When Film Breaks Boundaries?: The Character of the Femme Fatale

8 Oct

“She’s a bit of a con-woman, something of a grifter. A hard-edged kind of criminal…she keeps wavering on this line of, ‘Is she a good guy or a bad guy?”         -Christopher Nolan


Deadly, alluring, mysterious, triple-crossing, and hot–the Femme Fatale is an old and oft implemented archetype in film. Whereas most female characters are doting or damsels, the femme fatale is seductive, in the most manipulative manner, and she keeps some of our favorite leading men under pressure in many a classic scenario. Broke husband in jail? Upgrade to his rich boss. Hot wife trapped in a loveless marriage? No problem, murder him for the money and gas a private eye to cover for you. We’re talking ruthless women who leave simpering, gullible men broken-hearted in their wake at best, but a dead body or three isn’t out of the question either if the situation calls for it.

The femme fatale rejects the conventional roles that mainstream society chose for women. The idea of Femme Fatale evolved form the character Salome in the old testiment, who used her sexual power to have John the Baptist beheaded.

Quintessentially in film noir, the femme fatale tries to achieve her chosen desire by ruthlessly lying, manipulation, and sexual allure, which often ends in her own demise and the destruction of the men that fall under her charm. These strong, independent, powerful, women debuting in cinema seem to only be punished in the end. This is because the femme fatale is a construction of a paternalistic society, and and reflection of misogyny.

In modern film, the character has evolved into more of a superheroine. Director Richard Gray describes that “in the first decade of the new millennium, representations of technology, pleasure and sexuality have intersected in films with female superheroes.” Not only do the women of these films exert their sexual power like the classical femme fetale, but they are also smart and physically strong – rejecting typically ‘feminine’ traits which traditionally restrain the femme fetale. While many critics may interpret these films as catering to an audience that crave an independent women, Gray argues that this is for male audiences who like to watch sexualised ‘unattainable’ women.

So is the femme fatale an illusion of empowerment? I think message is that a woman’s worth still lies in her beauty and for both the classical femme fetale and modern sex goddess, only beautiful women can hold any power. Nevertheless, I still like the idea of Catwoman kicking some ass. Maybe that’s why my license plate is FFATALE…

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