This video reminds me of an episode of Mythbusters.
This video reminds me of an episode of Mythbusters.
Usually I post art that I like. This is not one of those times.
(image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Now I love Peter Paul Rubens’ art. There is a sensuality in his paintings that is vastly different than chaste Renaissance paintings. But the whole Super Sexy Jesus vibe is just weird.
This is a triptych, combination of three paintings (a large one in the center and two small ones on the side) which is common above altars in churches. According to Wikipedia, the saint on the left is st. John the Baptist and on the right is St. Martina.
I do not post many videos of mezzo sopranos, partly because they do not get the lead parts in Operas. The leads go to sopranos, and the mezzos are witches, bitches, and britches (boys).
A mezzo soprano is a voice in between the soprano and contralto range. Not only is the mezzo voice a little deeper than the soprano, but it is a heavier sound. The soprano frequently has a lighter, brighter sound but the mezzo soprano’s voice is darker and weightier, but no less beautiful.
Here is Elina Garanca singing Una Voce Poco Fa, from the Barber of Seville. The piece is a joyful portrayal of a young girl in love who will kill anyone who gets in the way of her and her love.
I was not expecting to write this post, but I kept thinking about the idea of Rey as symbolic of a Religious Virgin and what that would mean for the film (and the potential of Reylo.)
In my previous post, I wrote about the idea of Rey staying single in the films. I argued that, rather than being a trail blazing decision, a single Rey would fit the pattern for both the proverbial Woman Warrior Virgin and the Religious Virgin. I also wrote that I don’t think that Disney should use the symbolism of the Religious Virgin since I think that would ultimately fail.
Despite the fact that I don’t think that Disney should use this symbolism, I can’t help but contemplate what that symbolism would be, and how it would affect the story, and the possibility of Reylo.
A cursory overview of the stories of Religious Virgins reveal common themes.
1 The Religious Virgin vows never to marry and/or engage in sex, often going to great lengths to maintain this vow, and this allows her to channel divine power.
The Religious Virgin story always begin with a young woman taking a vow of virginity. These women face strong objections from their families and usually the larger society as a whole. These women will also go to great lengths to uphold their vow. However, the Religious Virgin, by virtue of upholding her vow, is able to channel divine power, granting her abilities we would see as superpowers today. (St. Catherine of Sienna could be in two locations at once; soldiers attempt to burn St. Agnes at the stake but she will not burn; St. Teresa of Avila levitates.) \
Another example of divine power is St. Cecelia, a Religious Virgin who was forced to marry a man. According to the legend, she tells him on her wedding night that she is guarded by an angel who will kill her husband if he dare touches her. Her husband, intrigued, agrees to be baptized, after which he can see the angel guarding his wife. Her husband agrees to respect his wife’s vow and the two never have sex, despite their marriage.
In the Middle Ages, virgins in general were also seen in a mystical way. For example, the best way to see a unicorn was to take a virgin into the woods. A unicorn, being a pure creature, would be attracted to the virgin’s presence and place his head in the virgin’s lap. Even without the addition of superpowers, the Religious Virgin takes the vow of virginity because it is easier for a virgin to achieve salvation than a married woman, and the virgin will enjoy a higher status in heaven than a married woman.
2 Male sexuality is a demonic force.
The Religious Virgin stories are frequently criticized for promoting a negative view of female sexuality. This is not entirely correct. In the Religious Virgin stories, female sexuality is not so much negatively portrayed as it is absent. (Critics will point out that this absence can promote negative attitudes about female sexuality, and they are correct.) However, these stories do strongly feature male sexuality, and in these stories, male sexuality is always a threatening, violent, malevolent force that causes pain, suffering, destruction, and death. (Depressing? Yes. Wrong? Not really.) A man desires to marry St. Agnes, and as a result, St. Agnes is sent to a brothel, tied to a stake and burned, and finally beheaded. A man desires to marry St. Lucy and he has his soldiers gouge out her eyes and then she is beheaded. A man desires to marry St. Agatha and he has his soldiers cut off her breasts and leaves her to die in prison. We see this even in modern accounts of the virgin narrative; a young man desires to sleep with young St. Maria Goretti, and he stabs her repeatedly and leaves her to crawl home alone and die. In these stories, female purity is juxtaposed with male sexuality, the former bringing forth eternal life and salvation, the latter bringing forth death and damnation.
(St. Agatha by Lorenzo Lippi. In this painting, she holds her severed breasts on a plate.)
3 The Religious Virgin suffers greatly.
As I alluded to above, the Religious Virgin suffers greatly, usually at the hands of a spurned suitor, but also from tragic circumstances. St. Lucy, St. Agnes, and St. Agatha suffer horrific mutilations, imprisonment, and execution. St. Therese of Liseux and St. Bernadette Soubirous die from tuberculosis. St. Kateri Tekakwitha is scarred by the smallpox that kills her family. The Religious Virgin will often embrace suffering as a sign of divine favor, and sometimes impose suffering through self-mortification (living in the desert, wearing hair shirts, whipping herself), fasting, or some combination of the two.
