Salt: About that Hand-Wringing (SPOILER WARNING)

Jennifer Kesler has written already about the new Angelina Jolie film, Salt, and the fear expressed by the filmmakers that having a male love interest rescued by a female lead is too castrating to his character. She quotes:

In the end, Salt’s husband, played by German actor August Diehl (‘Inglourious Basterds’), was made tough enough that he didn’t need saving, thank you much.

However, in the end, he isn’t. He’s shot and killed, right in front of Salt herself. Which gave me two reactions.

First, I’m bemused. Bemused that the makers of the film apparently do think that, for a man, being rescued by a woman is a fate worse than death (they must do, because how else could the former “castrate” him, but the latter not?). I’m not sure what to say to it, except to reiterate Jennifer Kesler’s point that by this logic, female firefighters and cops – and I would assume paramedics and other medical professionals – should refrain from rescuing, treating, or otherwise saving the men they come across, in case doing so unmans them too much. Also, I look forward to the makers of Salt showing a women in these professions acting in such a way, without having it compromise their heroism. (Indeed, for firefighters and cops, it should make them if anything more heroic, since pausing to make such a determination would likely put them at further risk themselves).

In fact, it could be argued that this happens in Salt itself, because…

My second reaction, though, was lopsidedly positive. Without going into detail, Salt was facing a serious greater-good-situation, which demanded she get in with the bad buys holding her husband – and to do that, she had to let them kill him, without showing more than a momentary grief at his death. And she does. So why would I like that? Partly a vicious satisfaction that he wasn’t tough enough to save himself. But also, that Salt could feel love for someone without it overwhelming everything else about her character – that given a choice between his life and hundreds of thousands of others, she chose them over him – and the other way round too, that she could let him die without it making her love into a lie.

Incompatible reactions maybe, but that happens sometimes.

See also a short review by Gategrrl.


  1. Anemone says

    I just saw this myself yesterday, and I was surprised at his murder, too. I was impressed that we get an example where the hero does not rescue her spouse, because it gets old when the spouse is always rescued (though I’m sure the spouse wouldn’t object).

    But I also thought it was gendered in some ways. Holding a wife hostage to control a male hero makes sense, but if she escapes she’s hardly a risk to the bad guys, because she’s just a female. Letting a male hostage escape might seem worse, even a geek male like Salt’s husband.

    Also, women are expected to be more relationship-oriented than men, so having a woman have to watch her husband shot (something she had no control over) is perhaps that much more intense than the reverse. (Although for a male hero it would hurt him in his inability to protect his family. But would it affect his identity as much?)

    • Maria says

      What’s also cool is that they don’t have a kid. They have a dog!! Who they have a lingering sad shot of when she’s got to leave him with friends!!

  2. The Other Patrick says

    I actually liked that scene, too. I was expecting some kind of trick Jolie employs to save him, or that maybe he’d survive the shot somehow. Even so, the death was *not* used to motivate her; she was infiltrating the cell already and planning to kill them all. I liked that they went there and even sort of avoided the men in refrigerators thing.

    • sbg says

      “I’ll worry more about not putting men in refrigerators when we stop shoving women into them willy-nilly,” SBG said wryly.

      • The Other Patrick says

        Oh, no doubt, and my comment to that effect was partly cheeky. But the way I look at it, women in refrigerators is bad largely because it’s a sexist trope, but a minor influence is also that it’s lazy storytelling.

        It’s not like I am worried about “men in refrigerators” because that’s not the go-to way for female heroic motivation. Men lose their girlfriends, women get raped. He said cynically.

  3. minerva says

    Haven’t seen it yet but was intrigued by the idea that she chose the greater good – the many over the one.

    Same thing in Tomb Raider 2 – the love interest who wanted to sell the Big Dangerous Thing regardless of who it would hurt says outright to her: “You won’t pick them. You love me.” Basically in a nutshell what women are so often asked/demanded to do: pick whatever he wants, follow only his perspective, because that’s “love.”

    And waddya know, she didn’t pick him, regardless of the fact she loved/was falling for him. For the greater good.

    Think there’s a theme there for Jolie at all? She didn’t write Salt it but I heard she had some say in TR.

  4. cofax says

    I’m not convinced Salt chose the greater good: I think she went to the barge hoping to rescue her husband, but Orlov (?) killed him first, hoping to (1) cut her emotional ties to America/her life; and/or (2) ascertain whether she was truly committed to the cause. Once he was dead, she had the choice of continuing on with the mission because she knew there were other sleepers, but by that point she had little to lose by making that choice.

