By: Daphne Olive
So, Captain Marvel caught me by surprise. I knew I would love Brie Larson and Samuel Jackson together and I did, immensely. We wanted to make this blog space for exactly this: when we aren’t going to podcast about a thing but have ideas in our heads demanding to be said.
I am going to try to do something I don’t normally do - write and publish without driving myself mad editing and re editing as I have been doing with my book. Here goes. There is really one point I want to make. I am going to add links below to people making other amazing points about Captain Marvel.
There are universal stories and stories more specific to a group of people. I am absolutely of the opinion that most of the stories we have been told in film are based more in the experiences of cisgender white men and I am not here to talk about the history or politics of that right here. What do I want to talk about is the extremely novel experience I had with Captain Marvel that lit up parts of my mind based in my own experience in the land of navigating the world of gender.
!! SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS !!
If you have not watched Captain Marvel, stop here. Trust me, it is much more fun to go into this movie not knowing stuff. I will offer you a delightful gif of Fury and Goose. Now go watch and come back after.
OK. On to the SPOILERS:
This movie felt like it drew from the experiences of women - and not only in the usual “fuck the patriarchy” ways. I love a good “fuck the patriarchy” moment, and Captain Marvel certainly has some good ones like Carol being told to smile and the whole ‘COCK-pit’ bit, but what interests me here is deeper and more structural. I really enjoyed the shaken up origin story that starts with Carol not knowing who she is. I am positive that the amnesia structure works better for someone like me who went in knowing almost nothing about her story and nothing about the Skrulls. I remember bad Kree from Agents of Shield, but I have experienced the MCU with almost no knowledge of the comic books. I was perfectly ready to accept Carol’s initial understanding of her world at face value and to believe those around Carol telling her that they gave her her powers and that she must learn to control her emotions to better control her powers.
And that is the thing that later lit up for me. Carol Danvers is a lot of things, but overly emotional is not one of them. We have all seen stories of women experiencing gaslighting (manipulating someone to question their own reality). Gaslighting is not an exclusively female experience, but it is an extremely common one for women. In the SlashFilmCast (link below) Joanna Robinson, senior writer at Vanity Fair, podcaster, and all around fabulous human being called what the Kree were doing with Carol “handicapping presented as support” and those were the perfect words. They had convinced Carol that her strengths - both her powers and her ability to feel anger - were 1) not hers to begin with and 2) liabilities. This tracked so well with how women generally spend so much of our energy in self-editing and self-regulating so as to not be defined as too emotional/shrill/hysterical and to be taken seriously. We are constantly told that to be heard and to be strong we must reign in our emotions and that when we are dismissed it is our own fault for having been so emotional.
Now, the part that inspired me to write this. Usually, stories of gaslighting exist as an element in a larger story - a ‘women’s story’ showing the effects of that manipulation on women. In Captain Marvel, the entire structure of the of the story, with its time jumps and memory recovery, was built on gaslighting as the narrative scaffolding. A common, or maybe essential, experience of women in our culture is no longer an element of the story; it is the story even though this is not a film specifically about womanhood. This feels like the first time I have seen a plot so subtly built from the bottom up from the specific experiences of women without congratulating itself for noticing women and without being a movie primarily about women’s experiences. The conflict and resolution of the plot which will ultimately save everyone (I assume Carol’s powers will be pretty important in Endgame) stem directly from Carol discovering and rejecting gaslighting. I am so used to universal human issues, and/or the gendered issues men confront being used as the framework for a story meant to be universal. I didn’t realize until watching this film, how refreshing it would feel to have experiences I know intimately used the same way. This is not a perfect movie but it truly surprised me in this one essential way. Women’s experiences are human experiences and it is really cool to have a story structured with that perspective.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this - you can comment here or find me on Twitter:
Here is the /Film Podcast about Captain Marvel with Joanna Robinson:
Here is Rowan Ellis explaining how Carol and Maria are absolutely a couple (as was my assumption):
I will add more links as I find other cool Captain Marvel coverage.