Feminist Film Review of Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River

moviesThe movie Frozen River is a realistic example of the life lived by many poverty stricken mothers in America during the current times of extreme financial struggle. The movie was written and directed by Courtney Hunt. The character Ray, played by Melissa Leo, is abandoned by her gambling husband and is left to raise her two young boys. When Ray meets a Native American Mohawk woman, the character Lila played by Misty Upham, they become a two person smuggling team to bring illegal immigrants into America from Canada through Mohawk land. Without smuggling, Ray and Lila would earn minimum wage at most and struggle to make ends meet. These two women are faced with the stresses of raising and saving their families. Because of their current socio-economic standings, these women try desperately and dangerously to improve the lives of their families by risking their own lives. What does that say about their maternal roles?

The concept of “mother” in this film takes multiple roles. In Kaplan’s “Case of Missing Mother” article, she discusses different dominant paradigms including the good mother, the bad mother, the heroic mother, and the silly/weak/vain mother (Kaplan 128). Ray and Lila, as mothers, can very easily be seen as “bad mothers” in the eyes of society. However, the difficulty faced with categorizing these specific characters in these roles is that even if they are seen as “bad mothers”, they are mothers trying desperately to be the good or even heroic mothers. These women risk their lives for their family in order to simply survive. These women do not have any need for extravagance, just existence. Living in America and being a woman in poverty is not a very unique experience; every day women struggle to feed their children.

The topic of the film is a very heavy discussion point that is not usually found in films. Hollywood often ignores societal issues or the topic discussed “must always be [a topic] that can be resolved within the existing system, i.e. patriarchical capitalism; the real problems, which can’t, can only be dramatized obliquely, and very likely unconsciously, within the entertainment movie” (Wood 339). The topics found in Frozen River do not have a solution. The film simply shows the process and outcome of a woman becoming involved in a smuggling scheme. Some of the reasons it is so surprising that the film was nominated for Academy Awards were the unknown female writer and director, the low budget, and (in my opinion) the topic. Society has a very difficult time watching issues that are not wrapped in a pretty package at the end of 90 minutes.

The style of the film, Cinéma vérité, leaves the viewer feeling close with the characters. It is very easy to be sympathetic towards the women who are doing illegal activities because they have so many identifiable and relatable traits. Overall, Frozen River is a very dark movie both topically and visually. These two darknesses meet during the film because many of the scenes are very dark and the viewer struggles to hear the audio. As a viewer, I felt as if some aspects of the movie are kept from me because of how dark some of the scenes appeared. The darkness allows the viewer to really be involved in the topic of the film. Without the overly dark scenes, the hardships the mothers face would not have been successfully portrayed. The darker moments in the movie truly represent the inner turmoil that the mothers face throughout the movie. The film creates a lot of strain for the viewers, leaving them feeling just as trapped as the characters.

September 28, 2010

A Feminist Review of “The Little Mermaid”

moviesDisney princess films stereotypically represent innocence. Young audiences can easily misunderstand Disney’s interpretation of “strong female characters” as an authentic portrayal of what strong females are and how they should be represented. By examining the film with a feminist lens, which “examines and seeks to address power inequalities whenever they occur with an emphasis on gender”, it is apparent that Ariel, the lead female character in the movie “The Little Mermaid,” falls short of depicting a strong female.

Ariel manipulates her body and chooses to give up her voice (her most “prized possession”) to pursue what she most wants. However, what she wants is a male character (Prince Eric) whom she has never spoken to.

It is difficult to find any sign of a strong female character in Disney movies with actual reason behind her strength. Many Disney princesses cannot stand up for themselves, however “in ‘The Little Mermaid,’ she does defy her father [which means] there is a sense of a more powerful female” (film “Mickey Mouse Monopoly”). Defying her father is a very big step in a patriarchal society, but the reasons behind defying him are not substantial. Ariel “falls in love” with a picture-perfect prince who she literally knows nothing about. Because “romantic comedies concentrate on courtship, the chase, the first moments of intimacy, rather than the daily realities of long-term heterosexual relationships” (article Kirkland, Romantic Comedy), falling in love without knowing someone at all is often overlooked. Young viewers in the audience get the wrong impression a strong female when a woman falls for a man who she has never spoken to and is willing to give up what matters most to her to be with him.

Ariel goes so far as to sacrifice her voice and her family in order to pursue a man she does not know. Her sacrifice may appear strong in a post-feminist manner, but in reality it is far from going beyond feminism. Because she has no way to communicate with Prince Eric, “the only thing she has left to get him [with] is the body” (film Mickey Mouse Monopoly). Ariel uses her body to get a man, and in turn she is another over sexualized lead female character in a movie. The real difference between “The Little Mermaid” and other Hollywood movies that stereotype women is the target audience for the film. Are children supposed to see a woman use her body to get what she wants before they know what an inaccurate portrayal of a strong female is? “Ultimately, she is willing to give up her voice to get the man” (film Mickey Mouse Monopoly), but what is this voicing to the young viewers? Unfortunately, “The Little Mermaid” only shows children that in order to get what you want, you have to sacrifice what you are and be saved in the process. In the end of the movie, Ariel needs to be rescued by the object of her affection in order to live “happily ever after.” How can a strong female be portrayed if she can never save herself?

Young audiences very easily can misunderstand Disney’s interpretation of a strong female character as something that is true, which can be detrimental to a child’s personal growth. “Cinema is taken by feminists to be a cultural practice representing myths about women and femininity, as well as about men and masculinity” (Smelik 491, Feminist Film Theory). When children are only taught myths at a young age, it is very difficult to teach them the truth. It is inappropriate for myths to be taught to young people without contention. Disney’s stereotype of innocence must be contended in order for the truth to be learned by society and its youth.

Fall 2010