(St. Lucy of Syracuse by Domenico Beccafumi, holding her eyes on a plate.)
4 The Religious Virgin dies but her death is seen as a victory.
The story of the Religious Virgin always ends in death, but the death is seen as a victory. St. Ambrose refers to St. Agnes’ death as her “birthday.” St. Therese describes her impending death as an impending wedding, since it will bring about union with God. Virgins who died keeping their vows of virginity were guaranteed great rewards in heaven. These rewards would be greatly increased if they also died as martyrs.
In Eamon Duffy’s excellent Stripping of the Altars, he describes how the average man and woman in medieval England did not view saints as role models for their daily lives. Rather, they were viewed as channels of divine power on which they could draw for their needs. Thus, they were not alienated by saints doing increasingly bizarre or otherworldly actions that they could not hope to imitate. Quite the contrary; the more extravagant the life the saint, the greater the power of the saint’s intercessory prayers. Thus St. Agatha, whose breasts were torn off by pincers, becomes the patron saint of breast cancer patients. Saint Lucy’s eyes are gouged out; she becomes the patron saint of eye difficulties, etc.
(Thumb of St. Catherine of Sienna displayed in a reliquary.)
So, these are the basic themes of the Religious Virgin stories. If Disney applied these themes to Rey and saw her as the Religious Virgin, how would that impact her story (and Reylo?)?
1 Rey’s power to use the Force is tied to her virginity/unmarried status.
We have already seen Rey’s power with the force, easily using the Jedi mind trick, deflecting Kylo Ren’s mind reading and entering his mind instead, and then summoning the lightsaber and defeating him in a fight. These powers have been the subject of much speculation (is Rey Luke’s/Palpatine’s/Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter or the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker?) and much criticism (Rey is a Mary Sue!).
However, if we apply the Religious Virgin tropes to Rey, then her powers make sense. Rey is single and a virgin, and this state gives her an increased sensitivity to the Force, and gives her the ability to draw on its power. This would also fit in well with Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side (Anakin marries Padme, and he easily succumbs to the Dark Side, whereas the Single/Virginal Obi-Wan Kenobi/Yoda/Luke are able to resist), and would even explain why Leia does not seem to be very powerful or skilled with the Force (Leia’s marriage to Han impedes her ability to draw on the Force.)
What does this mean for the future of Rey (and Reylo?)
First of all, it means that Rey must stay single/a virgin. Rey’s survival in the story is tied to her ability to use the Force, and if we apply the Religious Virgin narrative to Rey, then Rey’s ability to use the Force are tied to her remaining single and a virgin. Any romantic or sexual relationship would threaten to weaken her ability to use the Force, and by extension, threaten her life.
Second of all, it means that if Luke is to remain a powerful Light Jedi, Luke cannot be Rey’s father. Luke’s ability to draw on the Force, as well as to resist the temptation of the light side, would also be damaged by marriage and/or sexual activity. (Of course, if Luke has lost his Force abilities or has gone over to the Dark Side, all bets are off.)
2 Male sexuality will play a part in Rey’s story, and it will be an instrument of the Dark Side/Evil.
If Disney applies the Religious Virgin themes to Rey’s story, then male sexuality will feature prominently in the story as a demonic force. In Star Wars, this means that male sexuality, like anger, fear, agression, is a path of the Dark Side, and leads to suffering and destruction. (We see this clearly in the Prequel trilogy. Anakin does not deny his male sexuality, and everyone dies.)
What does this mean for Rey (and Reylo?)
It means that Rey will not desire anyone, since the Religious Virgin does not desire any human. However, Rey will be the object of that desire. Furthermore, that desire will be a frightening, violent, deadly force that works only for evil. This desire will bring great suffering to Rey and possibly death to her and to others. The implications for Reylo are obvious. In this scenario, Kylo Ren will show a sexual obsession with Rey. This sexual interest will not only be unrequited, but it will drive Kylo Ren to hurt and destroy others.
This would fit in very well with the films as portrayed in The Force Awakens. For example, many Reylo supporters feel that Kylo Ren feels jealous of Finn when he sees Finn run over to Rey. He then tortures and nearly kills Finn. That is a perfect example of male sexuality bringing forth pain and suffering.
3 Rey will suffer, but even if she dies, her death will be a victory.
It goes without saying that the Religious Virgin symbolism would mean that Rey will spend most of her time in the coming movies suffering. This suffering will especially be meted out by a man who sexually desires her, and his desire will cause him to torture her, and quite possibly kill her in the end.
What does this mean for Rey in the films, and potentially Reylo?
In the films, this could mean that just as Kylo Ren uses the pain from his wound to draw on the Dark Side of the Force in order to fight, Kylo Ren will use his sexual desire for Rey to draw on the Dark Side of the Force so that he can hurt and (most likely) kill her.
