The Problem With The Word "Woman" In 10 Cloverfield Lane

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount.
Warning: Here are spoilers for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Read at your own risk.

The most unnerving scene in 10 Cloverfield Lane has nothing to do with the supernatural. It has to do with the goddamn patriarchy.

10 Cloverfield Lane is the surprise “spiritual successor” to 2008’s Cloverfield. Without giving too much away — but still, spoiler alert! — the plot goes along the lines of this: After a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up and finds herself in a basement. Her injured leg is chained to a wall. She’s being kept there by doomsday survivalist Howard (John Goodman), who insists he saved her from an apocalypse. The only other person present is the somewhat dimwitted Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), who confirms that something bad is going on. He helped Howard build this bunker, and rushed to get there for safety when he saw disaster hit.

But, for most of the movie, the most distressing threat is Howard, who seems to have some creepy plans for Michelle. The bunker is stocked with teen magazines. Howard says that they belonged to someone named Megan, who he claims is his daughter. Howard tells Michelle: “Megan was a good cook. You’ll learn to love cooking.” Does he want Michelle as his sex slave? His maid? His daughter? Whatever his intentions are, they are unsettling.

This all brings me to the scene: The three bunker mates are playing a word game. Emmett is giving clues. Howard gets the first word, “little.” To prompt Howard to guess the next word, Emmett says that it’s what Michelle is. Howard comes up with “girl,” “child,” and, finally, “princess.” He’s flustered. The word is “woman.” Emmett was trying to get him to say “Little Women.”

Howard’s inability to find that word is chilling and indicative of how he has infantilized Michelle. He’s more likely to call her a “princess” — a ridiculous suggestion in context — than what she actually is: a “woman.” One possible explanation is that in Howard’s mind, the scenario is similar to Beauty and The Beast. Though Belle is initially frightened of the Beast, who has imprisoned her, she learns to love him. Of course, that is not how 10 Cloverfield Lane is going to go.

Howard — though bizarrely amusing at certain moments — is anything but lovable. At one point Michelle, being the smallest person present, must climb through a duct to fix the bunker's air filter. Alone, she finds a bloody message scrawled on a small window to the outside. It says, "Help," and was written from the inside. She also encounters a bloody earring, matching the one in a photo Howard showed her of Megan. Michelle brings the information to Emmett, who tells her that it's not actually Megan pictured, it's a local girl he recognizes. That girl went missing. Howard is not merely an eccentric pining for his daughter, and Michelle isn't the first woman he's held captive.

The screenplay leaves much of Michelle’s past deliberately obscure. Still, it’s clear that men have been a thorn in her side. She wants to design clothes. She’s fleeing a relationship possibly gone sour when her car is hit. In a lengthy monologue, she alludes to an abusive relationship with her father, and how her past inaction has frustrated her. Part of the joy of the movie is finding out how Michelle is going to defy the forces surrounding her, and realizing the extent of her ingenuity.

Sure, there’s maybe a devastating attack unfolding outside, but the scariest villain is a man who sees a woman as his property.

And the most exciting thing? The woman fights back.
Advertisement

More from Movies

As long as Harry Potter fans keep rewatching the beloved movies, they'll keep finding new reasons the series will make you cry. The latest discovery? Harry...
The documentary world can be overwhelming. Think of a topic — broad or obscure — and very likely a movie has probably been made about it. Biographies, ...
Luna Lovegood is one of the most memorable characters from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Later, the eccentric character was brought to life by the ...
The 1960s never seemed creepier than in Rose McGowan’s haunting short film, Dawn (2014). McGowan, whose long acting résumé includes roles on TV megahits ...
Few things bring cinephiles joy quite like spending the weekend holed up in a movie theater, devouring the latest silver screen debuts. Though the biggest ...
There comes a point in every person's life when Netflix just isn't enough. Despite there being countless options on the popular streaming service, ...
Double check the calendar: It's officially fall. The leaves are changing, Halloween is looming, and cuffing season is just around the corner. What does ...
Five months after a controversy formed around the casting of Scarlett Johanssen as a Japanese woman in Ghost in the Shell, the teasers are here. For the ...
So, there's a movie coming out this weekend called Total Frat Movie, and it's awful. There are few words to describe the plotline, characters, and ...
In The Dressmaker, Kate Winslet's character Tilly returns to the town that spurned her as a child — bringing an arsenal of seamstress skills that she ...
WARNING: So many spoilers ahead! Plot twists unraveled. Endings revealed. Proceed at your own risk. March 16 marks the 15th anniversary of the release of ...
Netflix, we have a bone to pick with you. Once again, you are yanking some of our favorites from our queues. It's hard to wrap our heads around it, but yes...
Sex scenes, we've seen a few. The first times that seldom bear resemblance to anyone's real first time. The quick-my-wife-is-out-of-town humpfests that ...
We are not robots. We feel things. We can't survive on comedic bromances and CGI-ed action sequences alone. We like our joy, but we need our sadness, too. ...