Monday, January 31, 2011


Inception was the fifth-highest domestic grossing film of 2010, and a personal favorite. It grossed over $292 million in the domestic market, and $823 million worldwide. I'll admit that I've already seen Inception multiple times, and I can say before reviewing it on this blog that it does pass the Reverse Bechdel, quite easily. But it may not pass the Original Bechdel; I remember Ariadne talking to Mal, but they may have just been talking about Dom. There's only one way to find out, so let's go deeper... (yeah, I couldn't resist, sorry).

The first man in the movie is Dom, although he doesn't immediately speak. The first person with lines is one of Saito's projections, which immediately raises the question: Do projections count as people for the purposes of the Bechdel test? They're certainly characters in the movie, but they're only real within the dream. My first instinct is to say that projections should only count when they reflect real people; for example, Dom's projection of Mal, and Fischer's projection of his dying father. However, I think it would be more interesting to keep track of both reality and projections, so that's what I'll do.

What if only real people count?
(I am assuming for simplicity that people who seem to be real actually are.)

blug1.png The first real person to speak is Saito, to Dom. He asks, "Are you here to kill me?" Dom does not respond in this time frame. The next scene takes us back to Dom's first infiltration of Saito's dream world, this time with Dom speaking.

blug2.png blug3.png Dom asks Saito, "What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?" Arthur tries to interrupt, saying "Uh, what Mr. Cobb is trying to say..." Dom continues that the most resilient parasite is an idea, to which Saito responds by asking, "For someone like you to steal?" Arthur explains extraction, and Dom offers to help him defend himself. Inception thus passes the Reverse Bechdel test within the first four minutes of the movie, with real people (albeit, while in a dream).

pink1.png The first real female is Dom's young daughter, Phillipa. She's shown on screen as a projection in the first minute, and seen around the sixteenth minute in a memory flash, but we also hear her real voice on the phone. Her first line is "Hi Daddy." The second female, heard but not seen, is "Grandma", telling the kids they've talked enough and to "say bye-bye." The kids don't audibly respond to this, so it doesn't count for OB-2. Ariadne, the film's third real female character, and the first to be seen speaking on screen, makes her first appearance 25 minutes into the movie.

nopink2.png nopink3.png In the entire movie, there are only six female characters with lines. Of these, one is a projection (see below), and one is actually the male Eames in disguise, leaving only four real female characters. These are Ariadne, the airline stewardess, Phillipa and Grandma. Neither Ariadne nor the stewardess talk to any other real woman, and the only "conversation" between Phillipa and Grandma isn't really a conversation at all (see above). If projections don't count, then Inception fails both OB-2 and OB-3.

What if projections count too?

blug1.png The first three characters to speak in the movie are all Saito's projections, and all are men. One yells to another projection. The other two talk to Saito, but Saito does not audibly respond.

blug2.png blug3.png Inception passes RB-2 and RB-3 with real people before passing it with projections (see above).

pink1.png The first woman in the movie is Mal, Dom's projection. There are no other female projections during the Saito job. Inception passes OB-1 around the 17th minute with real female characters (see above).

pink2.png pink3.png About half-an-hour into the movie, Mal kills Ariadne in Dom's dream, the first interaction between the two main female characters. However, Mal kills her wordlessly. It's not until 59 minutes into the movie that Mal talks to Ariadne, the first time two women talk to each other directly in Inception. Dom has been using the machine to dream every night, returning to his memories. Ariadne joins the dream, and visits the memory of the night Mal killed herself. She leaves Dom in a different memory to see it, so at first it's just Ariadne and Mal. Mal asks, "What are you doing here?" and they have a conversation:

Ariadne: "My name's..."
Mal: "I know who you are. What are you doing here?"
Ariadne: "I'm just trying to understand."
Mal: "How could you understand? Do you know what it is to be a lover? To be half of a whole?"
Ariadne: "No."
Mal: "I'll tell you a riddle. You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don't know for sure. But it doesn't matter. How can it not matter to you where that train will take you?"

