Friday, September 7, 2012

Your Vagina Is Gonna Get You Killed (Pitch Black)

Pitch Black was an independent science fiction movie that came out about fifteen years ago. It starred Vin Diesel, featured Claudia Black, and didn’t really have anyone else in it that I’ve ever heard of.

It is great.

Seriously. It’s psychological horror to the max, one of Vin Diesel’s best performances (and I do not mean that sarcastically, he’s a lovely man), and a fantastically imaginative story. But. It kind of makes having a vagina a really bad thing.

Let me back up. Pitch Black is a horror movie, like I said. The basic plot isn’t very imaginative, it’s all in the execution. You see, while on autopilot, a cargo and passenger spaceship collides with an asteroid and has to crash land on the nearest planet. Most of the crew and passengers die in the crash, and all we’re left with is a straggler crew of colonists and random travelers.

Oh, and a serial killer. This is Riddick (of the absolutely horrible Chronicles of Riddick and the surprisingly good Butcher Bay videogame). Riddick is a sociopath (as in, antisocial personality disorder), very strong, and very disinterested in the lives of the other survivors.

So all these people are stuck on a desert planet with a killer. Great. At this point in the movie, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Riddick is going to slowly pick everyone off. That looks pretty likely.

The survivors, which include the co-pilot who wanted to jettison the passengers when the ship was crashing, the bounty hunter in charge of bringing Riddick in, some random colonists, a smuggler, an Imam and the children he’s escorting to New Mecca, and a young boy with no discernable parents, set about searching the planet for a way off.

Like I said, it’s a desert planet, so they’re dying in the heat and trying to deal with conserving their water. There’s creepy stuff everywhere, like giant skeletons and massive caves. Oh, and two suns. That’s fun.

Eventually they find a human settlement. It’s deserted, but there’s a transport there. It just needs fuel cells, which they have back at their ship. Yay! Oh wait—there’s also a model of this planet’s solar system. It shows that the two suns keep the planet in the light for twenty-two days (or years—not important). And then, the entire planet is pitched into darkness.

Darkness, for the record, is very, very bad.

You see, they’re not actually alone on the planet. They have company in the form of cave-dwelling pterodactyl things. But as long as you don’t go in the caves, where it’s dark, you’ll be fine. Oh shit.

And so the real ticking clock begins. The suns are setting and the evil monsters are coming out to devour everything on the planet’s surface. You’ll only survive if you stay in the light. Eeep.

But what the hell does this incredibly primal, terrifying story have to do with vaginas?

Warning: This is about to get a little icky.

It turns out that the monsters can smell blood. As stated before, they are blind and live in darkness, but they can hear very well, and they can smell blood. This means that if you’re standing quite still and don’t have any open wounds, you should be fine. And that works for most of the movie. The heroes cautiously sneak past the monsters and try to get back to the transport. Riddick has a leg up on everyone because he can see in the dark, and becomes the reluctant hero.

Somehow, though, the monsters keep finding them. The monsters just will not leave them alone. And finally Riddick figures it out.

Jack, the suspiciously alone boy, is actually a girl. A girl who is on her period.

That’s how the monsters can constantly find them. They’re smelling the blood that Jack is constantly producing. I actually do have to give props on this one. It’s a really clever way to up the tension, and it’s a twist that you really don’t see coming. But all that aside, it’s also incredibly horrifying.

Look, women’s bodies are subject to a kind of horror that I think most people don’t really think about most of the time. There are monsters pregnancies on Torchwood, X-Files, Fringe, Angel, and Doctor Who. There are women who discover that their bodies have been turned against them and made into killing machines in Firefly, The Avengers comics, Torchwood again, Doctor Who again, and Farscape. There is rape. There is the entire Alien franchise.

Body. Horror.

But I’ll be honest, this one squicked me out the most. Look, getting your period is never a fun thing, and it’s definitely something that freaks you out at the very beginning. I don’t know many girls who can’t remember looking down, seeing blood, and freaking out. Even when they rationally knew what was happening to them. It’s still scary as hell. You’re bleeding you out into your underwear, and everyone just expects you to be okay with it. Ick.

There’s a special kind of horror, though, that comes from the idea that this event, which is ultimately perfectly normal, is going to get you killed. That your status as a woman has doomed you, just because of what you have between your legs. That your vagina, in a frightfully literal sense, is going to get you killed.

The only other movie that immediately comes to mind as having this level of horror associated with the onset of menstruation is Carrie. In that, Carrie doesn’t know what’s happening to her and the other students mock her and throw tampons. It’s awful. But at least it’s not that actual catalyst for her death. Carrie might have gone nuts because her mother was a controlling psycho and everyone at school was heartless, but it wasn’t directly her vagina’s fault.

Here, it is. And I don’t love that.

I get that the impulse is there to write a good story no matter the costs. And I agree that Pitch Black is a good story. Hell, it’s a great story. But we need to remember the messages that we send with stories like this. Messages that say that because you’re a woman, you’re dooming the rest of us. Your vagina is your weakness. Better to have been born a man.

They’re messages that I don’t want any young girl to hear. And I hope you don’t either.

I wanna hold you and apologize for the awful things they did to you in Chronicles of Riddick.

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