The recently released, action-filled spy flick Atomic Blonde has been praised by critics for its stark neon cinematography, strikingly realistic action scenes, and era-appropriate 1980s soundtrack. However, it has also been criticized for its lack of emotional connection – critics claim that viewers lack empathy for the mysterious protagonist, a badass and effortlessly chic MI6 agent who reveals little to none of her own backstory.
But that, says actress Charlize Theron, is exactly the point. Her character, Lorraine, does not need “dead husbands or kids to make you emotionally invest,” Theron explained to Time magazine in June. She criticized the common tendency of film writers to create troubled female heroes. As rare as heroines already are in Hollywood, the ones that do emerge in big movies are laden with trauma, or emotional baggage, that is deemed necessary in order to justify their actions. “Men go on a fun journey,” Theron said. “Women get a long backstory so you’re already forgiving them for what they’re about to do.”
In past interviews, Theron has made it clear that gender inequality is very much still a pressing issue in Hollywood. It is present in more than just the way female characters are qualified by their backgrounds. Playing the role of the Ice Queen in the Snow White and the Huntsman films, Theron raised her voice with The Huntsman: Winter’s War, demanding the same pay as male costar Chris Hemsworth. However, Theron has acknowledged that not all actresses are able to choose their roles or to demand higher salaries. Because of this, she has urged audiences to continue the conversation about gender equality in the film industry, as well as to support more female-directed and female-led movies overall.
Strong female roles are not new for Theron, who earned an Oscar in 2003 for her initial break with Monster, where she plays a serial killer prostitute who steals money and avenges her own rape by murdering her clients. Theron was extolled for her gritty, transformative performance. The movie’s director, Patty Jenkins, most recently directed Wonder Woman, which smashed through the box office in June, and has already earned $395 million domestically. Theron has commented on her hope that Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde will bring more women in films to the forefront. Woman protagonists, clearly, are on the rise and absolutely worth watching.
Theron’s Lorraine in Atomic Blonde is cold, intelligent, and fearless. Little is revealed about her past; there are no sentimental flashbacks, and in the true form of espionage, the character herself admits even less personal information. She punches and kicks her foes realistically, often strategically using heels, keys, hoses and whatever she can use against men who are much larger than her in size. She bruises and bleeds like a real woman would, but does not crumple in weakness from a hit. Theron’s protagonist may not explain how and why she came to be the warrior she is – but like any real woman, she doesn’t have to.
Watch Charlize Theron kick ass in Atomic Blonde, out in theaters now.
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