    In a sense, the filmmakers took away her choice of husband-or-the world by killing him off, because a dead hostage is of no value. Quite possibly this was because being rescued is worse than being dead, but also because they didn’t want to put a woman in that position for fear the audience wouldn’t buy her choosing to save the world and leaving her husband behind.

    I also wouldn’t ignore the long-term financial question: a married Salt with a living husband is much less useful as a franchise action hero, because the audience wants her to be reunited with her family, not running about the world taking down baddies. It’s okay for Tom Cruise to run about the world while his wife sits at home and waits for him, but not the reverse.

    Finally, I had to laugh when I saw that statement about how the writers had beefed up the spouse’s role when they cast Jolie, because seriously? If that is a beefed-up role, then Cruise’s wife was a houseplant. What a sad commentary on the state of filmmaking (and women’s positions in genre film).

  5. M.C. says

    I don’t like heroes who sacrifice loved ones to save any number of other people. Actually, I think those “heroes” are bad people. Period.
    If you love someone then you have to try to protect them, you have to put their lives above other people’s.

    That’s why I adored the 5th season finale of Buffy; because she was going to let the whole world rot in hell to give her little sister a few more moments to live.
    And that’s why I think Farscape has the greatest scifi romance ever; because Crichton admitted that he would give Scorpius the deadly wormhole technology to save Aeryn and their child.

    • says

      And see, I view the attitude you’re applauding as incredibly selfish and irresponsible. It’s just a shade off from “let them eat cake” – “I’m taking care of the people I love, and everyone else can go fuck themselves.” That’s why so many people get sacrificed on the altar of poverty so the rich can be just that precious little bit richer: because they look after those they love, and the rest of us be damned.

      • M.C. says

        Well, I guess our opinions differ because or different cultures. I’m a law student and in my country the laws state that:

        1. One life is not less valuabe than a few lives. This is the aftermath of WWII where Nazi scientists would experience on a few people (even torturing and killing them) to gain knowledge an possible medicine for masses. And

        2. If you have children or are married to someone you have a certain responsibility for their well-being. Meaning if you have to decide between saving your daughter’s life or saving a stranger’s life you have to choose your daughter or will be put into court for murder by neglect.

        • says

          No, no, no.

          You said in the original comment that it was better to save your husband and let millions of people die. I said that was irresponsible. You’re now countering with two completely different arguments, which is a “straw man” tactic and not cool.

          In the first completely new and irrelevant argument, you’re saying it’s not okay to abuse one person for the benefit of millions, and I couldn’t agree more.

          In the second completely new and irrelevant argument, you say saving one child instead of one stranger is ethical – again, I agree because if you can only save one life no matter what you do, you should put the person you’re responsible for first.

          What I consider selfish and irresponsible is saving your precious loved one for yourself if it means the deaths of millions of someone else’s precious loved ones. That’s how extremely privileged people and sociopaths think. You’re not going to get out of it by trying to shift the argument or claiming cultural differences. Either defend your original proposal – that it’s not incredibly selfish to put your one loved one ahead of the lives of millions of other people’s loved ones – or back down from it.

          • M.C. says

            If you argue that one should sacrifice a loved one to save a million strangers than you are saying that a million lives are worth more than one life.

            But even if you won’t accept that argument I still say that it’s not selfish to put a loved one ahead of the lives of millions of other people. I believe if you truly love someone you owe them to put their well-being above anything else. You might think that’s sociopathic but I think it’s a biological imperativ to take care of your family even at the cost of other families.

            • says

              You might think that’s sociopathic but I think it’s a biological imperativ to take care of your family even at the cost of other families.

              So? It’s a biological imperative to beat people up when they make us angry, fuck around senselessly with no thought for the consequences, and shit wherever you’re standing when the urge hits. That’s what morality is: a conscious decision to behave better than biology dictates.

              you are saying that a million lives are worth more than one life.

              No, I’m saying that each of those million lives is “one life” to someone else. It’s not a matter of putting my loved one ahead of millions of someone else’s loved ones. It’s that I’d be putting my feelings and what I want ahead of the feelings of millions of other people who will be devastated by the loss I’m allowing them to incur by my actions. That shows a disregard for all fellow humans *except* the ones I deem loved ones. And yeah, that’s pretty fucking selfish.

          • says

            By that logic, if my son needed a kidney, I’m justified in finding someone with a matching bloodtype and carving out their kidney rather than wait on the list. Letting millions die so I could live? Screw that.

            Frankly, I’d rather die with a little dignity than let someone pull that crap for me, and I won’t disrespect my loved ones by thinking they’d feel any other way.

    • The Other Patrick says

      Buffy fight?

      Of course in S5, in the end she sacrificed herself to save both the world and her sister – and in S7, she has finally grown up so much that she says now her decision would be different: the world is bigger than her family.

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