Natalie Portman's New Movie Is Actually Really Sexist

Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
The past year was a great one for women on the big screen. We had Mad Max: Fury Road, Spy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakensmovies that championed tough, smart, independent female characters.

And now, kicking off 2016 is Jane Got a Gun, a movie that runs screaming in the opposite direction.

In case you’ve forgotten, Jane Got a Gun is the much beleaguered Western starring Natalie Portman that suffered nearly every setback imaginable. And that was before the cameras even started rolling. Nearly three years later, it’s finally crawling into theaters on Friday.

[Mild spoilers ahead!]

Conceived by Brian Duffield and directed by Gavin O’Connor, the film tells the story of a 19th-century Southwestern frontier woman, whose life is upended when a gang of outlaws from her past threatens her family. Jane’s husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) returns home riddled with bullets courtesy of the legendary Bishop Boys, led by Colin Bishop (Ewan McGregor). To fight them off, she enlists the help of Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), her former fiancé.

Even though Jane faces her adversaries to protect her husband and young daughter, the movie manages to make her, the protagonist, a supporting character in her own story. Worse, she’s a victim many times over, one who’s continually portrayed as a prize for the male characters to win. All anyone really seems to care about is who Jane “belongs to,” because it certainly isn’t herself. Whether it’s Bill, Dan, or Bishop, the men all claim ownership of her and engage in staring contests while uttering the occasional gruff, “She’s not your property” or, “A man taking a thing that don’t belong to him...” Even accounting for historical accuracy, it all feels more than a tad retrograde. It's hard to imagine that this is the movie that Portman (who also produced) envisioned when she signed on in 2012.

Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
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Anyway, back to the plot. In flashbacks, we see Jane and Dan’s courtship. Later, she comes to believe that her fiancé has died in the Civil War. So she heads west with Bishop’s caravan, only to discover that she has become a piece of inventory in a sex trade. But Bill, a member of Bishop’s team, takes a liking to Jane and notes that he’d like to “keep her for myself.” Bishop refuses, Jane is forced into prostitution, and Bill “nobly” rescues her, literally sweeping her off of her feet to start a new life as husband and wife. Did she forget that Bill was originally a part of the nasty gang that did her wrong? It might be a case of Stockholm syndrome, or it might just be that the film doesn’t respect Jane enough to allow her to say no.

Soon enough, the revenge-thirsty Bishop Boys put just enough lead into Bill to keep him on death’s doorstep. Speaking of which, Dan, it turns out, is not dead at all but a living, breathing, recently freed prisoner of war. He begrudgingly agrees to help Jane and Bill, though not without whining about how another man has taken his lady, and announcing that being scorned by Jane is worse than being tortured and beaten while in a prison camp. Women, am I right, folks? The men do lots of stuff: order Jane around, insult her, and mansplain at every available occasion. What a bargain!

Finally, let's talk about the title. While it is true that, near the end of the film, our gal does make use of a firearm, really, the “gun” that Jane “gets” is Dan, the big, strong man who protects her. If Jane Got a Gun had been interested in giving its main character any power of her own, instead of acquiring a weapon, she might have gotten the heck out of Dodge and joined Furiosa and Rey for a party out in the desert.
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