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What Feminist Ideas Can We Explore in…Cloverfield? Part One.

image: screencap/Paramount Odette Annable Yustman Cloverfield Bad Robot 2008 Paramount

So, I finally sat down and did a Cloverfield Marathon this weekend (#CloverfieldNewbie), watching all three films in this unique franchise for the first time: Cloverfield (2008), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), and the most recent entry, this year’s The Cloverfield Paradox. You can check out the play-by-play of my reactions over at my Instagram (short video reviews and a highlighted story called Cloverfield Noob), but what really fascinated me about these films were the women. **SPOILERS FOR CLOVERFIELD**

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image: screencap/Paramount Lizzy Caplan Jessica Lucas Michael Stahl-David Cloverfield Bad Robot Paramount

Part 1: Cloverfield, or This Is Why You Don’t Let Douchebros Make Decisions

The first Cloverfield film was a painful lesson in why douchebros should never be allowed to make decisions, not just for other people’s lives, but for their own. And yes, every single dude, even the lead dude Rob (played by Michael Stahl-David) is at least slightly a douchebro. Call me judgey but I found myself growing increasingly annoyed with all the dudes who gathered for Rob’s surprise going-away party. What’s worse, the gross-as-hell T.J. Miller, in the role of Hudson ‘Hud’ Platt, was the one holding the camera a majority of the time, so everything we were seeing was through his douchebro lens.

The women we meet, Beth (Odette Annable*), Lily (Jessica Lucas**), and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan***), seem like they’re doing their best to get by in a world where they’re constantly being talked about, rather than to, or being treated like belongings.

In Beth’s case, at least the feelings seemed to be mutual. She and Rob had slept together and had a relationship their friends didn’t seem to know about. Still, Beth seemed to be more realistic about their prospects (and the fact that Rob had chosen to leave the country before the monster attacked) and seemed to regard their relationship as something good that she was ultimately willing to let go. Meanwhile, Rob spends the whole movie chasing the magical idea of her as he puts himself and the rest of his friends in danger over and over again in order to fulfill his quest of finding her.

The film has her damn near literally become magical, as she survives a huge chunk of a building having been shoved through her chest and is somehow able to run around the city with Rob…only to die alongside him after their stupid, stupid love caused the rest of their friends to die. His princess was in another castle, and he got them both killed.

image: screenshot/Paramount Jessica Lucas Cloverfield Bad Robot Paramount

Lily, a.k.a. the sassy, smart friend-of-color, was inexplicably dating Rob’s brother, Jason, who couldn’t even be bothered to plan his own brother’s going-away party, so she had to do it. Jason then got himself killed by climbing onto the side of the Brooklyn Bridge just as the invading monster was rampaging nearby. (Seriously, though? Let’s go across a really long bridge on foot in an emergency. That’s a good idea!) Ever the voice of reason, she always seemed too good for the group and ended up comforting everyone. If Beth was the Object of the film, Lily was definitely the Nurturer.

Marlena seemed to be the female audience POV character. She was the one who showed up at the party without knowing anyone, who was given the freest reign to feel the most fear, and who stepped into heroism in a way that was believable when pushed up against a wall by a swarming horde of attacking alien spiders.

She, like Beth, was the object of someone’s affections, as it was clear that Hud had a thing for her. The camera kept training on her randomly, and we get to eye-roll so hard our eyeballs nearly fall out of our sockets as Hud attempts to “comfort” her in a subway station. Thankfully, his crush isn’t reciprocated, and it is clear that Marlena just wants to survive and get the hell out of there.

Why she chose to follow Rob on his fool’s errand when she didn’t know him that well, however, I’ll never know. She had exactly zero obligation to help. But, choose to help she did, which I guess wins her some Good Person points. But how was she rewarded for her intelligence, bravery, and kindness? She was bitten by an alien spider and died with her head exploding. Our Everywoman was the first one to go.

Throughout the film, I found myself wishing that any of these women would’ve gotten to hold the camera for very long. Beth turns the camera on Rob for a minute in the first footage we see of them together, but the rest of the time, it’s dudes passing the camera around and making snide or sexist comments about the women in their lives on the video when the women are out of earshot. Or, it’s dudes using the camera to hold onto the women they’re attracted to as images without substance.

Cloverfield makes really clear the stark difference between the way men tell stories and the way women tell stories. Or, you know, the fact that as women are trying to solve problems, men are “documenting,” because nothing is more important to save for posterity than the male point of view.****

It also makes really clear that leaving women out of the decision-making process is a huge mistake.

Feminist Lesson from Cloverfield: When monsters attack, following the dudes will get you killed.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into 10 Cloverfield Lane, the best of the Cloverfield films so far, and the one featuring a protagonist named Michelle, my favorite new film heroine.

*Wait. Sam/Reign from Supergirl was in this?!

**Wait. Tabitha from Gotham was in this?! 

***Wait. Virginia from Masters of Sex was in this?!

****It’s here that I’ll point out that every Cloverfield film so far has had a male director and male writer. Maybe that’s why the female characters rarely got the camera. It’s not something the filmmakers are used to, or that even occurred to them.

(image: screencap/Paramount)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.

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