Genevieve Valentine (glvalentine) wrote,
Genevieve Valentine

Hell Here


Well, more specifically, Catwoman as she appeared in Batman Returns, who is the subject of my latest Strange Horizons column - "Hell Here: Catwoman and the Superhero Origin Tragedy.".

As it says on the tin (and in the article!), I talk about the beautiful efficiency of Catwoman's origin story, rise, fall, and rise, and how that's reflected so tightly and painfully in her search for identity.

But really, that hero's journey can be crystallized effectively in a single scene, in which a suspiciously-undead Selina Kyle comes home from the scene of her own murder and decides she is going to wreck the living shit out of her apartment.

But it's not just any apartment - it's pink, and stuffed animals, and dollhouses - and in between smashing her neon wall art and painting everything black, she breaks out a little pink sewing machine and makes a catsuit fit to kill for. And while I think there's an argument here that she goes from infantilized to hypersexualized (we'll never erase "so much yummier"), I do think that the overall arc, and this scene in particular, is intentionally (and successfully) staged that it's a result of a choice she makes, and choices she continues to make, so that her initial bombshell demeanor slowly gives way to an alter ego (or just a self) that's more aggression than innuendo.

While Hell Here is definitely the most dramatic image of the transformation, and maybe the sound of a dozen plushies getting the grinder is its most disturbing moment, but my favorite of them all is this:

Selina, midway through sewing feverishly an outfit that we assume is just meant to be a suitably-violent reaction to wanting to tear her old self down, she picks this up, and you can see the moment she decides exactly what she's going to do with this catsuit, and with this second life. (Michelle Pfeiffer, sometimes underrated, does some of her best work ever with this part, and this scene shows it. The screenshot taken literally half a second before this is still glassy-eyed and wildly rote; she's just snapped that inner switch back on.)

This is the face she's wearing the moment we see her spark back to life after a sort of fugue-state destruction of everything else, a symbolic self-immolation through identifying possessions; once it's all gone, during the process of creation of something she's not quite sure of, she looks at this small thing, and wakes up. She's a tower of angst, no doubt - in the next scene, even as she preens and poses in the window, the neon behind her screams HELL HERE. But after this beat, she's making choices; everything builds from here.

It's an awesome moment, and moviewise, this will always be my Catwoman.
Tags: catwoman, writing
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