Violence in movies of course is a prevalent issue. Does being exposed to violence make us more violent people? Does it desensitize us to actual cruelty in the real world? Does it normalize violence? I can’t answer all of those questions, but I can talk about what I think about violence against women in film, and how dead women are portrayed as still beautiful. Most women when they die on screen are still made out to be sexually desirable objects with little to no blood or scarring on their faces. Of course, for men, they’re allowed to bleed and have garish faces with burns and scars, but women when they’re injured or die, are still kept in pristine condition as to beautify them even in death. The only purpose of this is to arouse the presumed straight male audience, and not to shatter their angelic view of delicate little women.
We’re all familiar with the classic movie image when someone dies in tragic way, the closing of the eyes, and the pulling up the sheet to cover the deceased’s face. But for some women in film, their bodies are held in the frame just to be ogled at. Their eyes aren’t usually closed shut by a kind stranger; the camera (the eye of the character, director, and audience) lingers on their whole body, not just their face. And their face usually looks embalmed rather than going through rigor mortis. In movies such as The Amazing Spider Man 2 and Watchmen, and the TV show Pretty Little Liars, we see the image of the pristine dead girl or woman perpetuated.
(Spoiler Alert) In the end of the Amazing Spiderman 2 Gwen Stacy dies either by whiplash or hitting the floor just as Peter is slinging his web to save her. Rather than oozing blood out of the back of her head, or her neck being visibly broken, her body is kept in pristine shape; her clothes aren’t even that dirty even though she just fought with the Green Goblin. I’m not saying that we should perpetuate violence and glorify it, but why are women seen as perfect and beautiful when they die when most men are able to show blood spatter when they get their brains blown out. We shouldn’t keep desensitizing the public to violence, but we should show the true horrors of violence by portraying men and women equally.
In Watchmen, after Ursula Zandt or The Silhouette was out as a lesbian during the 1940s and early 50s, she and her partner were killed while in bed. In the comics, they don’t show the two women on the bed, but in the film adaptation their bodies are in silken pajamas with their eyes glassy and wide open. Their skin is exposed for the presumed male viewer to take pleasure in looking at the two women together. It’s extremely disturbing to think that we’re supposed to take pleasure in looking at two women who died. Or maybe their beauty is to show, “at least they’re still beautiful?” “Aren’t they so peaceful in death?” “Isn’t it tragic that they died because they were so beautiful?” It’s as if their humanity didn’t matter.
Lastly, in the show Pretty Little Liars’ opening credits it shows the main cast looking at Allie in a casket with flawless skin and looking as if she was a plastic doll. I know that this look was the point. The show is about fake people, and you never know who’s real, but just because she’s supposedly evil and a plastic like a Barbie doll, doesn’t mean she still needs to be sexually appealing.
Not to mention in the Oscar winning movie, Son of Saul, the bodies placed in the concentration camp are flawless. They’re objectively beautiful and yes, people may be peaceful in death, but in a Holocaust film I would expect some historical accuracy. Even in the novel Dracula, Lucy looks beautiful and seductive when she’s a vampire and an “undead” while she’s asleep and transforming in order to show how evil she is. What do beautifying female corpses mean when it comes to how we’re desensitized to onscreen violence? Nothing. It shows us that when men die, it’s horrific and a tragedy, but when women die, they just become more beautiful. We need to portray violence accurately for all genders in order to show that it’s not something to glorified.
21 year old college senior. English major. Adopted from China as a baby living in the US ever since. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.