I am a huge fan of the science fiction and fantasy movie genres; but, I’m often disgusted by the lack of women in these movies, or the portrayal of women as passive victims… as if women have no place in the realms of space or fantasy.
But the latest installation of the Riddick series (simply entitled, Riddick) takes the cake.
There are countless reasons why you shouldn’t allow your daughter to see this movie. The fact that the creative masterminds named the only female character “Dahl”, which allows for the men, all representing varying degrees of brutality and violence, to call her by the pejorative term “doll” with impunity is beside the fact. There is the rape culture the movie endorses, putting “the doll” in position after position where she is assaulted and has no recourse beyond her own fist. The other men seem not to care about the threats or the violence perpetrated against her. And when she rebuffs the advances of the sleaziest character, her refusal to sleep with him is attributed only to her sexuality (she announces she doesn’t sleep with men), as though a woman would only be able to turn down a man if her mind is hardwired to prefer women. She doesn’t choose not to accept his advances.
None of that is anything we want young girls learning. We want them to know that they have worth, that no one should be brutalized and violated, that a woman should always have recourse against those violations. Girls should know that it’s okay and acceptable to turn boys down and that turning the advances of a male down shouldn’t have anything to do with her sexuality, but her ability to choose to be with someone worthy of her. Girls should know that if they are violated or threatened with violation that there is a world of people who will stand with her and demand her dignity be recognized.
But that’s not what this blog is about.
This blog is about why you shouldn’t let your sons see Riddick. For all the damage that a movie like this might do for the self-image of young women… I can’t help but fear that it might do even more damage to the self-image of young men.
1. Blurred Lines–Bad Guys are Good Guys
Movies often blur the lines between good and bad, and Riddick is an anti-hero, meaning he’s the opposite of what a hero should be. But the portrayal of Riddick casts him in the light of the one who is righteous in his violence–as though slaughter, brutality, and violence is okay if you can claim some moral high ground on the people you are killing. Sure, maybe Riddick is a convicted murderer who seems to kill at will… yes, maybe he is wanted for escaping prison… but at least one guy he’s killed was a junkie who threatened the life of a kid, and the guy he’s about to kill is a rapist, and the guy he might kill can’t accept reality. So it’s all okay… (Warning: This blog has taken on high levels of snark.)
Ninety percent of homicides are already committed by men, and men are three times more likely than women to become murder victims. A boy growing up in our society already has to face and confront enough violence… the last thing a young man needs is to have the lines of right and wrong blurred about the validity of violence. They don’t need loopholes and permission to commit violent acts, they need alternatives. And Riddick doesn’t offer a single one.
2. She’s Going To Die Anyway, Right?
When the mercenaries first arrive on the desolate planet to attempt to capture Riddick, a horrific scene unfolds. A young woman of color is being held in chains–but the mercenaries need the space she is taking on the ship if they are going to detain Riddick. So they wake her from her drug-induced sleep in which a disturbing scene unfolds that reveals through her fear and reaction and the cryptic phrases of one of her captives that she has been sexually brutalized by the men on the ship. Maybe there is not much hope for survival on this planet, but it’s better than staying on board and facing what they will do to her. So she runs for it… and as it looks as though she might be reaching freedom, she is gunned down by Santana (the leader of the group, and clearly the most violent and brutal character outside of Riddick).
She lies dying with an abdominal gunshot wound. From what I understand, dying from a gut wound is pretty much the worst way to die. She is inches away from Riddick, who is crouched behind a rock watching the scene unfold. With cold eyes, he stares at the woman, who is laying there helpless, dying, tears streaming from her pleading eyes. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t make even the smallest gesture to offer comfort. He just watches her die.
