Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25.3 (2004) 8-34
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Queering Hollywood's Tough Chick
The Subversions of Sex, Race, and Nation in The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Matrix
Theresa L. Geller
Queerying Gender and Genre
The current dominance of the action genre has given rise to female characters who challenge conventional femininity through their narrative and aesthetic roles and, in doing so, open up the queer possibilities (and pleasures) of mainstream film practice. By addressing two film texts, The Matrix and The Long Kiss Goodnight, I will examine the characterization of the "tough chick" and the narrative function she performs.1 These two films stand out from the plethora of "tough chick" films generated by Hollywood in the last decade for a number of reasons; in particular, both posit their "tough chick" as at odds with the social order the films introduce. The goal here is to parse out why that is. Yet, more importantly, these particular movies are among the most watched films in which the "tough chick" plays a crucial role.2 Charly Baltimore of Long Kiss and Trinity of The Matrix, with their short haircuts, sleek cat suits, and death-dealing physical prowess, exemplify the "tough chick" of Hollywood cinema. This brief gloss, however, does not address what is unique to these characterizations; rather than serving simply fetishistic or comedic purposes (for example, Charlie's Angels), these cinematic figures are set within narratives that directly confront the gender ideologies defining the "tough chick" as an exception to extant sexual norms. The argument I propose here examines these unique films to understand more clearly the phenomenon of the cinematic "tough chick" and to map the constellation of queer subversions such a characterization enacts within the world of the film and for the spectator.
The diegesis (or fictional reality presented by a given film) of The Matrix introduces a world generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) that looks and is taken for the contemporary historical moment. On the level of plot, it is the story of Neo's (Keanu Reeves) induction into "the resistance"—a collective of people who are aware that the "world" as it is known is simply a loading program [End Page 8] that masks the "truth" that human beings are being kept in tanks to generate power to run the machines of the AI. The "resistance" is led by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), the captain of the ship traveling the actual future earth that has been decimated by war. His crew consists of Trinity, Switch, Cypher, Mouse, Tank, and Dozer who travel in and out of "the matrix" through a computer link-up system. They are seen as criminals by the avatars of the machines—its "agents." The film follows the education of Neo, but key to Neo's transformation are the figures of Morpheus (it is in saving him that Neo becomes "the One") and Trinity, who fights alongside Neo. In the final moments, the film indicates the development of a romantic relationship between Neo and Trinity, which is significantly developed in the sequels. Although the film does not center on Trinity, it should not be construed that she is simply a love interest for the male protagonist; the film opens with her, the first action sequence is with her alone, and she is the first to kill an agent (while coining the catchphrase, "dodge this").
While it may be impossible to claim Trinity as the central figure of The Matrix, despite the pivotal role she plays in the narrative, this is far from the case for the role Geena Davis plays in Long Kiss. The movie revolves around her transformation and discovery. At first living as Samantha Caine in the suburbs of the Northeast, she is a schoolteacher and a single mother. As the story unfolds, we are told she suffers from amnesia, having only the last eight years of memories. The film opens with the moment at which the outside world discovers her existence...