It could be debated whether this conversation passes OB-3. Aside from the issue that Mal is actually Dom (at least, his subconscious), it could be argued that Mal's lines about being a lover and about the riddle are about a man, to the extent that they are about her relationship with Dom. In asking what Ariadne is doing "here", Mal is also in effect asking what Ariadne is doing in Dom's dream. However, I think this is reading too much into it. "What are you doing here?" is a straightforward question. Although the line about being a lover is clearly about Dom and Mal together, the riddle is different. By telling Ariadne the riddle, Mal is trying to tell her about her own history. This is Mal's way of introducing herself. I believe that this scene counts, and Inception passes OB-3.


Inception is without question male-dominated. Of the six members of Dom's team, five are men. Ariadne is the only woman. Of course, if incarceration rates are anything to judge by, a five-to-one male:female ratio on a team assembled for an illegal job is higher than normal-- only 8.8% of prisoners in the United States are female (Arthur lives in the US, and Dom is trying to get back). That number is 3.7% in France (where Ariadne is from), 4.5% in Kenya (where Yusuf and Eames are working), 7.0% in Japan (where Saito is from) and 7.2% in Australia (where the plane leaves from, and presumably where Fischer lives). Ariadne's inclusion in the six-person team makes it 16.7% female.

Even so, there are only six female characters in the movie, as noted above, and one of them is a man in disguise. There are only two with any significant on-screen presence, and one of them is the movie's antagonist. Ariadne is said to be a better architect than Dom, but her purpose in the movie is to probe Dom's mind and find out why his subconscious is manifesting Mal in his dreams.

So what about that final scene? Different interpretations of the final scene could color the results of the Bechdel test. On the one hand, it could mean that every single character except for Dom is a projection; or maybe there are other real people within the dream, but some that we think are real are actually projections, and maybe some that we think are projections are actually real. On the other hand, if he is in the real world in the last scene, then the distinction between real and projection would follow the same lines that I've drawn in the sections above.

Ultimately, the final scene is the reason why I think the Bechdel test should include both real and dream characters. The movie is intentionally ambiguous as to the nature of reality here. To draw a definite distinction between "real" and dream characters for the Bechdel test presumes a certain interpretation of the final scene, and I don't think its appropriate to do that. It is better to interpret the Bechdel test with regards to film characters rather than "real" or "not real" people within the film, and leave the interpretation of the film itself to the viewer.

Since projections count for this reason, Inception passes both the Original Bechdel and Reverse Bechdel tests.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Twilight: Eclipse

The fourth-highest domestic-grossing movie in 2010 was Twilight: Eclipse. Unlike the first two movies, Eclipse does not open with Bella's narration. The first person to speak is Riley, who asks "Who's there?" and "What do you want?" and cries for help while Victoria is attacking him. After the attack, Bella begins her narration, and is seen on-screen shortly thereafter.

blug1.png Edward is the second man to speak: he asks Bella, "Marry me" right after her opening narration is done.

pink1.png About nine minutes into the movie, Jessica and Angela are talking with Mike and Eric about Jessica's valedictorian speech. They're joined by Bella and Edward, and later Jasper and Alice, and the conversation switches to a party at the Cullens' house. There are a handful of one-liners directed between two women or two men, but as a whole the conversation takes place between the entire group, so I don't think it really counts for either OB-2 or RB-2.

pink2.png pink3.png At the very end of the party conversation, Bella and Angela have a short exchange:
Bella: "Hey Angela."
Angela: "Yeah."
Bella:" Do you need some help with those?"
Angela: "No, actually..."
During Angela's last line, the sound fades away, and the focus is on Alice, who seems to be having a vision. However, this is a direct exchange between two women, and satisfies both OB-2 and OB-3. It's not clear what Bella is offering to help with, although it is clear that she's not offering to help with a man. Eclipse passes the Original Bechdel test within the first ten minutes of the movie.

