By Sumona Bose
This article is exclusive to the online Edition 2 (Wrap Edition) of VARSITY Newspaper.
Who wouldn’t want to be adventuring into ancient ruins, looking for precious historical artefacts and living off the thrills of a lifetime of adventures? Well, Lara Croft does just that. Intelligent, brave and headstrong; these are all the attributes we want to see female protagonists portray, as well as embody ourselves. With the release of Tomb Raider, the new Lara Croft movie, Alicia Vikander takes on the role of the legendary heroine of action and adventure movies. However, with the release of the new movie, it sheds light on an issue that is the underlying archive of the cinematically imbued ‘feminist hero’: is Lara Croft the portrayal of an iconic role model to young womxn, or is she a sexualised character there to entertain the male gaze?
The new movie follows Lara Croft, a young ‘tomb raider’, whose wealthy father disappears and is thrown into a predicament in order to have her inheritance. She is shown to be intelligent, exceptionally strong and a centre piece of attention throughout the movie as she does her incredible stunts, battles several villains and remains determined to reach her goal; to ascend into her father’s legacy and obtain her inheritance. Fair enough. What we see is a female protagonist whose sole determination and great physical prowess is supreme to her survival in the shady world of artefact trade. She is independent in every sense, doesn’t compromise for a man and her motives are never second to a romantic interest.
Croft, and any heroine portrayed in a significantly heroic and thrilling way for that matter, has been objectified to suit the male gaze. She is always dressed in tight pants and a crop top; a normal outfit but more cinematically glorified in this regard that her appearance is synonymous to being ‘sexy’ and the ‘it girl’. Even in the original videogame, Lara Croft appears with pointed breasts through transparent tops, confining girls around the world to unrealistic beauty standards.
What she wears, how she looks and how she acts becomes her sexual identity and personality to the audience, and is particularly up for scrutiny from the male gaze. It is even more disgusting to note that some male critics have pointed towards her failing ‘sex appeal’. One male reviewer wrote that “Croft’s sexuality can be interchangeable and that is not empowering for women”. The reviewer went on to point out Vikander’s youthful appearance and “lack of curves”, deeming her unfit for the ideal Lara Croft. The image of glamour, beauty and adventure, especially through female characters, are time and time again commodified.
Even Vikander’s predecessor, Angelina Jolie was hailed as a ‘sex icon’ after her portrayal of Lara Croft. Croft cannot assimilate into any alternative form, if it does not conform to the prevailing ‘sex appeal’. The objectification itself is inherent and implicit. While the character herself is smart enough to defy any indignation and submission, her portrayal is being hailed by some as a ‘punching bag’ and a ‘sexy onlooker’.
On one hand I love me some Lara Croft because she’s a powerful woman who constantly overpowers male counterparts; on the other, I feel she’s still coded to be attractive to the male gaze and represents an image of a female version of toxic masculinity. This is hell.
— Joel H. (@djinnferno) February 5, 2018
Evidently, cinema has a long history of portraying womxn as objects of the male gaze, there to be looked at, rather than to strengthen the film’s narrative. Both indulgence and ignorance perpetuate the sexualisation of female characters. But now more than ever, womxn around the world are questioning why their female movie idols are in fact being modelled for the opposite gender as commodities and tangible objects of sexual desire. This is why many have and continue to come forward to bring attention to the matter at hand – and I am one of them.