There’s a scene. We all know it. We’ve all seen it. It stinks.
Here’s Sarah (Kate Mara) from “Shooter” and Emma (Haley Bennett) from “The Magnificent 7 (2016)” to help me demonstrate this old chestnut. Sarah was cruelly sexually abused and Emma’s husband was shot in front of her. When they have the opportunity, they pick up a gun and kill their tormentor. Good times!
The scene plays the same in both movies, and is similar to all movies that use this god-awful trope. In the middle of the final conflict, at a moment that no one expects, a random shot rings out, the hero spins, the camera tracks and we see the female lead holding a gun, her mouth hanging open, having just sent her tormentor to hell. She stands frozen, trembling like a doe in the headlights, until the male lead walks up to her and gently, but firmly, pries the gun from her clenched fingers.
I think we are supposed to be shocked that a woman would do such a thing. She’s shocked as well as she gapes at the horror she’s wrought. I’ve put some thought into why this scene happens. I think it’s meant to be empowering to the female character, but where it’s filtered through a male gaze, one that can’t imagine a woman dealing out revenge with a Clint Eastwood smile while throwing hot lead, the savage act has to be countered by the quivering aftermath of frail girliness. It’s followed up by the man gently taking away the gun, an “it’s ok” moment while reminding us it’s all about him, really. I think this weakens the female lead and reinforces a stereotype that women are slaves to their emotions. In a film where men are shooting each other all day long, it makes the women stand out – and not in a good way, more of in a “I’m weak, come save me from myself” way.
In Sarah’s case, I almost buy it. She’s not strong. She has a good heart but she’s easily freaked out. Emma on the other hand goes riding into danger to hire desperate characters to defend her town, target shoots like a champ, participates in the massive running gunfight and has more cojones than most of the town. But in the end, they are both equally reduced to quivering wrecks in this scene. Why? Because girls freak out, I guess.
I firmly believe that Emma, by the end of the movie, would shoot her nemesis, spit on his corpse, offer-up a primal scream, drop the shotgun like a boss and walk away, head held high. But she doesn’t because this overused trope is so much better.
This needs to go away. Stop writing this scene.