While talking about the Christopher Nolan Batman films last night on Twitter, I ended up in a long debate with a reader who asserted that "Nolan's treatment of women bothers me... just look at both Batfilms and Inception. The women are useless devices and not characters." This set off a long back-and-forth, during which I kept asserting that I thought Rachel was a fleshed-out character, and he asserted that she was only a plot device.
He also pointed out that she was the only [major] female character in two Bat-movies, which he equated to being a token character. My feeling on this is that it would have been an even greater example of tokenism to make Lucius Fox or Alfred into a woman just for the sake of meeting some kind of quota.
It was also argued that Nolan "chose to write a story" But I return to the point that Nolan's films are always incredibly focused, and like any writer, he clearly starts with the core conflict and themes and works outward from there. In just about ALL of his films, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist is what drives the plot. That doesn't mean that the other characters aren't fleshed out or that they don't have significant parts to play, but they're always in concert with the larger machine of the story.
In a Nolan film, no one is there JUST for the sake of being there. As it should be, they always have a vital service to the story, the themes or the characters. I point this out because if you reduce Rachel's part in the story to just a plot device, then don't Alfred, Gordon and Lucius all pretty much also fall under that category? They don't drive the story, but surely all four of those characters are fleshed out to the point where they are more than a simple plot device.
In Insomnia, the driving core is homicide cop vs. serial killer. In The Prestige, it's two rival magicians against each other. Batman Begins: Batman v. Ra's Al Guhl/Scarecrow/Mob. In The Dark Knight, it's the Batman/Joker/Harvey triangle that defines the story. In Inception, I might argue that the DiCaprio character's most important relationship is that one with his dead wife, for it's that dynamic that gives the rest of the film its emotional resonance.
It was suggested that Nolan could have brought in characters like Harley Quinn or Oracle, but I don't see what they would add to the story that he was telling about Batman's relationship to Gotham. Nolan's Joker didn't NEED a sidekick, so he doesn't have one, nor does his Batman need an Oracle on-call to do all his detective work for him. (Bringing in some version of Oracle might have actually undercut the story, for she might well have rendered Batman's security system obsolete.)
So what do all of you have to say about this? Do you take issue with Nolan's treatment of women? Or is it just a case of this being where the story has gone. (And let's not forget that most of Nolan's works are adaptations in one form or another.)
Before we continue, I want to lay this down - as much as it's popular to whip out the Bechdel Test, I ain't having that here. I don't subscribe to the premise that a movie is inherently bad simply because it fails the Bechdel Test.
After all, would any of these films have been better if they DID pass the Bechdel Test? And TVTropes does a good job of addressing how this test can be misunderstood. I also came across this article about The Problem with the Bechdel Test.
Let's talk about context - not checklists. It would be great if we could stick to the topic of Christopher Nolan and not turn this into a discussion about the portrayal of women in Hollywood films in general.
Believe me, I've read plenty of incredibly sexist scripts and seen plenty of sexist films - but I don't see Nolan's films as falling into that category at all.