"Crazy Chicks Are Hot?" 8 Messed-Up Portrayals of Women Going Insane in Film
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Everyone loves to watch a hot babe going batshit crazy. At least that’s what the astronomical success of Black Swan would have you believe, the film in which Darren Aronofsky casts his misogynist gaze upon Natalie Portman, gorgeous and coming completely undone, for what is essentially a two-hour snuff film.
Last week, Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh wrote a piece exploring the phenomenon of the insane woman on celluloid, and how American society not only seems to thirst for such depictions but rewards them with box office paychecks and critical accolades. His unspoken conclusion, which he craftily writes around: it’s a one-two combo of schadenfreude and titillation. "In most crazy-chick flicks," Setoodeh writes, "the female protagonist doesn’t just lose her mind; she loses her clothes. And sometimes she loses her sexual orientation as well."
He interviewed several actresses who’ve recently portrayed crazy women, including Black Swan’s Mila Kunis -- whose own brand of insane, propped up against Portman’s paranoia, is devious manipulation -- and Leighton Meester, who portrays a stalker college student in the upcoming film The Roommate. Setoodeh points out the sexism and general ookiness of audiences’ attraction to this type of character, quoting a 26-year-old videogame designer who says, “I can’t think of a crazy girl who isn’t hot.” But he never gets past the basic concepts that seem to drive the psychology behind such desire. Sexist portrayals of women as dangerous and unhinged are statistically inaccurate. Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders, men are more likely to be stalkers, and men are up to 10 times more likely to commit violent crime. In a kind of mass-gaslighting, the crazy-chick film meme is simply untrue.
While there are feminist portrayals of women gone awry from societal pressures -- Frances, Splendor in the Grass, The Yellow Wallpaper -- there are far more films that erroneously glamorize the crazy chick. Notably, several of them are clear and direct influences for Aronofsky’s hateful take on Black Swan. [Spoilers.]
1. Mulholland Drive. David Lynch’s women tend to be gorgeous and victimized, an unfortunate holdover from the ‘40s noir films he so idealizes. (He also traffics healthily in legit crazy lady characters, but they tend to be older mother types.) But Black Swan’s idea similarities to Mulholland Drive are so numerous it almost feels like a direct rip (along with Barbara Hershey’s character, which seems modeled on Wild at Heart’s evil mom). This film follows two beautiful women whose realities are distorted after a car accident that renders one of them amnesic. Any direct plot description from there doesn’t work, since Lynch outdid himself with the double entendres and twisting narrative, but suffice to say star Naomi Watts portrays a woman on the slippery slope to madness, who suffers for her craft and who fantasizes about and has potentially fake sex with her cohort. While vastly more complicated than the Grecian Black Swan, the tropes are still there, and women die in the end, punished for their beauty and desire.
2. The Crush. Alicia Silverstone portrays a crazed 14-year-old who becomes obsessed with a handsome adult journalist who spurns her advances until she becomes unhinged. Her insanity is sexualized in a very Lolita fashion -- shots of swimsuits and lollipops abound -- and the concept is meant to be both taboo and titillating, exploiting the idea that a man would be so desirable a young girl would lose her mind over him. It’s a classic take on the Nabokov pedophilic man-fantasy while exploiting male fears that women will make false claims against them -- when the reality is that rape and other sexual misconduct is profoundly under-reported.