Is 'Seven Psychopaths' being meta or just reinforcing stereotypes?
Martin McDonagh aims for irony, but watching the audience reaction to his new film is depressing
In 1985 the cartoonist Alison Bechdel created the Bechdel Test when a character in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For queried the mistreatment of women in film. For a movie to pass the test it must fulfill three criteria: (1) It has to have at least two women in it; (2) they must talk to each other; (3) and this must be about something other than a man. The test has since spawned a blog that monitors new releases. Very few films pass the test.
Martin McDonagh’s new film, Seven Psychopaths, has five female characters who never talk to each other, so it passes just one of the Bechdel Test criteria.
This is depressingly normal for a big flick but even more depressing given that Seven Psychopaths, with its brilliant cast and rich dialogue, is meant to send up such stereotypes. It’s a film about a film, with Colin Farrell starring as Marty, a screenwriter who’s trying to write a script called Seven Psychopaths, only to be surrounded by just that. The representation of women is a joke within the film itself, that women exist in movies only to be killed, along with the undercurrent throughout that it’s far less acceptable to kill animals in a film than it is to kill women.
McDonagh is pointing out one of the most offensive crimes in film-making, of course, but in a film that reinforces that sin. Don’t you get it? It’s meta! The joke is on . . . um, someone.
Indeed, McDonagh had his own struggles with studio honchos who thought it was completely unacceptable to kill a dog yet barely batted an eye an women being shot in the stomach. And I get it. I totally get this film. But its self-knowledge doesn’t make its humiliating depictions of women and infantile homophobia any less lame. In stand-up you can get away with making jokes about rape, paedophilia, the Holocaust or whatever you’re having yourself as long as they’re funny, as long as the payoff is greater than the offensiveness. Transfer that test to film and McDonagh fails.
One journalist asked McDonagh about a line in which Christopher Walken’s character, Hans, berates Marty for having awful female characters in his script. Is this a dig at Hollywood, and something the director had planned from the start, or a way of getting him off the hook for making a film in which women are ridiculed and murdered. “The latter!” McDonagh told Alex Godrey of the Guardian with a laugh. “Yeah. It was fun, but it’s a kind of easy Get Out of Jail Free card to say that in the middle of the film. It would have been better to write some better women characters and not have them die.” Quite.