26 Feb No, Jupiter Ascending Is Not Your Feminist Fairy Tale
Here’s the thing. I can see why some women think Jupiter Ascending is cool: it has a woman as the lead in a SFF film. But it is not a kind of Star Wars and it is not a feminist fairy tale.
And here’s why.
Picture if at the end of The Matrix Neo just went back to his old job. Or Luke returned to his planet to become a farmer after blowing up the Death Star.* Hard to imagine, right? Yet that’s exactly what Jupiter does. She goes back to scrubbing toilets.
It’s an ending that flies in the face of the “epic” tale we were promised. And it’s an ending that shows no growth. Because Jupiter is an outline of a character who never grows because she does not perform any actions.
A fine ending for something like this would be for the character to look at the stars from a spaceship, metaphor for contemplating possibilities, standing next to her new friends. Or something else that did not necessitate the kind of limp finale she receives which I’m sure a male character would never, EVER, get.
Jupiter has no motivations or hobbies. We know she wants to buy a telescope because her dad liked astronomy. Why doesn’t she like astronomy herself? Imagine if during one of the conversations with her family Jupiter was chided for spending all her spare time looking at the stars or looking at astronomy books. Luke wanted to be a pilot, didn’t he? Peter Parker wants to be a scientist even though he is a nerd. They both aspire to something greater. The movie implies that Jupiter aspires to wear nicer clothes and probably nothing more. Okay, she wants a boyfriend since nobody loves her (really?). Now picture the film if amateur astronomer Jupiter — who these days never has time to look at the stars because of her hard work — finds herself in space! It’s not only fun because she has nice clothes but because OMG SHE ALWAYS WANTED TO SEE THESE GREAT SIGHTS.
There are other issues. Even though technically this passes the Bechdel test, the only other woman of note appears in the movie to explain the rules of the game and then disappear. Hey, you are a Reincarnation now I’ll step out of all the action, my brothers can carry it from here. It also makes it seem like mini-bosses in a video game where you jump from one to the other, though Jupiter doesn’t technically “defeat” or “outwit” any of them.
That’s the other thing. Jupiter doesn’t do anything. I didn’t want her to suddenly practice kung-fu like Neo, but she doesn’t seem to think at all. She is merely dragged through the action, saved constantly by her would-be boyfriend.
Compare this to an old movie called Labyrinth. Girl wants to escape her mundane life, is transported to other world, must outwit foe and return to the safety of home. Sound familiar? Yet that movie from 1986 manages to show us a certain amount of growth and depth of character even though it was a kids film. Sarah begins the movies as a petulant child who does not seem to appreciate her family and who really needs to grow up, and becomes an adult by the end of the film but without abandoning her sense of wonder.
She never physically slays anybody but she triumphs all the same using her brain. Bravo!
Restoree, a 1960s Anne McCaffrey novel, also has a similar plot as Jupiter Ascending. The protagonist is an ordinary young woman who one day wakes to find herself trapped in another planet. She must find a way to free herself from the facility where she is being held, and escape with her new friend. She does so (because she’s smart) and after escaping wades through a net of intrigue on an alien planet. She also falls in love.
Restoree is far from perfect. I am not a fan of the book, yet it does the same basic things this movie attempts, but better, back in 1967.
Why is it so difficult for filmmakers to give us well-developed heroines? Why after all these decades is it still such a chore?
Please, do not be satisfied with Jupiter Ascending. It is the perfect material for fan fiction (boy, is it, what with all the potential incest and weirdness) but that doesn’t make me feel better. We keep getting these lumpy cookies burned at the bottom from Hollywood while there’s all these movies that somehow manage to give us men-cookies that don’t have any parts burnt.
The love some women are giving this movie shows that we could truly welcome a wave of movies about interesting women. But we have to get the interesting in there.
* If Luke did go back to farming after the first movie, Leia could become a Jedi and save the galaxy. Yes, I know, that’s not such a bad idea.