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Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Defense of Rachel Dawes

This post was initially going to be a defense of Pepper Potts in the Iron Man movie, based on what some silly livejournal said about her measuring up poorly to Rachel Dawes. Ultimately I realized that Pepper doesn't need defense, as she is Alfred in high heels, and inherently awesome.

Certainly I think Pepper's the more feminist heroine than Rachel Dawes. But I ultimately think Rachel Dawes doesn't get a fair shake.

I've seen Rachel criticized as, in this movie, being defined solely by her relationship to the men. There's Bechdel rule accusations, and of course, there's the matter of her death.

But I think that simplifies who the character really was.

Rachel Dawes is not defined by her relationship to the men, really, it's the men who are defined by their relationship to HER.

Bruce sees her as his hope for a normal life someday. She's all a part of his fantasy of a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. However, SHE knows that this isn't possible. And when she realizes it, that's when she writes the letter. She was rejecting her role in his fantasy and she was honest enough to say so.

And in the case of Harvey, well, the unfairness of her death was enough to push him over the edge, which is something of a women in refrigerators type thing, except that I don't necessarily think it's that simple.

See, for me, the key to the "woman in refrigerator" trope is that the character is sacrificed for the growth of the male characters. In this case, I don't think that was actually the reason Rachel was sacrificed. I think that her death definitely had an effect on them, sure, but I don't think her death was intended for the reason of making Batman sadder or having Harvey become Two-Face, I believe her death was intended to represent the death of Gotham's Hope.

See, Bruce was blind. He thought that the hero Gotham needed, the hero without a mask, was Harvey Dent. He was wrong. Harvey was a good man, nearly impossibly good, yes. But he was wearing a mask too.

Think about his first appearance. He entered the courtroom late, was flippant, genial and charming. He seemed irreverent, trusting the idea of which lawyer would prosecute Maroni to a coin flip. And then when the gun is pulled on him, he cold-cocks the lackey and we see that the Harvey Dent we saw at the very beginning of the scene was not who he was.

Harvey subsequently reveals himself to be a schemer, manipulator and a control freak. His coin? Double-sided of course. Every time he pretends to trust it to luck, he knows what'll happen. He compromises the ideal of the profession: allowing a vigilante fugitive to cross into a foreign country and kidnap a foreign national. This doesn't mean he's any less of a good man, honestly, but it's pretty obvious why the people in Gordon's unit would call him Two-Face. He's a piranha, all cute and harmless looking one minute, then CHOMP, you have no arm.

And obviously he's not uncorruptable. But in the end, every single character was corrupted. Batman's most loyal and trusted friend Alfred has betrayed both Bruce AND Rachel's trust in burning that final letter. Jim Gordon, the most honest man in Gotham, had lied to keep a dead man's memory alive, and allowed another man to take the fall. Lucius Fox might have declared the super-sonic spy machine to be against his ethics, but that didn't stop him from helping Batman use it...just this once.

The only character in the entire movie who never once compromised her morals and never once wore any kind of mask was Rachel Dawes.

At the dinner table with the Ballerina, she didn't talk much. And Bechdel rule aside, there was a very good reason why. They were discussing Batman. She knows who Batman is. She knows that Harvey, being a prosecutor, needs to have fairly good people reading skills. If she speaks, either she tells the truth and violates Bruce's trust, or lies to Harvey...and that's even assuming he buys the lie and that the lie doesn't get his suspicions up and lead to the reveal of the secret somehow anyway.

And ultimately, throughout the whole movie, Rachel never lies. She's honest with Harvey about not being able to marry him. She's honest with Bruce about not being able to be his symbol of hope any more. She's doesn't even pretend not to be afraid of the Joker, even with him, she's honest. She doesn't scheme or manipulate. Even though she understands why Bruce is Batman, she doesn't ever give any indication that she truly condones it. And when Bruce does finally cross the line, allowing an innocent man to set himself up as bait, she calls him on it.

Actually, I'm wrong. She does lie once but I'll give her a pass for that one. After becoming Two-Face, he goes on his rampage about having to lie and tell the person you love that it's going to be all right when you know it's not. The thing is, Harvey wasn't really in that situation. At least once he found out that their friends would choose which one of them would live. SHE was the one trying to reassure him, trying to get him to talk about what his surroundings were like in the hope that he would be able to get out too.

And when he was rescued, she was happy for him and even then tried to comfort him. And then she blew up. As untarnished and good and honest as she was at the very beginning. In a movie where every single character functioned as some sort of symbol or another, SHE, not Harvey, was Gotham City's hope. And SHE, not Harvey, was Bruce's hero without a mask.

That doesn't change the fact of course, that it was yet another sacrifice of a female character and I can understand that being frustrated for some people. Personally though, I do think people underestimate Rachel's role in the movie. She came in a hero and she went out a hero and in a movie like this, that means a LOT.


  • At August 28, 2008 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    good defense, but wat is bechdel rule?

  • At August 28, 2008 9:47 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    The Rule.


  • At August 28, 2008 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Totally agree. I loved the character of Rachel in the first movie as well. I loved the idea of batman's love interest being her own type of crusader against the darkness. The fact that SHE, not HE was setting the terms of the relationship at the end of that movie rang true (Katie Holmes' performance, on the other hand, I did not love, but that is another issue. I separate the character from the actress).

    I wish the movie, at the end, would have given more attention to HER sacrifice. The novelization actually has lines about her in that final speech where they decided to let Bats take the fall for Harvey's murders. In the movie, its all about Harvey and Rachel seems pretty forgotten. Which is a shame.

    I understand the choice to kill her off, but wish she could have stuck around and joined the canon. She could have been Bruce's version of Supe's Chloe Sullivan.

  • At August 28, 2008 10:34 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Dammit, I REALLY have to break down and see this movie.

  • At August 28, 2008 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sometimes you read a post by someone and think, "Oh, THAT's why I liked the character, I just never really thought to put it into words." That's what this post did for me. Great job!

  • At August 28, 2008 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great analysis, particularly regarding why Rachel's death probably wasn't really a fridging.

    This may be a matter of semantics but to me, a true fridging has to ultimately have no point other than to artificially push the drama. If you took Rachel out of the equation, you'd still have Harvey getting scared and probably still going unhinged as a result. Rachel dying as a result of the same attack was just sprout icing on a very bitter cake for Bruce and Harvey.

  • At August 28, 2008 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Excellent analysis. A couple of your points were entirely knew to my feeble brain.

    Alan Coil

  • At October 04, 2008 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That was actually very insightful. I never hated Rachel the way some of my friends did and I couldn't really find the words to explain why I didn't but you just said it perfectly.

  • At March 29, 2011 12:49 PM, Anonymous generic cialis said…

    I love her, I think she's so pretty! Rachel's really clear about what's important to her and unwilling to compromise her morals, which made a nice change" from the many conflicted characters whom she has previously portrayed so I think we mustn't believe anything about it. 2j3j


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