However, Rey’s death will ultimately be a victory for her, for exactly the same reasons that death is seen as victory for the Religious Virgin. When the Religious Virgin dies, she obtains union with the divine and becomes a powerful channel of divine power. Just before Obi-Wan dies in A New Hope, he tells Darth Vader, “You can’t win Darth. If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” When Darth Vader beheads Obi-Wan, his body disappears; becoming one with the Force. If Rey dies a virgin, and true to the light side of the Force, she will become one with the Force and thus infinitely more powerful than she could ever be in life.
(St. Agnes’ skull displayed in a reliquary)
So, if Disney chose to embrace the Religious Virgin symbolism of Rey’s character, that is how I would see it playing out in the remaining films. Should Disney do that? Probably not.
For one thing, the female virginity = good and male sexuality = bad narrative would be (rightly) criticized as being very negative about human sexuality. It is also noticeable what is absent in the Religious Virgin narrative; love between men and women. The Religious Virgin stories were primarily written during a time when the highest form of love was the love of friendship between two men. In the Religious Virgin narrative,two ideas emerge: Love only exists between a person and the divine, and love, almost by definition, cannot exist between men and women and men and women can have successful relationships only when male sexuality is absent. Both of these ideas would be a hard sell in the modern world, and would not mesh well with the romantic partnership between Leia and Han in Return of the Jedi.
Second of all, while Disney was brave enough to kill off the protagonist of Rogue One, I don’t know if they necessarily want to go down that road in the trilogy. Rey’s loss as a character would be a more difficult one for the audience to take.
Third, I don’t think that either Disney or the audience would necessarily understand this symbolism. Disney will likely not understand these themes at all, and most likely botch them. The average audience would not understand the themes and likely find them depressing and downright creepy. Which they are.
(Severed head of St. Catherine of Sienna. This is not a model, this is an actual severed human head. I believe it is still used in religious processions.)
In part, I hate saying this, because I want Disney to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” But I also want the films to succeed as films in their own right.
Let me put it this way. I would rather the films pursue the Religious Virgin motif for Rey than to follow the “Rey is Luke’s Daughter “train of thought. That would be incredibly obvious, stupid, and boring. This would be less obvious and potentially moving, though they Disney will most likely butcher it and everyone will end up very confused and frustrated. I don’t think Disney should pursue either of these tracks, but if they have to pick one over the other, I’ll pick the “Religious Virgin” symbolism over “Rey is Luke’s Daughter.”
Frank Pellett was nice enough to comment on my third Reylo post, when I (finally!) posted my views and what I think Disney should do next.
I’m not against Reylo cause it makes her weak, I’m against it cause it makes her -common-. Despite the history, people of opposite genders interacting should not mean that everyone is falling in love with everyone else. It perpetuates the myth that men and women can’t work together closely without developing a relationship.
The love story has been thus far beautifully one-sided, with Kylo creating all the pressure in every “romantic” interaction between them. His actions haven’t been of a potential romance, but of a stalker, especially in the scene of the monster/bride carry.
I hope the next movie lets her remain in control of her own story. Whether that means she does fall in love with someone or continues just getting stuff done while everyone falls in love with her, so long as it’s her story, I’ll be happy.
I actually agree with most of the post. I agree that the interest between Rey and Kylo Ren is definitely portrayed as one-sided, and that the sexual interest portrayed in the monster imagery has malevolent undertones. That’s not a bad thing. The tension and danger between the protagonist and the antagonist must come from somewhere, and Disney, for better or for worse, decided to destroy any tension between the two in the first movie by having Rey defeat Kylo Ren twice. (Rey has been widely criticized as a Mary Sue, and I am inclined to agree.) Die Hard is a great movie because we feel that the protagonist is in danger throughout the entire film. If we watch Rey confront Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi and think, “Well, she’s already defeated him twice, no need to worry,” that’s a problem for the film.
I definitely agree that Rey must remain the protagonist in the films. That was one thing that upset me so much in Collider Video’s discussion of whether or not Kylo Ren is redeemable. They discussed Leia and Luke ad naseum, but only mentioned Rey in passing. Rey must be the protagonist in the films. This is all the more pertinent now that Carrie Fisher has died. Since Rey is the protagonist, the fate of the antagonist must be up to her, whether she kills him, marries him, exiles him, or whatever.
However, I do disagree with the first part of his comment, listed below.
I’m not against Reylo cause it makes her weak, I’m against it cause it makes her -common-.
This comment makes more sense when taken in conjunction with his comment on my second Reylo post.
Or we could buck all the trends and not have her hook up with anyone. It’s ok for a male character to not have a love interest, why not a female character?
The poster believes that it is uncommon for a female character to be shown without a love interest. While I agree that it is common for women to be the love interest in these kinds of films (action/adventure, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller) to be a love interest to a male protagonist, but I disagree that it is uncommon for female protagonist to be shown without a love interest in these types of films.
A quick survey of these kinds of films reveals examples.
