they have a meaningful message to spread, and the ending is not a happy one.
Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991), Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994) and Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004) are three films by outstanding directors. Through the genres of dramatic picture, thriller and sports drama, these cult films all share, at the core, a vision of women as strong-minded, tenacious beings, who are able to upturn their lives with astonishing levels of determination. This idea is expressed across different stages of life, from childhood, with an exceptional 12-year-old Natalie Portman as Mathilda in Léon, youth, with the Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank as Maggie in Million Dollar Baby, to adulthood, with Geena Davies and Susan Sarandon as Thelma and Louise.
In Léon: The Professional, young Mathilda is part of an abusive family living in a flat next to the hitman Léon (Jean Reno). When DEA murders Mathilda’s family, she seeks shelter at Léon’s. The two become unexpectedly close to one another. As she teaches him the importance of easiness and affection, she deepens her sense of courage and willpower. The same courage that Maggie, in Million Dollar Baby, is determined to show Frankie (Clint Eastwood), a boxing trainer who initially refuses to coach her. Maggie works untiringly in the gym and eventually succeeds in proving her physical as well as psychological strength. Most importantly, Maggie does not do so only in the moments of triumph, but in those of vulnerability, too.
That said, if Maggie and Mathilda receive help from two resolute men in demonstrating and developing their bravery, Thelma & Louise has its roots in quite a different scenery, characterised by male domination. The two strive to escape their reality setting off for a road trip together that eventually becomes a proper journey on the run, where they challenge patriarchy and establish their free-standing status as women and friends.
Thelma & Louise, Léon: The Professional and Million Dollar Baby portray a type of woman which rejects the weakness and fragility that often emerges in relation to femininity. In a system where patriarchy is embedded in social life, these absolute must-see films reframe the role of women in visual arts, confronting the stereotypical idea of ‘girlish’ characters who support men in their part, rather than being mutually supported by them in the attainment of personal worth and recognition.
The women called forth in the article prove that women can truly fulfil strong roles. They share the concept that women have the capability to redimension their reality, seeking for and obtaining active changes. In particular, this is done within the context of an extremely high cinematographic arena, where the skills of actors, directors and other members involved in the filmmaking process further validate the point made in this article.
For these reasons, it is of key importance for women to look out for movies that do not necessarily ask them to be the subordinate characters, merely emphasised by bodily beauty, but they also acknowledge a much greater value in their potential, in a way that can boost the confidence of many viewers. In parallel, men have the possibility to recognise women’s determination and enhance the credit given to them in real life environments, through an approach based on mutual aid rather than demotion. If watched through the right proactive lens, movies like these can lead the audience to reevaluate power relations, whilst surely keeping you entertained for the whole length of the film.