An unexpected feminist emerges – How the “Cloverfield” title continues to defy audience perceptions.

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For as long as I can remember, I have always loved taking part in the cinematic experience. Every aspect of it, including purchasing my ticket, eating buttery popcorn, and watching every trailer before the film completely and totally encapsulates me to this very day.   So, it should come as no surprise that at the ripe age of 21, I am currently working at AMC Southdale, a high-end movie theater in Edina, MN. There are certain perks that come with being an employee at AMC that benefit cinephiles such as myself exceptionally well, including free tickets to the movies. Sufficed to say, when March 11 came around and 10 Cloverfield Lane was released in theaters, I was more than ready to take advantage of my free pass to the movies and go see J.J. Abrams’ latest work.

In order to get the most immersive experience I went to see the film in IMAX, which would usually cost about $16/ticket. Fortunately, it was free for my plus one and me as was the VIP box we got to sit in during the screening (I love my job!).

 Side Note: Fun fact! Have you ever gasped at the price of a movie ticket and then later taken it out begrudgingly on a poor theater employee? Well, the next time you are about to do that, don’t, and remember this! In order to operate an IMAX at AMC, it requires two $3,000 light bulbs that must be replaced twice monthly (that’s $12,00 a month for ONE SCREEN!), and that’s only one of the many expenses the movie theater pays to use IMAX!

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While I can lavishly enjoy the pleasure of free movie tickets, concessions are still an expense I partake in when going to see a movie. It is a cost that is therefore easier for me to empathize with alongside others. However, as an employee I objectively look at the economic side of it and am therefore not as bewildered about the prices as the usual patron. Essentially all of the theater’s revenue comes from selling concessions, as ticket sales go directly back to the studio (“How A Movie Theater Makes A Buck – Mar. 9, 2002”). It is in my knowledge of that fact where I can happily try to upsell items to guests, knowing that if they truly like coming to the theater and having it as an option of something to do when they go out, they’ll upgrade that small popcorn to a medium.

After paying for two ICEES, my boyfriend and I went up to the theater’s second level and sat down in the VIP booth, a separate, boxed-off section of the auditorium with reclining seats. I eagerly settled in, anxiously and excitedly waiting to see how J.J. Abrams continued the anthology of his 2008 movie, Cloverfield, an alien-monster movie recorded “shaky-cam”style (he has been very ambiguous on how the films connect…always and forever keeping fans at bay).  Even before the previews began, I was theorizing on whether or not there would be aliens, if John Goodman’s character was telling the truth about an attack, and what it was the woman saw outside the window.

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WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead!

10 Cloverfield Lane was a highly anticipated film for J.J. Abrams fans once the well-kept secret of its existence was revealed (a characteristic the production company Bad Robot is known for) mere months before its debut. The tagline for the film, “Monsters come in many forms”, as well as the trailer were both very ambiguous in nature and left the viewers with several unanswered questions. It turns out, this was the perfect way to watch the movie, with very little knowledge about it. The film follows the story of Michelle, a fashion design student who, after running out on her fiancée, is involved in a car crash and ends up in an underground bunker. John Goodman delivers an exceptional performance in his role opposite her as Howard, the doomsday prepper who brought her to the shelter. Howard reveals to Michelle that a massive chemical attack has rendered the air poisonous, and that the outside will not be safe for at least a year if not longer. John Goodman’s performance as Howard is one that beautifully suits the ambiguous nature of the movie in that it keeps the audience guessing, “Is he truly the “bad guy” in the film? Is he crazy? Is he telling the truth? Is he hot, cold, right, left, up, down?”…You get the picture. It is also through the character of Howard in which a thwarted perception of the male gaze is cast upon Michelle, which is what makes this film, surprisingly, radically feminist.

If you haven’t seen the trailer…

Michelle is one of the few female characters we actually see during the film, and her radical act of feminism is in the way she completely rejects submitting to the role of a sexual object. The film does not open “with the woman as object of the combined gaze of spectator and all the male protagonists in the film…isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualized” (Mulvey). Instead, Michelle’s nature invites identification with the audience. Despite the fact that it takes a mere five minutes for the Michelle to be stripped down to only a tank top and her underwear, it’s for the purpose of wearing a leg brace post-car accident. It is in this scenario where we see how she decidedly stands out from the ‘final girl’ trope in horror films. While Michelle is “above all…intelligent and resourceful in extreme situations” (Clover), she stands out from the role in her extremely calm and calculated nature. From the first problem we witness her encounter and solve, a drawer with no handle, which she simply jams a screwdriver in to open, to her expertly planned escape in constructing a HAZMAT suit out of an old shower curtain, the audience sees how her mind is constantly at work, on a level other typical ‘final girls’ are not.

Michelle also defies the trope in that there is no evident manner in which “she is not fully feminine…[She is competent] in mechanical and other practical matters, and [sexually reluctant]” (Clover). On the contrary, Michelle studies fashion and has a remarkable amount of control over her sexuality. She is only “sexy” when it’s part of a plan to test the limits with Howard, who stands as the patriarchal rule in the bunker (emphasis on the paternal).   It is eventually revealed that Howard views Michelle as a replacement for a daughter he claims to have lost in the chemical attack. This is directly reflected when he makes it explicit that there is to be no physical contact between Michelle and their roommate, Emmett, a neighbor of Howard’s who came to the bunker upon the attack. At their first dinner together, Michelle coyly touches Emmett’s hand in order to see how Howard will react. It is a strong reaction, to say the least, and while at first it may ambiguously suggest the power dynamic between Howard and Michelle is fueled by his sexual desires, this is later dismantled in the aforementioned reveal. The doomsday prepper is actually very adamant on Michelle not being sexualized, as is reflected in his demands there be, “No touching!”.

Through several trials endured between Michelle and Howard, she manages to escape the bunker and (after a series of events that will not be disclosed in part due to major spoilers) get in the car to drive away. Tuning in to any radio station she can find, eventually Michelle hears a woman saying, “…The military has taken back the southern seaboard. If you are hearing this, and aren’t in a safe zone, head north to Baton Rogue. But if you have any…combat experience…there are people in Houston who need our help” (Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane). In a manner that directly speaks to her astounding character, Michelle comes to a crossroads and heads towards Houston, choosing to fight. From the very first minute of the movie right until the end credits begin to rule, Michelle decidedly stands out from the typical trope role and redefines the position of the female body in film. She is not a sexual object, and decidedly so at that. Any sexual implication on her part is calculated and measured in order to test the power dynamics between Howard and her. She goes where few ‘final girls’ have gone before, literally to the ends of the Earth.

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Works Cited

10 Cloverfield Lane. Dir. Dan Trachtenberg. Perfs. John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth                  Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr.. Bad Robot Productions. 2016.

Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, And Chain Saws. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.

“How A Movie Theater Makes A Buck – Mar. 9, 2002”. Money.cnn.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

Mulvey, Laura. Visual And Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Print.

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