1 Ripley, from Alien
2 Sarah Connor, Terminator 2 Judgement Day
3 Lucy in Lucy
4 Clarice Starling, Silence of the Lambs
5 The Bride, Kill Bill Volumes I and II
6 Maya, Zero Dark Thirty
7 Evelyn Salt, Salt
8 Imperator Furiosa, Mad Max Fury Road
On the other hand, it is more difficult for me to think of an action/adventure, sci-fi/fantasy/thriller film where a female protagonist has a love interest and they end up together. The only ones I can think of is The Hunger Games series. There are action/adventure films where a female protagonist does briefly become involved with a man (Sarah Connor in Terminator, Angela Bennett in The Net, Lisbeth Salandar in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lara Croft in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life ) but they usually are alone by the end of the film. There is a good reason for this.
1 The Woman Warrior must be alone because the archetypal Woman Warrior is a virgin, or has renounced marriage.
The idea of the Single Woman Warrior is nothing new.
The ancient Greeks imagined an entire tribe of warrior women called the Amazons. According to some legends, the women would cut off or burn off one of their breasts in order to better aim their arrows. Homer wrote of Amazon women fighting in the Trojan War, and described them as “those who fight like men.” Before Achilles proves himself by defeating Hector, the tamer of horses, he must first fight and dispatch an Amazon warrior. The Greeks portray them with spears, bows and arrows, and even wearing pants.
While the Amazon women were not virgins (they would go off to neighboring tribes once a year to have sex purely for the sake of procreation), marriage was absolutely unheard of among the Amazons. Men were not permitted to even live in Amazon territory and all baby boys born to Amazon women were killed or exposed (abandoned in the forest or hills to die).
We also see this tradition in the stories of the goddesses Athena and Artemis. Artemis is the Virgin Goddess of the Hunt. If a man happened to see her naked, she transformed him into a stag and shot him. Athena is primarily known as the goddess of Wisdom, but she was also a Goddess of War, and a Virgin Goddess as well.
The story of Atalanta also tells of a young Greek princess who was raised by hunters. She hunts, wrestles, and races like a man. When her father wishes her to marry, she challenges the would be suitors to a foot race. When they lose, as they all do, she impales them with her spear. (The Greek gods eventually put a stop to Atalanta’s fun by using trickery to bring about her marriage. I suppose with Atalanta impaling all the Greek men left and right, they had to do something.)
A (slightly) more modern example of this is in the story of St. Joan of Arc. According to sources at the time, prophesy held that a virgin would deliver the French from English rule.
Joan of Arc, a peasant girl, began to hear voices that she would identify as St. Michael the Archangel, and Ss. Catherine and Margaret (both virgin saints) who inspired her to preserve her virginity. Joan testified at her trail that she had vowed to God that she would remain a virgin. This was not simply a private concern of hers. Before her trial began, Joan was physically examined for proof of her virginity, and the women who examined Joan testified that they found Joan’s hymen intact. (I believe that when she started serving with the French army, the king also had her examined to determine if she was a virgin, but I am not sure about that.)
If Rey remains single throughout the film, this will not be a new idea. Quite the contrary; it will be a very old idea, as old as the Iliad and the ancient Greeks. It will be an idea as old as the St. Joan of Arc, who to this day, is commemorated on the Catholic Liturgical Calendar as St. Joan of Arc: Virgin and Martyr.
Speaking of St. Joan of Arc, Virgin and Martyr, I want to bring up another way in which Rey will be an archetypal character if she remains single.
2 Considering the religious overtones to the Force, if Rey remains single, she will be an archetypal Religious Virgin.
The use of virgins in religious rituals is very ancient. The Romans employed the Vestal Virgins to keep the sacred fire of Vesta (goddess of the Hearth) lit at all times. The Vestal Virgins joined the order before puberty and served for 30 years, after which they were permitted to marry. During their time of service, they took vows of chastity and they would be buried alive if they broke their vows.
The sanctity of virginity was also adopted by the Christians. Early Christianity (pre-Constantine) is filled with legends of virgin martyrs, women who refused to marry despite torture (eyes gouged out, breasts cut off) and who were eventually murdered in increasingly grotesque ways. These ideals continued into the Middle Ages, where St. Clare of Assisi leaves home to join St. Francis, cutting off her hair, founding an order of nuns, and defying her father when he tried to force her to leave the convent and marry. They continued in the New World, where St. Rose of Lima doused her face with lye, permanently disfiguring herself, in order to make herself too unattractive to marry. Indeed, these ideas continue to this day.
By forgoing marriage, these women believed (and still believe today) that they would gain great graces from God and would receive greater rewards in heaven for their sacrifice.