If there's any doubt about OB-3, once Bella gets to Florida, she has a one-on-one conversation with her mother about the weather, and about where Bella will go to college. Her mother tries to convince her to move to Florida, but Bella will probably go to the University of Alaska. They talk about Edward for a bit, then her mother gives Bella a gift. The scene ends with Bella telling her mother that she misses her.

blug2.png When Bella and Edward return from Florida, they find Jacob at the school. Jacob is there to warn Edward about vampires going on werewolf land, but this part of the conversation takes place between all three characters, Bella included. Edward then steps forward, and exchanges a few lines between Jacob about Bella. It's short, and it's about a woman, but it satisfies RB-2.

blug3.png After Riley breaks into the Swan house, Jacob and Edward have a conversation, where Jacob says Riley's smell was all over the house, and he won't miss it if he finds it again. Jacob says the werewolves will take it from there, and Edward replies the vampires don't need the werewolves. Bella's present for the whole conversation, and ends it by interrupting, but it clearly takes place between the two men, and is more about Riley than about Bella. (Although it could be argued that every conversation between Jacob and Edward is really about Bella.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Twilight: New Moon

Twilight: New Moon is the second movie in the series. I've already reviewed the first here, and I am working my way towards reviewing the third.

Once again, Bella is the first woman in the movie. The film opens with her narration as she runs through a crowd of people. At about the two-minute mark, Bella's grandmother is seen, although she doesn't speak-- and it turns out, it's actually Bella, in a mirror, in a dream. Edward has one line in the dream.

blug1.png Charlie, Bella's father, wakes her up and says, "Happy Birthday" at the three-minute mark. Following Edward's line in the dream, Charlie is the second man in the movie.

pink1.png The second woman in the movie with lines is Bella's friend Jessica, who reminds Bella of the Romeo & Juliet essay. Mike is the first to call Bella over to the group, and responds with his own lines right after the exchange between Bella and Jessica, so it could be debated whether Bella and Jessica are talking to each other, or talking as part of the group (which includes both Eric and Mike).

pink2.png pink3.png Regardless, once Edward and Bella go into the school, Alice approaches them and gives Bella a present. They exchange a few lines, and Alice invites Bella to the Cullens' house that night. Edward is present, but doesn't say a word, and Jasper is looking on, but at a distance. New Moon passes all three levels of the Original Bechdel within the first ten minutes.

blug2.png blug3.png In class, everyone is watching a film of Romeo & Juliet, while Edward and Bella quietly talk to each other. The male teacher, Mr. Berty, stops the movie, and says, "Now, who'd like to repeat the last few lines of iambic pentameter just to show they were paying attention? Mr. Cullen?" Edward replies, "Yes, Mr. Berty," and recites several lines from memory. Unlike the first movie, New Moon quickly passes both the Original Bechdel and Reverse Bechdel.

If there's any doubt about the in-class conversation between Edward and Mr. Berty, New Moon passes RB-2 again when Bella is lost in the woods. Charlie and some other men are standing outside, talking about trying to find her. One of the men says the Cullens have left town, and Charlie asks where they've gone. Another man says "good riddance" to them. There are no women present in the scene until Sam carries Bella back, so it clearly passes RB-2. It may also pass RB-3 since they talk about the Cullens, although since they only talk about the Cullens within the context of how to find Bella, this may not pass RB-3.

However, at the movie theater, Eric and Jacob talk about the movie Face Punch, including how Eric doesn't really like action movies, and Jacob isn't old enough to buy his own ticket. He mentions Bella (she's buying his ticket for him) but the conversation up to that point takes place between the two men males and is not about a woman. Easily enough to satisfy RB-3.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


The fourth-highest domestic-grossing movie in 2010 was Twilight: Eclipse. Following the pattern I've already established for sequels, I need to review the first two Twilight movies before getting to Eclipse. This is my review for Twilight, the original 2008 movie.

This is the first romance movie to be reviewed here at Reverse Bechdel. The results will be interesting. By definition, in a heterosexual romance movie, one of the two main characters will be a man and the other will be a woman. Most of the action, er... conversation will be between these two characters, and most conversation between other characters will be about those two and their relationship. We might not expect the average romance movie to pass the third level of either the Original Bechdel or the Reverse Bechdel test.

blug1.png The first woman in the movie is the much-maligned Bella, who begins the movie with her narration. The first man with lines is Bella's mother's new husband (who says they have a plane to catch). Bella's mother does not have any audible lines. Bella's mother and her new husband are going "on the road" so Bella is going to live with her father "for awhile." Her father Charlie is the second man with lines, who talks to Bella in the car when they get to her new home.

