The Writing

08 September, 2013

breaking character

I've been a long time defender and fan of Pitch Black. I loved it when I first saw it, which, admittedly, was because Claudia Black was a cast member. I remember looking at the Riddick dude and thinking whoa, who is that guy? Dayum. It took me a while to connect Vin Diesel to Caparzo from Saving Private Ryan. Anyway, this is not a post about Vin Diesel and gibbering fangirlishness, mostly because a) I don't gibber and b) I left that fandom a long time ago because of Reasons, mostly involving the mental breakdown of several people because the Jack character was recast in Chronicles of Riddick.

There are spoilers. Just so you know.

What I liked, and still like, about Pitch Black was its ensemble nature. The characters--even the ones who die early--have arcs. Small moments--a line of dialog, a single action--serve to define personalities and motivations, which are then complicated and layered through other actions. There are some brilliant moments of cinematography, mirroring between Riddick and the monsters, that explore the liminality of what we define as monster. Of course, the worst monsters in Pitch Black are the two-legged human kind, and at the end, when one of those monsters survives, the viewer is left with the discomfort of our affinity for him. No matter how cool Riddick is, he's...well, not a nice guy.

But here's one thing he isn't: a sexist. He kills. He torments. He abandons. But he doesn't treat women as if they are, as a class, lesser than he is. He does not spare them, but neither does he single them out for predatory behavior; he goes for the weak. He just doesn't assume women equals weak by default. He also doesn't make the sexist cracks about women as fuckable objects, or threaten to rape, or boast about his own sexual prowess. That trait marks him as different from some of the male characters around him. In Chronicles, his pitiless egalitarianism continued. Weakness--which he would attempt to exploit, like any good predator--is a matter of character, not gender.

There are no character arcs in Riddick, although Riddick himself has indeed changed. He's become just like every other idealized male badass-hero. The writers attempted to undo some of the stupidity of Chronicles and get back to the gritty, dirty, ungrandiose world of Pitch Black. They failed. I won't discuss the rambling plot, or the predictability, or that the movie attempts to be the unholy lovechild of  Dancing with Wolves and Pitch Black. I could've overlooked all that, if Riddick had still been Riddick. Okay, fine! Have a pet. But don't be a big-mouthed, arrogant, boasting sexist whose major distinction from The Bad Guys is that he will wait to go "balls deep" in the only named female character (a lesbian) until she "asks him all sweet-like," instead of trying to rape her and getting his ass kicked. Riddick waits until she asks. That's how we know he's the good guy.

And here we have the problem. Dahl's a lesbian, and by the end, she's screwing Riddick (we presume). I've heard cries of homophobia. I think yeah, but only because the movie's so sexist it can't conceive of a lesbian. Most of the dialog around Dahl is riddled with crude comments about her sexual availability, including one outright assault. She's a merc, but she's clearly not in the same class as the men. Part of that dialog is used to mark the Bad Guys, because Bad Guys are assholes and sexist behavior is one of those easy markers...except Riddick gets into the game, too, and the only men who don't talk to Dahl like she's an inflatable doll are her boss (who ends up being the coolest character in the film) and the young guy whose bizarre devotion to God seems at odds with his professional choices.

Riddick is a movie for males stuck perpetually at 15, where a) tough women must be lesbians, and b) all lesbians can be cured of that particular problem with a good helping of manly member, because c) there really is no room for a world in which a woman isn't just a walking fuckhole, no matter her skills or capabilities. The trait that made Riddick unique, as a character, was his alienation from society, where that alienation served as a means of critique of how uncivil we really are to each other.  At one point in the movie, Riddick wonders what's happened to him, how he's lost his edge, is it because he's gotten civilized.

Yeah, Riddick. I think so. Now you're the same sexist asshole as everyone else.