Of course, Western religions are not the only religions that encourage celibacy and revere celibates. Buddhism also has monks and nuns who observe celibacy. Hinduism also has holy men and women who observe celibacy in order to escape the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Now, why is any of this relevant? It is relevant because Star Wars has always loosely borrowed from religious traditions. In Star Wars, Darth Vader is told, “The Jedi are extinct. You are the last of their religion.” The Original Trilogy contains themes of temptation and redemption. The prequel trilogy borrows the idea of the Virgin Birth and the Messiah from Christianity. Another idea that they borrowed was the ideal of celibacy for the Jedi. The Jedi are forbidden to form attachments of any kind, therefore marriage is out of the question. (I have heard that George Lucas modeled the Jedi Order off of the Jesuits, but I do not know if this is true.) In Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi is described as a hermit, someone who abandons the world and human society to seek union with God. The Jedi uniform even looks a bit like a religious habit, especially the habits of the Dominicans and the Carmelites.
If Rey remains single in the new Star Wars series, we may do well to see in her echoes of another ancient character, the kind praised by St. Ambrose of Milan more than 1500 years ago.
And my task begins favourably, that since today is the birthday of a virgin, I have to speak of virgins, and the treatise has its beginning from this discourse. It is the birthday of a martyr, let us offer the victim. It is the birthday of St. Agnes, let men admire, let children take courage, let the married be astounded, let the unmarried take an example.
(St Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Virginity)
The poster believes if Rey stays single, Disney will “buck the trends.” I disagree. There is definite precedent in films for a woman in these kinds of films to stay single. More importantly, if Rey to stay single, she will follow ancient trends of the Woman Warrior Virgin and the Religious Virgin. A single Rey would symbolize both.
Does this mean that Rey should get a boyfriend? Not necessarily. It depends on what serves the story best. If Disney does keep Rey single, however, then Disney needs to understand that Rey will not be breaking new ground. Quite the contrary; Rey will stand in a long line of Woman Warrior Virgins and Religious Virgins and this must shape their portrayal of her.
To be honest, I wonder how well Disney could handle the Religious Virgin archetype in this day and age. That is a little troubling because the Woman Warrior figure is often portrayed as a femme fatale. Even so, I am too reticent to see Disney embrace the significance too quickly, since I am convinced they would botch it. The era of The Song of Bernadette is long over. Disney would probably do well to ignore this symbolism and focus on the Woman Warrior.
(St. Therese of Liseux , Virgin and Doctor of the Church, dressed as St. Joan of Arc, Virgin and Martyr)
Postscript: You know what would be groundbreaking? Giving Rey a female friend! For the love of God, can Rey please have a female friend? Pretty, pretty, please?
Ok, the last two pieces were kind of prologues to this post. Now, at last, we get to my opinions about the Reylo ship, as well as my thoughts about what Disney should do next in the films.
1 There is a sexual dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren.
Now, I need to be clear about this. This does not mean that I believe that Rey is attracted to Kylo Ren, or that the two of them are going to fall in love and live happily ever after. When I say that there is a sexual dynamic between the two characters, I mean
In film language, the monstrous figure carrying a fainted woman in his arms telegraphs to the audience that the monster sexually desires the woman.
And if anyone says, “Well, just because the director used that image does not mean that he was thinking of the monsters carrying the fainted woman,” my answer is, “If that’s the case, than J.J. Abrams is an even worse director than I already think he is.” A director must understand the language of film and how to use film language to convey a point of view, just the way a painter must understand the language of painting. For example, there is a painting hanging at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the section of American painting by Benjamin West. The artist painted his wife holding his son.
(Painting courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Website)
When he painted the picture, he was deliberately referencing the Madonna and Child paintings that are so prolific in art.
(Virgin and Child Tiziano Vecellio)
Now, the painter could have chosen to use the reference ironically, or in a way that parodies the reference, even in a grotesque way.
But if the painter sat down to paint a woman holding a baby in a Western context without at least considering the Madonna and Child iconography, he would have been a grossly deficient painter.
In the same way, J.J. Abrams would be a grossly deficient director if he asked the actors to film the bridal carry without at least considering the imagery’s use and meaning in monster movies.
2 Rey’s Strength as a Character is Unrelated to her Relationship Status
A few years ago I was discussing The Hunger Games with a man at work. I was talking about how disappointing the end of Mockingjay was, and how a teenager related to me that she felt that Katniss should not have been with either Peta or Gale. (She did not feel it made sense within the context of the story, and she could not have been more correct.) The man agreed, saying that it would have shown that Katniss was strong to have her end up alone.
I probably shouldn’t get into how upset that makes me, but here goes.
First of all, again with the Strong Female Characters! As Sophia McDougall writes in her excellent article “I hate strong female characters”
“Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”
But setting aside the Strong Female Character (I’ll come back to that in a minute) let me state the obvious.
A woman is not strong because she is single. She is not weak because she is single. A woman is strong because of her disposition and character. A strong woman will be strong, single or in a relationship. A weak woman will be weak, single or in a relationship. Was Leia weak in The Empire Strikes Back and in The Return of the Jedi because she was in love with Han?
Or perhaps more telling, was Han weaker than Luke because he was in love with Leia? Is Luke stronger than Han because he is single at the end of The Return of the Jedi? Or is Han weak at the end of The Return of the Jedi because he is with Leia and then strong in The Force Awakens because he and Leia are estranged?
