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Is Lara Croft simply a man in woman’s clothing? March 28, 2007

Posted by sindhub in Angelina Jolie, gender, La Femme Nikita, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider 2, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.
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Throught Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, I was struck by how ‘masculine’ Croft’s behavior and personality were.  And I don’t think I would have been as struck by this trait of hers if we hadn’t seen Besson’s Nikita before this.  Whereas Nikita feels remorse and questions the violence she has to perform, Croft almost ruthlessly kills the bad guys off, one by one.  And while all Nikita really wants is to be married with Marco, Croft is apparently afraid of commitment and getting too close to anyone, only to be betrayed again in the end by her love interest and forced to kill him.

So the masculine qualities that Croft has: adventurousness and risk-taking, stubbornness/resolve, ass-kicking, technologically adept, etc.  And of course, she’s the one in charge of the men on her team; she decides what they’re gonna do and tells them what to do, not the other way around.  There are only two other substantial female characters in the movie (the old lady who greeted them in the mountains, and the little girl who gave her her bubble gum); for the most part, Croft is surrounded by men, and the movie consistently makes her look like the stronger person.  Her sidekicks are made to look effeminate: the two Greek men at the beginning flirt with her and have such little chance that they are jokingly rebuffed; her techno-whiz sidekick can’t stand up to Pryce and his henchmen, may not be able to fly the helicopter, and in addition to the other sidekick, is unknowingly all dolled up for marriage in the end.  And, Croft doesn’t seem to feel much remorse over the deaths she’s caused–she never even mention her sidekicks that were killed at the beginning.  Croft is even dominant over Terry when they’re making out–but it turns that she was just using her sexuality to manipulate him into a position of weakness (literally–he’s on the bottom).

After we talked in class on Tuesday about how Nikita’s reluctance to perform violence was a French thing, I noticed more and more while watching Tomb Raider 2 that some of Croft’s more masculine qualities might be seen as stereotypically “ugly American.”  Namely, the pigheadedness of not showing the remorse for the deaths of her sidekicks from the beginning, and the recklessness and show-off-ness with which she sets off around the world (e.g. the motorcycle scene with Terry, and the big splash on the boat when she’s first seen in  the movie–it was just so unnecessary!)  However, as the movie went on, we saw some character development that showed more feminine qualities–the respect she had for the family in Hong Kong and the Masai tribesman (including the remorse she felt at their deaths, which she must have felt were her fault), her camaraderie with the little girl in the Hong Kong family, and the decision to not open Pandora’s Box for fear that it might lead to the deaths of millions of innocent people.  And of course, her passive/sexual use of her body to handcuff Terry.

I found Terry to be a really interesting character.  While he was physically strong, he was mentally and emotionally weak; he had betrayed his country and sidekicks in the past, and now he couldn’t resist the power that Pandora’s Box could offer him.  He denigrates Lara’s “idealism” and slaps her, and is about to kill her–but of course, she kills him first.  For me, this contrast between the too-pigheaded man and the more conscientious woman is ultimately what keeps Lara from simply being a woman in man’s clothing or different from other action heroes only in that she’s objectified for her body.  I’m not sure if I would call this feminist, but I do think that Lara is a good model of a balance between masculine and feminine traits.

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1. erinsull - March 29, 2007

I have to wonder if part of the reason the character of Lara Croft can express such “masculine” qualities is because her body is so overtly feminine. The first time we see her she is doing insane action stunts but she is also in a revealing bathing suit. When she poses the ridiculous plan to go search for the Temple she is wearing a skintight getup that calls particular attention to her breasts. While she has so many “masculine” traits she is also oh so woman, with her lengthy hair, ample chest, and of course the famous Jolie lips. She can be ass-kicking and risk taking because there is never any doubt that she is woman. She can’t conceal her feminine side even when punching out a shark (which may have been one of the more unintentionally hilarious things I’ve seen in a while). I’m guessing a female action hero would not be as readily accepted if she both acted and looked more masculine. Lara is in serious contrast to Nikita, whose femininity is not so obvious. Her feminine side is shown through her emotions.

Interesting side note about her conscientiousness. I was reading some reviews of The Cradle of Life last night and I came upon one by Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, one of the few female reviewers often represented in the Cream of the Crop section of rottentomatoes. She lamented that Jolies “intense and fairly scary personality” was missing from the movie. She mentioned that Jolie wanted Lara to be a more fully realized character in the sequel, with more ideals, depth and emotions. Schwartzbaum comments about Jolie that “having floated the message (in an EW interview and elsewhere) that the first ”Tomb Raider” project lacked a strong story, and that the first 3-D version of the cartoon heroine wasn’t enough of a ”complete woman” to suit her tastes, the star is hindered by her own quest for depth.” I thought it was interesting that the reviewer thought that by making Lara a more “complete woman” Jolie somehow suppressed her own wildness.

2. kelly - April 1, 2007

I think it’s a bit hasty to say that Croft is “apparently afraid of commitment and getting too close to anyone.” It seems that she develops a close bond with and trusts her assistants, the Chinese woman, and even Djimon Hounsou’s character (although she may only have known him for a couple of hours). I think we are often too eager to say that strong women are afraid of “letting someone in” or afraid of getting hurt, because we believe that women are so vulnerable that the only way they can be strong is too not allow themselves to become attached to anyone. This, I think, is unfair and does not give enough credit to Croft or women. It is not that she is afraid of getting close to Gerard Butler’s character, but that she doesn’t trust him. She isn’t really betrayed by him in the end, because this is what she has expected all along. Had she allowed herself to get close to him, she would be reduced to yet another female who, though strong, falls victim to her own emotions and blindness when in love. Instead, the story chooses a refreshing path that demonstrates that woman are not always ruled by emotion or a need to be with a man. Lara isn’t really forced to kill Butler, but she chooses to, as she has known she would have to all along. Her choice does not represent a fear of commitment, but rather a lack of naivite and blind trust that we are so used to seeing in women in film.

3. lindamc - April 2, 2007

I feel like we are ignoring a big part of Croft’s female-ness in order to proclaim her as masculine: she is heart broken when she kills Terry, and defn shows a motherly protection over her two co-workers. She shows tons of emotion in when she is in Africa heading to the cradle of life, when the indigenous warrior boy is killed, and in general towards animals and nature (very feminine things). She also uses what in Iran they would call “Macrazan” or “woman’s tricks” often to succeed: fighting in a particularly feminine way by using her body and sexuality to gain trust and become lethal. For example, she clearly can manipulate Terry anyway she wants: chain him to a bed, even shoot him. If he is such a smart and tactful army guy, how could he not see the gun she so clearly fell on. Oh! Because he was drawn to her sex appeal and good looks! Obviously…that to me seemed pretty far off, and only explainable if we give her female sexual agency, much like Nikita has. Her costumes, her attitudes, and her methods are all very female power-esque. She may be tougher than Nikita and maybe more athletic, but her use of her power is still very feminine.

4. sindhub - April 12, 2007

You all bring up good points, especially kelly’s point about her ‘fear’ of commitment. That was something I hadn’t considered as much; I sort of took my perception from the movie, when Butler’s character accuses Lara Croft of it. You’re right, though; there definitely is more to her character that we see later on; not just conscientiousness, but also rationality and clearheadedness.


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