On a road trip this past weekend, I was catching up on my podcasts, when I happened to catch The New Yorker Out Loud‘s discussion about depictions of sex within film and television. If you listen to it, you might be tempted to cut it off about 10 minutes in as the panelists start trying to talk over each other (unusual for The New Yorker‘s podcasts) as I was, but push through. It’s worth it. It’s especially worth it to me, because although the primary topic of the podcast was Blue is the Warmest Color (which I have not seen yet), they ended up spending a decent amount of time discussing one of my all-time favorite movies, The Big Chill.
My ears perked up even more than usual, though, because in a few short weeks I’ll be presenting a paper about The Big Chill at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference in Albuquerque. The topic of my paper is that although The Big Chill has a lot of progressive ideals ingrained in its narrative (and is one of my favorite movies), the ultimate conclusion of the story is one that reinforces traditional gender roles. PS, I have a habit of doing this, of writing about negative stuff in my favorite works of art – a previous essay involved examining the misogyny in Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.
I’m not sure if the panelists in the podcast would disagree with the premise of my paper or not, but they gushed over two sex scenes in the movie – one explicit (Kevin Kline and Mary Kay Place) and one implied (William Hurt and Meg Tilly). I really liked their commentary – one of their criticisms of typical sex scenes in movies is that they are just signifying the fact that the characters are having a sexual relationship, that the sex scenes themselves don’t have any drama in them to add to the overall narrative arc. The Big Chill‘s scenes, they argue, are different because the Kline/Place one is unusually realistic, and their facial expressions/displayed emotions toward each other are important to the plot of the story, and the Hurt/Tilly one implies that two people can go to bed with one another even if they can’t have intercourse and that’s okay (another unusual narrative). I liked that analysis, and I especially like Richard Brody‘s observation that one of the things most important to seeing the full, dynamic picture of The Big Chill is, even more than the interactions between the people of the same generation, the interactions between that group and the younger (Meg Tilly’s character Chloe) and older (Don Galloway’s character Richard) generations.
(The basic premise of my piece is that the women in the film are all portrayed as strong and nuanced and independent, but by the end of the movie are slotted into more submissive roles. Meg has to put on a robe that sexualizes her for Harold to move into motherhood. Sarah allows her husband to sleep with another woman in part to make up for her infidelity. Chloe is only presented as a deep character after she sheds her sexually permissive aura. Also, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, in my opinion.)
God, I love this movie. I’ll admit, at a time when it’s an admission incompatible with the current zeitgeist iteration, that I don’t watch a lot of film or television, but that’s one that I watch at least 2-3 times every year. I worry often that doing the kind of analysis that’s required for an academic paper will make me no longer like the object that I’m analyzing, but so far (having now analyzed, at least in part, The Big Chill and Blood on Tracks for academic work and Kentucky Route Zero and a few novels for more nonacademic pieces) that hasn’t been the case. I know it has come up in some of my video game playing – the “artwork” of League of Legends, for example, bothers me every time I load that game. I still play it though.
Outside content: What, the New Yorker podcast above isn’t good enough for you? Writing this reminded me of writing this post for a class, which reminded me of this site – Fallen Princesses, which plays with the whole Disney Princess thing.