Stereotyping ‘Male’ Characteristics: Atomic Blonde & A Family Man

Image source: Ster Kinekor

In the spy action thriller, Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron acts as a British MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, who is sent into cold war Berlin to recover a top secret document. The film opens with Broughton being grilled post-operation by her superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). She looks battered and bruised. The story goes into the past from here, flashing forward at intervals to further debriefing scenes in which Broughton seems to be getting a raw deal.

Broughton was chosen for this difficult mission, it transpires, because of her amazing skills at detecting and beating up hordes of fighting men. Warned not to trust anyone Broughton is even suspicious of her MI6 contact in Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy). A number of important foes with names I found hard to keep a track of come and go, as do groups of others sent to confront Broughton and prevent her succeeding in her mission.

The only person Broughton seems to genuinely connect with is female French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a vulnerable,

Image source: Ster Kinekor

inexperienced first-timer. The two women have sex.

In Atomic Blonde there is action, fighting, double crossing and plot twists from beginning to end. I particularly liked a scene in which Broughton slips into a group of people escorting an important contact while snipers aim at them from buildings up above. In a synchronised move everyone in the crowd puts up black umbrellas obscuring the prey from the shooters’ view.

But Broughton’s brilliant fighting skills seemed unrealistic. The film’s feminist stance – the two main female characters are virtually the only goodies – is undermined by the aggrandisement of male-type characteristics of physical aggression. Paired with lingering camera shots of Theron’s beautiful profile, this focus wasn’t enough to carry the shallow plot.

Atomic Blonde opens at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 25 August 2017.  

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Another film that portrays a stereotypical male role, this time in the form of the undesirable absent father, is A Family Man.

Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) works for a recruitment agency and will do anything to meet his figures every month. He undercuts other agents, lacks integrity when dealing with job seekers, is constantly robbing his family of time with them, and puts undue pressure on his son Ryan (Max Jenkins).

When Ryan becomes ill Jensen is challenged to shape up and become a better man, husband and father.

A Family Man is a moralistic story of character building. But, like Atomic Blonde, has unrealistic aspects. Recruitment is equated with the tough world of stock trading. Jensen’s wife is too forgiving. And the denouement is much too neatly tied up. I found the plot bitty, Butler’s American accent annoying, and the ‘absent father’ theme a bit tiresome.

A Family Man is currently on circuit in South Africa.


Memory Highlights Prejudice

The Book of Memory, published in 2015, was added to my reading pile through a book club I have newly joined. Zimbabwean author, Petina Gappah, writes in short, simple, unsentimental prose throughout this, her second book. This style coupled with a harsh story line makes for a punchy, compelling read.

Briefly, the narrative revolves around a woman called Memory who is in prison awaiting execution for the murder of her adoptive father, Lloyd. At the instigation of a the-book-of-memoryvisiting American journalist, Memory recalls her past from early childhood to the present, all the while regaling readers with accounts of the interesting characters that people the women’s prison in Chikurubi alongside her. Memory’s memory of her childhood is distant and inaccurate, as memories are, but becomes clearer as the story moves to the present. Some of the ladies in my book club saw the emergent revelations at the end too rushed. But perhaps this trait was more a deliberate merging of past and present, than of an author growing tired.

The most important aspect of The Book of Memory for me was how it highlighted the prejudices rife in (in this case, Zimbabwean) society. Memory herself is a Black woman born with albinism. From birth her melanin-deficient condition incurs suspicion and rejection. Lloyd, the man who, as Memory recalls, “bought” her, is a gay White man who, likewise, suffers at the hand of society. Just about everyone and everything in the book is subject to Gappah’s scrutiny – from the stupidity of the uneducated guards, to the colonial and post-colonial politics, religion (including Christianity, ancestor worship and fatalism), the flawed justice system, Memory’s own selfishness, and gender inequalities. Whilst Gappah (or Memory’s) most disparaging remarks are reserved for the prison guards, her tone is non-judgmental, leaving it up to the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

It is interesting to note that Memory is able to see things the way she does thanks to the “Western” education serendipitously bestowed upon her. I found this aspect of the book a little disingenuous. Despite this, The Book of Memory raises some important issues, is very well written, and made for some stimulating discussion at the book club meeting.

Petina Gappah has also written An Elegy for Easterly and Rotten Row.