Now I know that it was clear her wound was fatal and that she was going to die no matter what Riddick did… but the calculated callousness of his reaction to her suffering is hard to watch and it is certainly not what we want young men to think is acceptable. If anything, we need to care more about each other in our world, not less. The sort of human detachment required to sit motionless and watch a woman die is sociopathic and should not be glorified. But Riddick does glorify it. This cold detachment is a part of Riddick’s supposedly strong character and an early indication of the kind of resolve he will have later in his killing. Young men need to know that this is behavior that should be condemned… not glorified.
3. But Don’t Touch His Dog
I know the connection a person can have with a dog. I have a dog. I love my dog. I do everything with my dog. And if you try to hurt my dog, you will have to go through me… but Riddick carries things a bit far.
Already we have seen that Riddick won’t lift a finger to save a dying woman because he’s more interested in saving his own neck. But in the midst of an impossible situation, when he is outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded, he refuses to retreat because his dog is in danger.
When the pooch that has been his companion during his time stranded on the deserted planet is being threatened with death, Riddick pushes forward like an angry bull. The first horse tranquilizer didn’t stop him. He was determined to save his dog. The second one stunned him, but he just kept going. His dog was in danger. The third one knocked him to his knees, but he was still trying to get to his dog. It was a combination of three horse tranquelizers, watching his dog die, and the butt of a gun to his forehead that finally puts Riddick down.
Do you see where the values are? A woman of color who has been brutalized, held in chains, and now shot is not worth even the slightest movement. But a dog… well, a dog is worth his very life.
Do we really want young men to think that a woman’s life is expendable and of less worth than a dog’s?
4. Brutality Wins Women
Dahl has already declared herself a lesbian–that has been established. Her all-male crew accepted her declaration as fact and Santana viewed it as a challenge. But when Riddick finally finds himself held captive by the mercenary crews who were hunting him, he makes a prediction about who he will kill, how he will do it, the amount of time he does it in, who will fall to pieces mentally, and that he will then sleep with Dahl (his words are not suitable for a family friendly blog)… but then he claims that the lesbian will ask him to “real sweet-like”.
Sure enough, the murders come just as he predicted and events begin to unfold that indicates the rest of his prediction will come to light as well. The rest of the movie spirals into chaos and violence and bloodshed. There is death and destruction coming from every angle. And just as Riddick looks as though he is finished, he unleashes a raw, angry brutality that allows him to stand alone against a swarm of venomous, killing monsters that can tear through metal, beat through steel, etc…
This is when Dahl shows up to airlift him out of the situation and is apparently so impressed by his manliness that her apparently hard-wired sexuality is overturned and she now wants to ask Riddick something “real sweet-like”.
The news has been flooded with stories of sexual assaults and gang rapes. There have been horror stories about teenage boys watching passively as unconscious girls were being assaulted. There is a mentality in our society that men are dominated and driven by their own sexualities and that women are objects for sexual conquest.
But is that what we want young men to think is the ultimate proof of “manliness”? That they are reduced to their sexual urges and everything centers around the concept of being brutal enough to impress the most desirable women? That even the most difficult to obtain women can be won with the beat of chests while standing triumphantly above the slaughtered corpses of his competition?
5. Riddick Isn’t a Man At All
In his monologue at the start of the film, Riddick declares that he has become soft and needs to get in touch with his animal side if he is to survive and escape this planet.
The problem is, Riddick is nothing but an animal. From the moment he awakes on the desolate planet forward he is nothing more than the sum of his animal instincts. Everything revolves around food, survival, and sex (procreation).
Kill or be killed is the rule he lives by. He hunts by night, takes out his prey one-by-one, lures his targets into traps by his false displays of weakness. And even while he’s plotting an escape and resorting to his most base animal instincts for survival, he has his eyes peeled for that desirable partner. Once he spots her, he embarks on a showy ritual to display his suitability as a mate.
Young men would be making a terrible mistake if they thought that modeling themselves after Riddick was the way to develop as men because Riddick has been reduced to an animal. Nothing more. Nothing less. He is an animal and not a man… and certainly not what any of us should want young men to grow into.