blug2.png About the four-minute mark, Charlie introduces (or rather, reintroduces) Bella to Billy White. Both Charlie and Billy talk to Bella, then Charlie says Billy is exaggerating. They move into the background to have a joke-fight, giving Bella time to meet Jacob. The audible comments from Charlie and Billy are also directed at Bella, so it's not clear that this counts as two men talking to each other, rather than two men talking next to each other. However, about a minute later when Bella and Jacob get into the truck, Billy says to Charlie, "I told you she'd love it, I'm down with the kids," to which Charlie sarcastically replies, "Oh yeah dude, you're the bomb." It's short, but it's enough to pass RB-2.

pink1.png The second female with any lines is seen when Bella drives to school for the first time. A boy nearby criticizes the truck, and a girl says to him, "Nice one." I can't help but think that this is a huge high school for a town that supposedly has only 3,120 people.

In gym class, Bella meets Mike, then Jessica, who says, "Hey, you're from Arizona, right? Aren't people from Arizona supposed to be, like, really tan?" Bella replies, "Yeah, maybe that's why they kicked me out." Since Mike is there too, this conversation has the same issue as Charlie and Billy's first. However...

pink2.pngpink3.png At lunch, Bella talks with Jessica and Angela about the school newspaper (and what they'll put on the front page if not Bella) and the Cullens kids, although mostly about the Cullens kids. This easily passes OB-2, and the part of the conversation before the Cullens come in also passes OB-3. If there's any doubt, a couple minutes later, Bella's mom gets her first lines, having called Bella from a pay phone.

When Bella comes to school after the security man is killed (and Edward returns), Eric and Mike have a conversation like Charlie and Billy did earlier-- initially, both talk to Bella, then they move to the background and seem to continue talking to each other, but inaudibly, as Bella goes to talk to Edward for the first time. After Tyler nearly hits Bella with his van, Charlie and Dr. Cullen exchange a few words about Bella-- enough to satisfy RB-2, but not RB-3.

When James and Victoria kill the man in the boat (Waylon), the three have a short conversation:

Waylon: (to Victoria) Hello.
James: Nice jacket.
Waylon: Who are you?
James: It's always the same inane questions. Who are you...
Victoria: ...What do you want...
James: ...Why are you doing this...

I don't think this counts for RB-3 for the same reason that Jessica and Bella's first conversation didn't count for OB-2. Laurent then appears and says, "James, let's not play with our food." This would be stretching the definition of a two-way conversation, so I don't think this counts either.

blug3.png More than halfway through the movie, Billy and Jacob come over to visit Charlie and Bella. On the way into the house, Jacob and Bella move into the background, and Billy and Charlie exchange a few lines about the Waylon case. Twilight finally passes RB-3.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 was the third-highest domestic-grossing film of 2010, with over $312 million in domestic revenue, and $620 million worldwide. My review of the first Iron Man can be found here.

blug1.png blug2.png blug3.png Iron Man 2 starts out in Moscow, where an old man, Anton Vanko, is watching the newscast where Tony Stark declared to the world that he was Iron Man. Anton's son, Ivan, walks into the room and says he shouldn't be watching that. Anton says, "I'm sorry, all I can give you is my knowledge," and immediately dies. This satisfies the Reverse Bechdel test: two men talking about something other than a woman.

pink1.png The first woman with any real lines is the U.S. Marshall who delivers a Congressional subpoena to Stark at the Expo. The second woman is Potts, who first appears at the Congressional hearing, but doesn't have any real lines until about twenty minutes into the movie.

