Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In praise of Red Queens

It's not until a really vital and vibrant myth envelopes you in its wings that you see just how wingless so many other myths are, and after some close examination I now know why...there's not enough red queens.

Myths and fairy tales are all rich with archetypes -- the shadow, the anima /animus, the wise old man, the wild man, the dark father, the evil queen, etc. but if you look at the most popular mythic franchises in Hollywood- Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, the Marvel-verse you find plenty of all the others but no evil queens. Only the Narnia and Twilight series have evil queens, and the latter especially is given raspberries by the fanboys who proclaim the Rings-Potter-Star Wars trifecta as the best sci fi-fantasy in Hollywood and Twilight a bunch of girly crap. Man, that's sexist. 99.9% of the characters in those three franchises you like are male; there's only two women in the entire Star Wars universe, and they're both 'good' princesses. The same is true with LOTR. It's even worse. The bitches if anywhere are all secondary, objectified or desexed and immaterial aside from being love objects, and certainly not morally ambivalent, beyond good and evil, as royalty must be, perforce.

We need more queens beyond good and evil, for it is there, beyond good and evil, where lurketh all archetypal energies, which are the backbone of enduring myth: And the fantasy industry shows its nerdy, unlaid, apron-strung girlophobia by ignoring this archetype. Things get stale until a great evil queen shows up; when she does she's like a breath of fresh, beyond good and evil air.

Below is a list of red queens divided by archetypal role:

The (Primary) Red Queen
Queen of Hearts - Alice in Wonderland
Victoria - Twilight
The White Witch  -Chronicles of Narnia
Mrs. Iselin - The Manchurian Candidate
Catherine the Great - The Scarlet Empress
The Great Tyrant - Barbarella 

Imperious in her whims, she represents the unfulfilled potential of adulthood, when wealth and rank allow spoiled girls to sidestep full maturity and any accompanying humility. They are generally childless, preferring animal familiar lackeys--doting subservient cats, trolls, crows, ravens, mice, owls, hawks. They are vengeful and reserve special loathing for prettier, younger, naive, innocent girls and young virile men who spurn their unseemly advances.

The Secondary Variation: The Little (sadisto-nymphonic) Princess
Fah Lo Suee - Mask of Fu Manchu
Princess Aura - Flash Gordon
Scarlett O'Hara - Gone with the Wind
Cleopatra- Caesar and Cleopatra
Carmen Sternwood - The Big Sleep
Bunny - The Big Lebowski
Marylee Hadley - Written on the Wind
Drucilla - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Tollea / Naja - Cobra Woman

As her father notes to Marlowe, Carmen is "still a little girl who likes to pull the wings off flies." These are nubile young wantons grown up in wealth and power, and--with all the percs of being gorgeous and young to boot--become egotistical monsters, untamed by the empathic development that results from having limits, perceiving one's own faults, and equating one's negative actions towards others with others' negative actions towards oneself. Given too much free time and parental indulgence they become egocentric hedonistic sadists, obsessed by the few things left that they can't have, i.e, 'principled' men who are in love with someone else. So Scarlett pursues Ashley for decades, obsessed, until she gets him, at which point she realizes he sucks, and throws him away and runs back to Rhett, who's figured out by now the only way to win Scarlett's love is to spurn it. Aura loves Flash, but largely no doubt because he loves Dale. If he were to turn around and confess his love back to Aura, she'd lose all interest; thus he does her a favor by giving her something to chase. Fah Lo Suee is the most unrepentant sadist and therefore the hottest.

These girls may be hot messes but they're super sexy --they're far from under the thumb of their rich and largely absentee fathers; the hero is always a little tempted but he rises above it, which always pisses us off a little watching the film, at first. But if he did give in and fool around with her, he'd be doomed, damned and destroyed (like Owen Taylor in Big Sleep). That doesn't mean we can't love her from afar, even obsess from beyond the screen, knowing we'll never have to risk actually running into her at a party.

If we did, we'd best run.

The Tertiary Variation: Trickster
Julie Newmar as Catwoman - Batman (TV)
Rita Hayworth
The Derevko Sisters - Alias
Mystique - X-Men
Catherine Trammel - Basic Instinct
Marlene Dietrich

She promises sex and delivers debt. She's whisked away on the day of your marriage ceremony and the next time you see her she says she's her evil twin. She takes your money and somehow you can't get mad at her because you know she doesn't really care about it. She is the embodiment of the trickster: intelligent, beyond good and evil, using her sex appeal as a lure but more for fun, for keeping the eternal dance of fire and persona alive, or, as in Irena Derevko, a deeply embedded plan to save the earth, or keep herself amused. Catwoman for example is evil, but Batman loves her (and vice versa) and so each self-sabotages their efforts to kill or catch each other, or even to keep each other trapped. The chase is the thing. The agreement is unspoken but biding - no killing, for now, just elaborate traps that one may, with luck and thought, escape, to keep the game alive, while buying the other some time for a head start before the next encounter.

The Quarternary Variation: The Ancient-Young Woman
Ursula - Little Mermaid
The Evil Queen - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
She - She
The Three Sisters - Suspiria, Inferno
Elizabeth Bathory - The Countess, I Vampiri, Countess Dracula, etc.
Jessica Lange and Maid  - American Horror Story
The Red Queen (hologram) - Resident Evil series

She can be both young and old: the evil queen with her apple basket; Ursula with Ariel's voice; She before she steps into the fountain of youth one time too many. They illustrate the 'swindle' behind youth and beauty. You see it, you fall in love, you marry it, and then watch helpless as it withers away to age and ugliness after but a few decades.

Or if you're a woman, the queen is your mother, desperate to sabotage your maturity and somehow drain off your youthful bloom for herself.

Or it can even be you, in the mirror mirror, realizing that even your own beauty isn't yours to keep after all. It fades with time as inescapably as the grinding of the clock. Gather what selfies that you may, for the tick-tock of time promises decay as sure as the passing of the seasons.

In short, wise up punk-ass mainstream Hollywood! Don't be scared of the red queens! Help revive true myth, and breathe the salty air of your own mortal huskiness.


  1. Oh surely, surely there's a place for Angela Lansbury's devouring mother in Manchurian Candidate? Pretty please?

  2. Of course! I had her in mind too when I started. I added her immediately after reading this.

  3. Amen, brother! What a great post...

    In a very similar vein, a recent viewing of Lady Frankenstein underlined for me that fact that the (cinematic) world would be a better place with more women Mad Scientists.

  4. Very true, Daniel. You have given me a story idea.


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