I must avenge my wife – she was gorgeous

You know this character. We see her only in the first few scenes of the film/tv series, or maybe only in flashbacks. Our male protagonist loved her dearly – she was his wife or fiance, maybe girlfriend. Someone killed her or turned her into a demon or Goa’ulded her or something, and Mr. Protagonist is now off on a big, exciting (often, strangely, sex-filled) quest to rescue or avenge his beloved.

There’s a lot wrong with this setup. For one thing, the overwhelming lack of stories about women questing to avenge their murdered loves (and boinking lots of hot men along the way, I guess). Also the fact that this woman – who’s really a prop, not a character – often makes up 50% or more of the female cast. But I want to focus on something else that bugs me.

Have you noticed that the dead wife who launches the quest is always traditionally beautiful? She’s never fat with crooked teeth. She never has thinning hair or adult acne. She’s always slim, nearly always white, and often has this sort of bland beatific smile, like she used to be a model was already lookin’ down on her menfolk from Heaven before those nasty people sent her there. (You’ll see the smile, almost inevitably, in a framed photo that sits on Mr. Protagonist’s desk whenever he’s not using it for a quick shag with the lady guest star of the week.)

Anybody else get a meta-message that if you’d killed Mr. Protagonist’s fat, thin-haired, crooked-toothed wife, he’d have written you a thank you note instead of chasing your ass over three continents?

Comments

  1. says

    who’s really a prop, not a character

    This is the part that bugs me most, and it’s also why she always *has* to be gorgeous. It takes to the extreme the idea that what happens to a woman/what a woman does has an impact only after it’s translated into how it affects the man/men in her life.

    If she’s a gorgeous, nostalgic idealized photo, we don’t have to deal with that pesky humanity of hers, those complications and flaws and autonomous desires.

  2. scarlett says

    Ugh, that just makes me think of Dabiel and SHa’re in SG1. They actually have him quit after she died ‘cos he had no other reason to be on the team, then had him come back to look for her kid. Yuk.

  3. sbg says

    Anybody else get a meta-message that if you’d killed Mr. Protagonist’s fat, thin-haired, crooked-toothed wife, he’d have written you a thank you note instead of chasing your ass over three continents?

    Silly thing, Mr. Protagonist would never deign to marry such a creature, so why worry about it? He, on the other hand, could possibly be fat, thin-haired and crooked-toothed, but his wife would always be gorgeous.

    It’s in the by-laws.

  4. says

    What about Leonard’s wife in Memento? She was played by Jorja Fox, certainly not a classic beauty. She’s not blonde, she has a normally-proportioned body, and a gap in her teeth. But the thing is, whenever Lenny described his wife to people, he always talked about how beautiful she was. So that’s kind of good, right?

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Memento is one of those rare movies that takes a trope (or two) and actually digs into the material and gets something new out of it. For that reason, I’m reluctant to lump it in with the lazy sort of writing I’m talking about. So in that sense, good catch. :)

    I’m trying to recall if they played down her looks or not in that story, but I’d classify Jorja Fox as a classic beauty. She’s not emaciated, but there are no flaws to her figure. That same gap in the teeth didn’t stop anyone from classifying Lauren Hutton as beautiful. And there’s not another thing wrong with her face or hair in the pics at IMDB.

  6. MaggieCat says

    I seem to recall that Jorja Fox was “discovered” at some sort of model search. I remember thinking at the time that it explained how she got away with being taller than many of the men in casts of the various shows she’s been in- there’s usually a model exemption clause.

    I’ve never seen Momento though, so I’m just mentioning it for the sake of argument. :-)

  7. Gril says

    If she’s a gorgeous, nostalgic idealized photo, we don’t have to deal with that pesky humanity of hers, those complications and flaws and autonomous desires.

    Is that not the point though? If she’s dead the male protagonist probably doesn’t remember her flaws, including physical flaws, he sees her as perfect. No matter how the character *actually* looked, she was beautiful to the male lead, and in order to represent his perception to the audience a physically attractive actress is chosen.

    In video games, where this plot is also common, the character is normally beautiful but in a serene and non-sexual way which is very different to the other attractive characters.

    Don’t get me wrong, I also have a number of problems with the plot itself, and with the lack of not-typically-beautiful ladies (and to a lesser extent, men) in films. But if this selection wasn’t overused, I think it would actually make sense.

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