Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gender Identity and Cool

Casablanca has a transcendent, classic cool that doesn’t change or fade. For the 60th anniversary of the movie, a special screening was played on Broadway in New York; ticket prices ranged from thirty to seventy-five dollars, and the show sold out. In order to still receive this type of fame sixty years after being released, the film has an inarguable cool. The end of the movie is one that can be interpreted in many different ways; it’s an unexpected, yet satisfying ending which creates a dynamic, multi-faceted film.

Bogart’s cool is part of the reason the movie has succeeded for this long. He has that same dissident cool of Cagney in The Public Enemy. Both have an attitude of indifference towards the world and the people in their lives. Cagney and Bogart each tap the women on the cheek, like a playful punch for Cagney and a gentler gesture for Bogart; in both cases though, a type of dominant or authoritarian gesture. Their confidence and dominance over everyone, although to different degrees and in different ways, is the source of each man’s cool. Men used to be cool when they were unemotional, strong, and detached from everything, even the women in their lives, the “bad boys”. Today it is harder to find a subservient woman, even in the movies, who is willing to deal with an unemotionally available man and keep her mouth shut. The best example of this withdrawn attitude is Leonidas, in 300, leaving his wife for battle without even a kiss goodbye. Instead, the men who are cool in today’s movies have to deal with women who can stand their own two feet, which shifts some, if not most, of the “cool” to the women. The cool men of the past have been forced to give in to the cool ladies of today and, in some cases, even play the stagnant, pathetic character. Ironically, men of today become cool after they show their emotional side, like in Made of Honor, the leading actor starts out with a “Bogart-like” attitude but isn’t cool until he shows his sensitive side and chases the girl.

Ilsa’s subservient, pathetic character portrays an “uncool” which, in comparison, bolsters the cool of women in today’s movies. The way women are represented in movies pre-WWII is ridiculous, but if you think about it, this was reflected in society by the behavior of women (which is even more ridiculous!). I don't know how any woman today could look at Ilsa and aspire to be anything like her. The women in contemporary movies are so much more inspiring and powerful, they show the real potential of women. After the feminist movement, women gained a whole new presence in the world and were able to stand alone. Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider or Wanted show women as real and dynamic; however, movies as diverse as The Italian Job, Just Like Heaven, and Freedom Writers show women as powerful and self-sufficient. Today, even in romantic movies, women have their own lives and minds apart from a man. Women have come a long way since the time of Ilsa, but there’s more to repair to be done to the image of women in film.

Casablanca will forever remain cool; as society transforms and views the movie from new contexts, the version of cool may change, but audiences will always enjoy the excitement and romance of Casablanca.


  1. At what point to women stop being sex symbols and start being "real and dynamic" as you put it? Also, can a sex symbol ever be cool?

  2. In general, women are still represented as sex symbols in movies where the target audiences are men, and even in these movies, the women are so much more than Ilsa. However, in most movies today women are so much more than just a pretty face. I would say this change really occurred during World War II when women were able to step out into their own, but the role of women continues to evolve as time goes on.

    A sex symbol can be cool in the eye of the beholder just as much as a nice car. Sex symbols like Angelina Jolie and Marilyn Monroe and David Beckham are cool mainly because of their looks; so, I would have to say sex symbols can be cool.

  3. So if Casablanca's cool stems from the power of its leading man, will there ever be a movie as timeless and cool because of its leading woman? There are a few really good films that are great, but none of them really have that same nostalgia or draw as Casablanca, do they?

    Good entries!