Friday, November 6, 2009

"Mammals, a Day of Reckoning Is Coming"

Poison Ivy [pictured at left] continues..."That's right, the same plants and flowers that saw you crawl from the primordial soup will reclaim the planet. And there will be no-one to protect you."

This post is the fourth installment in a description of female scientist stereotypes in film. These character types have been described and analyzed by Eva Flicker in a paper entitled “Between brains and breasts—women scientists in fiction film: on the marginalization and sexualization of scientific competence”. In the previous post, I described the “naïve expert”, who is brilliant professionally, but naïve and emotional in her interactions with people, which requires being saved by a male character. The counterpart to the “naïve expert” is the “evil plotter”. An example might be the character “Poison Ivy” (Uma Thurman) in Batman and Robin (1997).

Pamela Lillian Isley, prior to her transformation into Poison Ivy, was a student of advanced botanical biochemistry. Her criminal activity is conducted using various plants and their toxic derivatives. She has developed the ability to control all plants and make them do her bidding. Her immunity to plant poisons enhances her capacity to interact with the more toxic taxa. She is on the side of plants, willing to commit murder to defend them from human depradations.

The "evil plotter" exhibits a schizophrenic nature with respect to the men in her life. On the one hand, she seems to love men, but then seems willing to kill them when it suits her goal.

Another example of the “evil plotter”:

Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) is a brilliant historian who is searching for the Holy Grail (Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade). She also happens to be a Nazi and is trying to find the Holy Grail to turn its reputed powers over to Adolf Hitler (as if he needed any more help). She is blonde, beautiful, and uses her feminine wiles to bed her competitors—father and son team of Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) and Professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). Indiana is more enthralled with her and tries to save her even after she betrays both father and son:

[Elsa slips into a crevice and nearly falls, but Indiana grabs her leather gloved hands just in time. She slowly turns her head to see the grail resting below her]
Indiana Jones: "Elsa..."
[Elsa wrenches her left hand free to reach the grail]
Indiana Jones: "Elsa. Don't Elsa. Elsa. Give me your other hand honey, I can't hold you!"
Elsa: "I can reach it... I can reach it..."
[the glove on her hand starts slipping]
Indiana Jones: "Elsa. Give me your hand, give me your other hand!"
[Elsa cries out as she nearly touches the grail. The glove suddenly slips off her hand and she plunges into the abyss]
Indiana Jones: "Elsa!"

The “evil plotter” is a woman scientist who is evil or who is willing to consort with evil to attain her career aspirations. She uses her feminine wiles (weapons) to trick her opponents, who always fall for her, at least temporarily. In a way, she is treated like the “naïve expert” by men, who try to “save” her (from her evil ways).

According to Eva Flicker, the “naïve expert” and the “evil plotter” embody the ambivalent feelings that the audience has regarding society and science. Science, on the one hand represents purity, goodness, and hope for progress. Science is also to be mistrusted, because it has tremendous capacity for damage when put into the wrong hands. These two representations of women scientists can be said to embody society’s dual view as to the benefits of science and their mistrust of scientists.

For more on the stereotypes, see initial post in the series on female scientists in film.

1 comment:

Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

This series of posts is really interesting! I'm trying to figure out which stereotype the CSI female scientists fit.