Stark makes Potts the CEO of Stark Industries, and the first woman-to-woman line is from the notary, Natalie Rushman, to Potts. Since Potts doesn't audibly respond, I don't think this counts for OB-2. Stark is boxing when Rushman comes into the room, and invites her into the boxing ring. Potts protests, and Rushman says, "It's no problem." Potts replies, "I'm sorry, he's very eccentric." Since she's talking about Stark, the short exchange doesn't qualify for OB-3, and given that Stark and his male boxing partner are also present, and at least marginally involved in the conversation, it's not clear that this counts for OB-2 either. Similarly, when Christine Everheart, along with Justin Hammer, meets Stark and Potts at the bar, Everheart and Potts exchange one or two lines directly, but only as part of the larger conversation between all four characters.

pink2.png pink3.png The birthday party has the first real, unambiguous conversation between two women: Rushman and Potts, and even that only lasts a few lines. Potts begins to confront Natalie ("Oh don't you 'Ms. Potts' me, I know about you. Ever since you came here..."), only to have the conversation interrupted when Stark and Rhodes fall through the ceiling. It's short, but both women have at least one line, and it's not (yet) about a man, although Potts might have been about to mention Stark before they were interrupted.

In case anyone thinks the birthday conversation doesn't pass OB-3, there's another conversation between the two women in Potts' new CEO office. Rushman comes into the office and tells Potts her plane will be leaving soon, and Potts thanks her. While Stark is present, he is clearly not a part of the conversation. Indeed, Rushman makes it a point to not speak a word to him, not even in response to his direct questioning. Rushman only speaks to Stark when Potts tells her to, and even then, only after Potts has left the room.

Just like the first installment, Iron Man 2 is definitely male-dominated. On the other hand, women play a much larger role, and are generally portrayed more favorably than the men of the movie. While Stark is irresponsible to his core, Potts is the able business-woman, who only struggles to keep the company going because Stark's constant antics keep putting it in jeopardy. When Ivan takes over the drones, Justin Hammer struggles vainly to control the situation; when Rushman and Potts take control, the two women quickly figure out what needs to be done, and go about doing it. When the female Rushman and the male Hogan fight Hammer's agents, Rushman quickly and easily takes out a dozen or more while Hogan struggles to fend off just one.

I also couldn't help but notice this non-gender-related issue: When Hammer introduces his drones, he has versions for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines... but none for the Coast Guard. Maybe Ivan just didn't know about them?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Iron Man

The third-highest domestic-grossing movie of 2010 was Iron Man 2. I saw the original Iron Man when it came out, but all I really remember is something in the desert (Iraq maybe?), he builds the suit, and then somehow there's a bigger suit that he has to fight. So, as with Toy Story, I'm going to rewatch the original before watching Iron Man 2.

This is the first real action movie and the first superhero movie to be reviewed here. Since the movie actually has the word "man" in the title, it should easily pass the Reverse Bechdel. The Original Bechdel will probably be harder to pass for the same reason. I'm about to find out.

blug1.png blug2.png blug3.png Less than two minutes into the movie, Iron Man passes all three Reverse Bechdel tests. Tony Stark (the main character) says to a male soldier, "What, you're not allowed to talk? Hey, Forrest--" to which "Forrest" responds, "We can talk, sir."

A line or two later, the movie's first woman says, "No, you intimidate them." To which the ever-classy Stark says, "Good God, you're a woman. I honestly couldn't have called that." About a minute later, she dies in the attack on Stark's convoy, so I guess she won't be any help in passing the Original Bechdel.

pink1.png The second woman introduces herself as "Christine Everheart, Vanity Fair magazine." She's in Stark's bed about a minute later.

pink2.png pink3.png The next morning, she meets Pepper Potts, who gives Everheart her clothes back and tells her that there's a car waiting outside for her. Everheart says, "You must be the famous Pepper Potts," which Potts confirms. A little more than ten minutes into the movie, Iron Man has passed both the Original and Reverse Bechdel tests. Immediately after, the women trade some insults, referencing Tony Stark. However, the first part of the conversation, short as it is, is not about Stark, and so passes OB-3. It can even be argued that the references to Stark are more about insulting the other woman than about Stark himself, but that's not necessary for the movie to pass the Original Bechdel.

Even so, Iron Man is a heavily male-dominated movie. There are no other speaking women characters (besides perhaps one or two very minor ones at the dance), and Everheart has only two other small scenes in the movie. Potts is the only major female character, and she is Stark's assistant. On the other hand, Stark didn't defeat Obadiah-- Potts did. Granted, Stark told her how to do it, but without her help, he would have died.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

The second-highest domestic-grossing film of 2010 was Alice in Wonderland. The movie brought in more than $334 million in the U.S. and more than $1 billion worldwide.