How many men saw Han Solo in the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, clearly in love with Leia, and thought to themselves, “Oh. I thought Han was a strong, independent man, filled with agency and totally in control of his own destiny. But he is in love with Leia. so that cannot be true. Clearly Han is weak and needy and unable to live without a woman.” I am willing to bet none.
Rey is strong because she kept herself alive in an incredibly harsh environment, entirely on her own. She has scraped a living as a scavenger and defended herself against attacks. She survived on very little sustenance and in almost total isolation for more than a decade. She has continued to survive, day in and day out, in a situation that would have caused many people to give up and die. Not only did she survive, but she taught herself mechanics and flying spaceships. That is what makes Rey strong. The writers should not think about how Rey’s relationship status reflects her strength; they should think about how her being single or being in a relationship would serve the story, and what would serve the story best.
If Rey ends up in a relationship, she will still be strong.
And yet, the man I talked to, and other men as well, have expressed the idea that if a female character is portrayed in a relationship, this makes the female character weak. I think there is a reason for this attitude, which brings me to my next point.
3 When men watch a film in which the main character is a woman, they imagine that the character is a man.
Collider Videos on Youtube posted a video in which they discussed the idea that Rey is related to Luke Skywalker. (I’ll address that idea later.)
In the video, I noticed that the hosts (all men) kept asking the same question. “Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s son?” They said this several times. Finally, they realized what they were doing and they switched to saying “daughter,” but they had a difficult time saying the word. To me, that is very telling. They watched the film and imagined that Rey is a man. There was another podcast (also men) in which the podcasters bragged to each other how there were times when they were watching The Force Awakens that they forgot that Rey was a woman. (It’s as if they forgot that she only had one arm!) I don’t think this is simply a coincidence. I think that when men see a film where a woman is the main character, they attempt to imagine that the main character is a man (preferably themselves.)
This is why there is a plethora of Strong Female Characters in films, such as the eponymous Lucy starring Scarlett Johannson or Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road (surprisingly good movie), Angelina Jolie’s Salt, or even Star Wars Rogue One. Men get to watch these films in which women play a macho role that would normally be played by a man. The men imagine that the woman is a man, usually themselves, and do their best to ignore the fact that the main character is a woman. They then get to congratulate themselves for having proven their feminist bona fides.
Nice try guys.
A few months ago I saw the play Octoroon, a play in which a black man plays two white characters, a white man plays a Native American, etc. This is spelled out in the play itself. Afterwards, I heard the director talk about the play. He talked about how the idea that “racially blind” casting is inherently racist. What that really means is, “We are going to allow a black person to play a white person.” Instead, directors now talk about “racially conscious casting.” They ask themselves, “What would the actor’s race add to the show?” To use Octoroon as an example, at one point in the play, a white man wearing red face throws a noose around the neck of a black man wearing white face. In the context of the play, a Native American throws a noose around a white man. However, the audience sees a white man throwing a noose around a black man. This has an added meaning to the audience.
Just as racially blind casting can be considered inherently racist, gender blind casting could be considered inherently sexist. It means, “We are going to pretend that the woman is a man.”
This is also why men seem to think that a female character in a relationship with a man is a weaker character. The straight men in the audience can no longer imagine themselves in the main character’s role. The main character’s relationship reminds the straight men in the audience that the main character is a woman, and the fact that she is a woman diminishes her in their eyes. (A quick aside, this is also another reason why a film starring the Strong Female Character will never give the protagonist a female friend. Their interaction would also remind the men watching the film that the main character is a woman.)
4 Four hours (and two movies) is a long time.
By this I mean, it is difficult to sustain interest in films for four hours. Ideas that are riveting in the beginning of the film, or in a series of films, can become stale and tired.
Many people see Kylo Ren as simply becoming a static, one dimensional antagonist, completely undoing the nuance that the screenwriters tried to give him in the first film. They think that killing Han Solo now makes him wholly evil, and he will simply be evil for the rest of the film. I wonder if this is sustainable for two more films and another four hours.
Seriously, how does this play out?
Kylo Ren meets Rey and they fight in one location. Kylo Ren then meets Rey and they fight in another location. They then meet again and fight in a third location. After which, a mushroom jumps up and says, “Thank you Rey! But our princess is in another castle!”
This is difficult to sustain over four hours. It is possible, but it is difficult. It’s also not a movie. It’s a video game.
This is made even more difficult by the fact that Rey defeats Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. The audience will not go into The Last Jedi wondering, “Can Rey defeat Kylo Ren, and if so, how?” We have already seen her defeat Kylo Ren, so there is no sense of suspense or danger about their next meeting.
The original trilogy did not have this problem. Luke and Darth Vader did not meet in A New Hope. They meet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back and Darth Vader toys with Luke and then completely defeats him, before giving him the news that they were his father. This lead to a great deal of anticipation for their final meeting in The Return of the Jedi.
