Creative Writing on Inception and the Bechdel Test

Posted on November 4, 2011

Creative Writing on Inception and the Bechdel Test:

The film industry has been accused of being gender biased, with most of the movies produced being dubbed as being distinctively misogynistic. Accordingly, critics such as Allison Bechdel, have identified a need for the creation of films whereby the female characters are not limited to the role of supporters for their male counterparts. Evidently, most movies, both past and present have failed in the achievement of this. More movies, even the award-winning films, continue to be produced without a gender consideration, with most putting the male characters on a pedestal and the women at the bottom. However, some films such as Wanted and Salt, have a female as the lead character illustrating the lengths to which Hollywood producers are willing to change the trends in film production. In her argument regarding gender bias, Allison Bechdel argues that reduction of gender bias in films goes beyond giving women lead roles. She explains that the number of women, their relationship with each other, as well as, their conversations have play a major role in determining whether a film is gender biased or not. Fundamentally, Bechdel introduces the idea of the Bechdel test to determine the level of gender bias in a particular film or movie ( 1a). This test consists of three main components including the need for having two or more female characters in the film, having these females engage in a conversation, and the exclusion of men in the conversation. Put simply, the Bechdel test demands that a film have two or more female characters who talk to each other about issues other than men. Interestingly, many movies have failed this test at one point or the other ( 1a). Movies may have many female characters but they do not engage in any conversation with each other, and when they do, the conversation revolves around a man.

One such movie that has failed the Bechdel test is Inception by Christopher Nolan. As critics would argue, this movie has passed the first two requirements of the Bechdel test, failing to attain the third requirement ( 1b). The movie has two female characters namely Ariadne, graduate student and Mallorie, Cobb’s deceased wife. Though these two characters meet with each other about three times throughout the movie, they engage in only one conversation. The conversation, which is the basis of the third requirement of the Bechdel test, is about love, which, when considered from a relative interpretation of the film, the conversation was about Cobbs ( 1b).

The above is the most basic and accepted analysis of the movie based on the Bechdel test. However, if one was to look examine the movie from a different dimension, it is evident that the movie may have failed the Bechdel test in other ways. For example, between the two female characters, only one is a real person, the other is just a figment of imagination. Based on the theme and the context of the movie, we cannot be sure whether, Mallorie, who is the imagined character, is in reality a female. Secondly, because Mallorie was a figment of Cobbs imagination, then it would be justified to assume that the conversation between Ariadne and Mallorie was actually a conversation between Cobbs and Ariadne. The complexity of the movie makes it even harder to decipher in terms of the Bechdel test, but one thing is certain, Inception, fails the Bechdel test of gender bias.

Having established that the movie, Inception, fails the Bechdel test, this paper explains how the relative absence of multi-dimensional female characters influences the film’s understanding of men and women.

Effects of the Absence of Multi-Dimensional Female Characters

As observed in the film, there are only two main female characters, who, upon a closer examination, may have been used symbolically to bring out a message concerning the relationship between men and women ( 1). At the outset, the two female characters embrace names that are symbolic to society. Ariadne, for example, is the name of the Greek princess who assisted the hero Theseus in navigating the labyrinth, the prison of the Minotaur. Ariadne embraces a similar role in the movie, as she is chosen to help cobs create the mazes, which he intends to use in infiltrating people’s dreams. Here, the female is seen as a male aide, for the achievement of his goals and desires. Her recruitment into the team shows that she is needed for the task to be completed, but expectedly, she does not play a minor role in this. Observably, her role as the architect is considered the main role in the movie, for it is only after she constructs the mazes that the team can be able to infiltrate the dreams. From this, one can conclude that the women play the role of helper in male-female relationships. Additionally, Ariadne also reveals her manipulative side by making Cobbs open up to her, and then using the information gathered to influence his actions into what she wants ( 1). With this, the audience is exposed to the manipulative character of women in their relationships with men, and how they use men’s personal issues to achieve this.

Mallorie’s role in the movie, on the other hand, is the total opposite of that of Ariadne. This is because her role has a feel of sabotage, and she is the only character whose role was to stop Cobbs from achieving his mission. Her role as a woman is quite complex as she is brought out as both a positive character and influence on Cobbs, as well as, a negative character. In relation to her positive attributes, Mallorie’s activities can be translated as protecting Cobbs, as well as, his victims form himself. She is well aware of the destructive nature of dream infiltration, and for that reason, she is committed to preventing Coobs and his victims from the effects of this ( 1). Here the role of the woman in male-female relationships is one of a protector, as well as, that of a passive guide. Both women try to directly and indirectly guide Cobbs throughout the mission. While Ariadne might have been guiding him towards the completion of the mission, Mallorie guides Cobbs towards the realization of his vices. Because Mallorie is out to sabotage Cobbs activities, it is evident that she embraces a negative role as a woman. She will do anything to prevent Cobbs from completing his mission, even if it means killing his victims during the dream so that they fall back into reality (Fisher 37). Obliquely, we see how women may or may not prevent a man from achieving his goals and ambitions. Women are depicted as a distraction, to the achievement of both personal and professional goals, something that men may agree to undoubtedly.

Just as Ariadne and Mallorie are used to bring out the role of women in relationships, Cobbs is also used to bring out the role of the man. For example, the fact that Mallorie is a figment of his imagination, and he managed to infiltrate her thought to the point where she committed suicide, it is evident that men are a tad bit controlling. Evidently, Cobbs loves controlling others, in fact he enjoys controlling other so much that he has made it his career (Fisher 39). The women are not receptive to the idea of being controlled, with one woman committing suicide nd killing others as a way of refusing control, whereas the other tries to attain that control and instead control the male. This inherently exposes the nature of male-female relationships, which is characterized by the need for control. Both men and women wish to have control over each other, and they will do almost anything to attain this.

Conclusively, in addition to illustrating the relationship between men and women, the absence of multi-dimensional female characters is also used to bring out the male-male impassive relationships. The relationship between the males in the film is that of business and nothing more. Apart from the relationship between father and son, which appears to be slightly emotional, the rest of the male-male relationships are purely work related. They all have a mission that they intend to take on to the end, and each male has a specific input in the movie that is of minimal emotional nature. The absence of multi-dimensional female characters in the film reveals plenty of things regarding the relationship between men and women. However, one thing can be learned from this film, a woman is a man’s helper and guide.

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