Initially I avoided seeing this movie because it seemed creepier than I would like. I ended up watching about a third of it when it was the film showing on a train I happened to be on. I fell asleep rather quickly, and then caught some bits and pieces near the end, so we'll see how long I stay awake this time. After all, this time, it's for science.

blug1.png blug2.png blug3.png The movie opens with "Charles" and several other Victorian-looking men debating the merits of some "venture." It turns out that Charles is Alice's father.

pink1.png pink2.png pink3.png The action skips ahead thirteen years, and Alice is riding in a carriage with an older woman, maybe her mother. They talk about what Alice is wearing, and Alice's dream (which is always the same one).

Alice in Wonderland easily passes all three levels of both the Original Bechdel and Reverse Bechdel tests in the first five minutes. And these are not isolated examples. Alice in Wonderland passes both OB and RB multiple times throughout the movie. For example, Alice has nice, long conversations with both the Red Queen and the White Queen, about matters like the Red Queen's head and Alice's claimed home of Umbridge. The Mad Hatter has a few conversations with the Cheshire Cat (who I am assuming from his voice is male) about hats and futterwacken. There are also many second-level Bechdel conversations (about someone of the opposite sex), such as Alice talking about Hamish with her sister and with Hamish's mother, or the Knave of Hearts and the Bloodhound talking about Alice.

The movie is definitely female-dominated. All the male characters in Wonderland (with the possible exception of the caterpillar Absolem) are shown in direct subservience to women (namely the Red Queen or the White Queen). The only independent male characters are outside Wonderland, in England. Of these, Alice's brother-in-law is shown cheating on his wife, Hamish is portrayed as a buffoon and Alice's father is killed off-screen after the first scene. Hamish's father is the only independent male character to survive and not make a fool of himself (again, with the possible exception of Absolem).

While Alice's father is killed off-screen, there are two families in Alice in Wonderland that are shown to have both a mother and a father: Hamish's family and the Bloodhound's family.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 was released in June 2010, more than a decade after Toy Story 2. It is available on DVD alone and in a box set with the two previous movies. It was the highest domestic-grossing movie of 2010, bringing in over $415 million in the United States, and over $1 billion worldwide. My reviews of the first two movies are here and here.

blug1.png blug2.png Like its predecessors,Toy Story 3 passes the first two Reverse Bechdel tests in the first few minutes. In this case, Mr. Potato Head (in the role of "One-Eyed Bart") is in the middle of a train heist, and is about to be stopped by Sheriff Woody. Woody says, "You have a date with Justice" to which Mr. Potato Head replies, "Too bad, Sheriff, I'm a married man," which serves as an introduction for Mrs. Potato Head (and thus does not pass RB-3).

pink1.png The second female is seen before the two-minute mark, when Jessie saves Woody from falling off the train. (The first female is Mrs. Potato Head.)

blug3.png As the fight between "One-Eyed Bart" and Sheriff Woody continues, with more and more characters from the first two movies joining the fray, Woody and Mr. Potato Head (and later Buzz) exchange a few one-liners. There are some more one-liners in the Toy Chest during "Operation Playtime" although since Mrs. Potato Head and Jessie are closely involved, it's not clear whether the conversation counts as two males talking to each other. Immediately after, however, the entire group is talking about what will happen to them next, and if there's any doubt, at the eleven-minute mark, Buzz and Woody have a one-on-one conversation on top of the dresser.

pink2.png pink3.png Twelve minutes into the movie, Andy, Molly and their mother are in Andy's room. Their mother is trying to convince Andy to clean up before he leaves for college, and as the two are leaving the room, she says to Molly, "Molly, you're not off the hook either…" She then tries to convince Molly to donate some of her toys to charity.

Toy Story 3 easily passes all three levels of both Bechdel tests within the first quarter-hour. And while the first two movies were decidedly male-dominated, the third is not. Every human character besides Andy is female, and the female toys play larger roles. For example, Barbie is critical in the plan to escape Sunnyside and return Buzz to normal.

Andy's father is still missing, and there's even a picture of Andy, his sister Molly and their mother with the father conspicuously absent.