5 Disney Needs To Be Bold and Take Risks
The Force Awakens was an acceptable movie, but it was derivative. As many people have pointed out, it was basically a rehash of A New Hope. I can sit through a remake/rip off of A New Hope once. I cannot, will not, do it again. Nor am I going to watch The Empire Strikes Back ripped off, sorry Disney.
This is the primary reason that I do not want Rey to be Luke Skywalker’s daughter. I feel as though I have seen that story before. Plus, the fact that everyone is expecting it makes it even less intriguing. And for those who say, “Well, that would set up an interesting dynamic with Kylo Ren,” I say, “Not really.” Perhaps this is simply because I don’t really have any kind of relationship with my cousins, but I don’t consider that to be a compelling relationship.
(I will make one exception to the idea of Luke Skywalker as Rey’s father. If they use that dynamic to set up Luke Skywalker as a villain, then I would be fine with that. Here is what I mean. If Luke Skywalker is Rey’s father, this means that he abandoned her on Jakku. He left his daughter to die. This is not the same thing as Obi Wan leaving Luke in the hands of his aunt and uncle, whom he knew would feed and raise Luke. If Luke truly is Rey’s daughter, then he threw her out like a piece of trash. Furthermore, Maz tells Rey that her family is simply never coming back for her. This means that Luke abandoned his daughter to die and had no intention of ever coming back for her. What an asshole. Imagine what Rey would feel when she discovers that her father, a legendary great man, left her to die without any intention of ever rescuing her. Imagine how the audience will feel when they discover that the hero of their childhood has become the kind of man who leaves his children to die without any intention of rescuing him. Imagine if Disney had the guts to completely discredit Luke Skywalker, to transform him into terrible person, a callous, villainous man who the audience would be forced to hate! I would totally see that.)
6 Giving Kylo Ren a “Villanous Crush” can serve the film, without being part of the story.
An antagonist can have a sexual interest in a protagonist without the two of them dating, or the antagonist raping the protagonist.
A classic example of this is in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The actor who played Gul Dukat always played his scenes with Major Kira as though Gul Dukat had sexual designs on Major Kira. Fortunately, this never became anything more than a suggestion. But it was incredibly creepy, and only made their interactions more disturbing.
A director will often give actors those kinds of directions in order to get the right reaction in a scene, even if it is not mentioned in the script. David Lean supposedly told Omar Shariff in Dr. Zhivago that when he was watching the police massacre innocent people, he should imagine that he was fucking a woman and trying to hold off his orgasm. Why did David Lean want that reaction? I have no idea. But directors will frequently give their actors unusual or unexpected directions. It would not hurt for the director to give a similar direction to Adam Driver (the actor who plays Kylo Ren.)
7 We have never seen a character return to the light side and live with the consequences.
On Collider Videos, one of the hosts argued that he did not want to see Kylo Ren return to the light side because “we have seen that already,” ie Darth Vader’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is actually not true. Darth Vader was redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi, and then he died. We never got to see what happened when Luke Skywalker tried to bring Darth Vader back to meet Leia, Han, and other members of the rebellion. He never had to earn the trust of the people whom he attacked or tried to kill. We also never saw Darth Vader try to live with the guilt of the countless number of lives he took or otherwise destroyed.
To me, that was the biggest frustration with Finn’s character. He was bad, and then he wasn’t, and everyone was fine with that. Finn was, as he said, “raised to do one thing (kill on order)” from birth. And then one instant he changed his mind, decisively and permanently. He never wonders whether he should return the First Order. He returns to Starkiller Base to kill the people who were his fellow soldiers and allies, perhaps even friends, and has no second thoughts. Moreover, not one single person ever doubts Finn’s conversion. Poe and Leia accept that Finn defected from the Resistance and never suspect that Finn could be a double agent or that he could return to the First Order. He never has to earn their trust. Rey discovers that Finn lies to her about his true identity, and then she easily forgives him and harbors no ill feelings.
This was a tremendous missed opportunity.
8 If Kylo Ren does return to the light side and he hooks up with Rey, the fanboys will lose their shit.
A few years ago I was reviewing The Dark Knight Rises, and I talked about the forced romance between Catwoman and Batman. At the time, I wrote as follows.
The romance in this film, as in both of the previous films, are at best half baked, closer to uncooked. I find that annoying, and somewhat patronizing. It’s almost as if action directors are thinking “Oh no! Women won’t sit through this movie unless there’s kissing in it!”
I ended the comment that way because, growing up, I always assumed that the romance in super hero movies and James Bond films were thrown in by studio executives to try to placate the women in the audience. I have since decided that is not the case. The romances in super hero or James Bond films are in there for the men. The men in the audience expect that if the protagonist meets some sort of masculine/moral code, then the film will reward him with a woman. And since most men imagine themselves in the role of the superhero or James Bond, they are imagining that the film is rewarding them with a woman.
