Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can we lay this particular trope to rest, please?

This is both about movies and comics, so bear with me. We're probably all aware of the Women in Refrigerator's phenomena by now. And we're probably all aware of the most usual complaint about it "But it happens to men too! It's not misogyny!" To which the answer is usually "But it doesn't happen to men as often as it happens to women." And that can't be denied because there's more male characters in comic books than female. And when a fridging happens to a male, more often than not is either a C-list character or a character who happens to be a minority. (To be an actual fridging, by the way, the character in question can't return from the death or the injury. So Batman and Superman do not count.)

Now, I am a fan of crime movies. Detective movies with grizzly crimes and machiavellian serial killers are one of my passion, so as soon as someone mentions the word "detective" in a review, I'm more often than not inspired to see it. So today I was about to watch Along Came a Spider, with Morgan Freeman, and I was quite ready for a good movie after Law and Order SVU.

The beginning of the movie, for those who haven't seen it, follows Alex Cross (Freeman) and his team as they are getting ready to capture a serial killer/rapist with the help of Alex's partner, whose name I forgot, who is working undercover as the serial killer's date. During the bust, the killer discovers that his date is a cop, she tries to arrest him but as he hits the brakes, she accidentally shoots him when she's thrown off her seat (Although she's wearing a seatbelt, so I'm not sure of how does that work) and he loses control of the car, breaking of the bridge dangling just so that he falls to his death, and she's alive for enough time as to let Freeman try and save her and lock eyes with her as she finally plummels to her death.

Which was about the moment when I turned off the tv, went to make iced tea, and then came back to pop the Fracture DVD that I had rented.

Now, I didn't got annoyed because it was yet another female character killed just to create angst for the male character. I got annoyed because right there I knew I was going to suffer through two hours of Alex emoting because he couldn't save his partner, feeling inadequate and then finally getting his act together to catch the bad guy.

As I've seen in dozen of other cop, action, and horror films, as well in a thousand comic books. It's called Dead Sidekick in tv tropes, it's called WiR when it's a woman, and it's been around more or less since Achilles decided to reenter the war after Patroclus was killed.

Honestly? Enough is enough. Let's find someway else to motivate our main characters, someway else to make them angst for an hour before kicking ass in the second act. Dead sidekicks, girlfriends, boyfriends, gay neighbours are way, way overdone. Hell, they parody that on the Simpsons already! And in Naked Gun. I guess that by the time a particular trope becomes a joke, is well past the time it can't be used seriously in an argument, at least not in its most straightforward way.

In my mind, I ended up reminding another movie that starts with a huge catastrophe for the main hero, who ends up angsting to the point of attempting suicide for the rest of the movie. The Bone Collector, which leaves Denzel Washington's character paralytic from the neck down. And that's different because the catastrophe happens to the character directly, so one can understand how it affects him (And not in a 'you touched my stuff' way) and not think "Hell, get over it. Cops die. It's sad, but it happens." every time the dead sidekick is brought up.

The thing is, in those 10 or so minutes of Along Came a Spider I perfectly understood the problem with the WiR and dead sidekick situation. I love those type of stories, I have a huge collection of crime movies dvds. And as much as I love Morgan Freeman's acting, I just couldn't bring myself to keep watching it, just because I knew how it was all going to end. When the hero's wife gets killed, we know he'll stop at nothing for a (temporary, at least in comic book world) revenge. When the sidekick gets shot, we know that we're up for a couple of years of angsting until we get a new sidekick. When a family member gets killed in a dark alley, it will get repeated so much that it will end up in a bad joke and a tag line (Anyone remember when the old saying about comic book death was 'All comic book deaths are temporary except for Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben? Or, more recently, the current batman meme "My parents are dead"?)

When things get to the point where your audience can figure out the ending in ten minutes or three pages of your comic, well, then it surely it is the time to stop killing sidekicks, family members and girlfriends just for a couple of minutes of angst and a shocking splash page, isn't it?


Marionette said...


I don't think it means what you think it means.

mordicai said...

I mean, there are instances of WORKING a trope, or turning a trope on it's head, & I'm glad for those, but too often, you're right, it is just a crutch for lazy writers &, truth be told, lazy audiences.

Adalisa said...

Hello :)

Marionette: It's probably because I was thinking in spanish, it happens to me from time to time. What I meant was that he ended up quadriplegic.

Moridcai: Exactly! I don't mind the trope itself, I mind it when it becomes a shortcut to not doing a better work of giving a character a good background.

Ami Angelwings said...

Hi Adalisa :D Totally right! :D

Also, not only can they not come back but that often "being fridged" happens in a way that makes the supposed heroine a victim. :\ While both Batman and Superman fought their brains out before being injured/killed and fought their way back to life. :\

Sean said...

It's been a little while since I last saw Along Came A Spider, but from what I can remember about it there isn't a lot of moping around at all.

Maybe you should give the movie a second chance. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Adalisa said...

ami, Hi! Nice to see you again :)
And yeah, I forgot that about the fridgings. No fighting back allowed. Tigra is our latest example, sadly.

Adalisa said...

Sean: I'll probably end up seeing it, since it's Along came a Spider month in universal channel and I tend to need the TV on when I work. It's probably not the fault of the movie, it was just a sequence in the wrong time and it kinda set me off.

Thom said...

I think one of the reasons I like the Die Hard films is that the angst for McClane is pretty familiar angst.

His family is important to him, he wants to make his relationships work. He is not down and out because some terrorist killed his spouse or kids (though they do try). He's down and out because he can be his own worst enemy.

Plus, i like that McClane's wife Holly and daughter are not passive victims. In the first and second film, his wife is active in trying to outsmart the villains. And even when captured, keeps her wits. His daughter Lucy packs a mean punch. That's all I will say.

I think you commented on this a few weeks back, but the film was on my mind as I finally watched Live Free or Die Hard last night.

Also, in the first film, I felt like the hefty cop who helps John on the ground had a nice back story. He clearly felt terrible about the event that took him off the street, but he was not a dark character at all.

Adalisa said...

Yes Thom, exactly! I did a comment on the kickass women in Die Hard a while ago, and that's exactly what I was thinking. Jhon never goes into his missions with the 'you touched my stuff' attitude but with the 'why the fuck am I doing this anyway?' and the McLean women are all active in their situations, even when they're kidnapped. Lucy was my favorite part of Die Hard 4.0 in that sense.