Gravity Shows the Limits of the Bechdel Test

Let me start by saying I’m more than a little bit obsessed with the Bechdel Test.  As I wrote back in August when Pacific Rim was released:

You all know the Bechdel Test for the role of women in film, right?  Very simple three part test for the importance of women in a film:

  1. Are there at least two female characters with names
  2. Who talk with each other
  3. About something other than a man?

Problem with it is that virtually no films pass the test.

Among the movies that do not pass are several that have very strong women characters, including Pacific Rim.

This was brought to mind the other day when I went to see the new Sandra Bullock movie Gravity, which I went on about at length yesterday.  Bullock and George Clooney are the only two actors who appear in the film, and there are five more characters (two with names) whose voices are heard but not seen.

So, it is immediately obvious that Gravity can’t pass the Bechdel Test as there is only one named female character in the movie.  That said, Bullock is the only character in much of the movie.  It is 100 percent her story.  And she is an intensely involving character consumed with her own survival.  In many ways, she’s the strongest female character in a science fiction movie (if you can call Gravity that) since Sigourney Weaver played Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise.

What do you think? As great as the Bechdel Test is as a casual tool for analyzing the role of women in movies, does it miss a lot of movies that have really strong roles for women?

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5 Responses to Gravity Shows the Limits of the Bechdel Test

  1. Kári Emil Helgason says:

    The Bechdel test is an objective review mechanism, best suited for multi-character films. Gravity arguably only has five characters: Ryan (Bullock), Kowalski (Clooney), Shariff (who dies early), mission control (male) and Explorer captain (female). Technically Ryan and the Explorer captain exchange a few words about technology (!) and her name is given later in passing, thereby perhaps allowing the movie to pass, but her absence from the screen neuters her as a character, her gender is barely relevant.

    The test doesn’t offer leeway for subjective assessments. I think it’s interesting to note, however, that this movie doesn’t really pass Reverse Bechdel either. I think we can conclude this is an example of a movie where the Bechdel test doesn’t offer much relevant insight but as always, sparks interesting conversations.

  2. Pingback: Gravity et les limites du test Bechdel | Clumsybaby, blog musical

  3. Erik says:

    Calling “Gravity” a movie with a strong female lead seems somewhat misleading. I wonder if you’ve seen the same movie I did.

    The one I saw had a female lead who spent a bunch of time barely coping with her surroundings and then when in trouble going into hysterics, so she could be calmed down and told what to do by a man who then had to physically rescue her. She still couldn’t formulate a plan. Luckily the man was still there to tell her how things were going to go down. When the plan didn’t work out she attempted suicide, until the man came back via her dreams to tell her how to fix it… Yeah.

  4. Pingback: Women and the Movies 2013 Part 1 – Bechdel Test Movies | Living in a Media World

  5. Pingback: A few more thoughts on the Bechdel Test | Living in a Media World

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