Kylo Ren, on the other hand, while he has embraced the masculine code, he has abandoned the moral code. He has joined the First Order, embraced the dark side of the Force, and killed his father. Most damning of all the fan boys, Kylo Ren’s father was Han Solo, their childhood idol. If Kylo Ren is able to “get the girl” after killing Han Solo, the fanboys will see this as fundamentally unjust. This would be a moral crisis straight out of Amadeus.
It’s not simply that this will strike them as sappy. It is an affront to their basic understanding of right and wrong.
The outrage this would spawn would be, let’s see how can I put this?
9 Kylo Ren’s fate is tied to Rey, because the protagonist and antagonist’s fate are bound together.
Collider Videos had a discussion a few months ago about whether or not Kylo Ren was redeemable. What struck me in this video was how they focused entirely on Luke and Leia in terms of whether or not Kylo Ren could be redeemed. They never mentioned Rey, which is stunning. Rey is the protagonist of the film. Kylo Ren is the antagonist. An antagonist’s fate is bound to the fate of the protagonist’s fate. Imagine going to a James Bond villain where the villain does not die at the hands of James Bond, but by slipping in the shower and hitting his head. Imagine if the Emperor had died before meeting Luke Skywalker by choking on food. The audience would feel frustrated by this. They expect that the fate of the antagonist to be bound to the actions of the protagonist.
When Collider ignores Rey’s role in Kylo Ren’s fate, they are rejecting the idea that Rey is the protagonist.
So, these are my thoughts about the Reylo phenomenon. The question is, should Disney actually pursue this?
Sure, why not?
Disney needs to take chances. They need to take risks, they need to be bold and potentially piss off a lot of people. They need to risk failure. Reylo would certainly do that. Could it fail disastrously? Oh, most definitely! But at this point, I would rather see Disney take risks with Star Wars and fail rather than play it safe by remaking the original trilogy over and over again and “succeed.”I want to see Disney gamble.
Plus, this would take advantage of the fact that they cast a young man and young woman in the title roles. We have never seen a Star Wars movie where the protagonist and the antagonist were members of the opposite sex. Why set up this dynamic and then ask the audience to simply pretend that both of them are men?
This would also give them the chance to actually play out a dynamic that is implicit in the language of the Force. When Snoke wonders whether or not Kylo Ren will be able to resist the temptation to the light, Kylo Ren has a striking reply. Kylo Ren does not say, “By the grace of your training I shall not be persuaded.” Or coerced. Or convinced. Or influenced. Or even lured. Kylo Ren says, “By the grace of your training I will not be seduced.” He uses a word with a very clear sexual connotation. This is not new. “Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force,” Obi Wan Kenobi said. This dynamic exists within the language of the Force. Why not play it out for the first time?
It would also make the imagery in the first film meaningful, rather than a sign of a shoddy director who doesn’t understand how films work. If the J.J. Abrams put the bridal carry image in The Force Awakens without being aware of the significance of that image in film language, then I am genuinely afraid of how the other two films play out because they could become laughably bad. I can easily see Ryan Johnson working on a storyboard for The Last Jedi saying, “You know what would be really scary? If we have Rey go out on a balcony and see Kylo Ren down on the ground below, and the two of them talk to each other! The audience will see that and say, ‘Oh my goodness! The balcony scene was terrifying and didn’t remind me of anything I have ever seen in any other context whatsoever!'”
Then in Episode Nine, Rey will lose one of her shoes and Kylo Ren will find it.
Disney could go a variety of ways with this. They could simply write the story so that Kylo Ren is sexually fascinated with Rey, without this ever being returned. They could write the story without that but the director could ask the actor to play scenes in the film as though he is sexually fascinated with Rey. They could also make Rey attracted to Kylo Ren, making her somewhat conflicted about killing him. (If Rey is straight, then being attracted to men is a part of her lived experience, sorry straight men!) They could redeem Kylo Ren and force him to adjust to life in the Resistance, and after a long and arduous penance, he and Rey end up together, or at least with some kind of understanding. Or Rey could turn dark and hook up with Kylo Ren, before returning to the light and killing him. They could also pick an option that I have not listed above.
Or they could do none of the options above and ignore the Reylo phenomenon entirely.
But whatever you do Disney, remember three things.
1 Rey is the protagonist, and she is a woman. Being a woman is NOT a disability, despite what men might think, and being a woman is a part of Rey’s lived experience. Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting to see Rey carrying around a box of tampons on the Millenium Falcon, but Rey’s life experiences are different than that of the men in the film, and there is no reason to ignore that. (On an unrelated subject, can Rey have a female friend to talk to? Please, pretty please? That is my dearest wish for her and for the upcoming films.)
2 The visual language in a film is crucial and provides cues to the audience as to how to interpret the story. A film’s visual language is also not invented from scratch each time a film is made. It exist within the context of all the films that have preceded it.
And lastly, as Ms Frizzle would say,
3 Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!
Good luck Disney. 🙂
Today is the fifth anniversary of my total thyroidectomy, which means that today marks me fifth anniversary of being cancer free!
In celebration, here is Elton John’s Still Standing.
Here is Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances.