Sunday, 26 September 2010

John McClane – a Final Girl?

Consider the following statement:

"If you replace the lead of any horror movie, with a badass, it becomes an action movie".

It's an interesting thought that certainly opens up for some useful ways of looking at things, but I remain unconvinced that it's actually the case. And now I'm going to tell you why.

I'm assuming here that "the lead" means the Final Girl, the one who survives after seeing all of her friends being killed off one by one, and who (understandably) tends to end up a lot less sane at the end of it – having been tortured and chased for (what feels like) the better part of the film.

Firstly, there is the fact that the action hero, here represented by none other than John McClane, often doesn't seem to be as much trapped in the situation as the girls in the slasher films. Sure, they're very much involved in the situation and it's not as if McClane can just walk out of his skyscraper any time he wants, but he is granted the freedom to distance himself a bit from the actual core of the situation, he can retire into an air vent or something and consider his options. Not very glamourous perhaps, but I'm sure you'll agree it sounds better than being tied to a chair by Leatherface's dinner table, or being stuck in wardrobe waiting for Mike Myers to attack. The Final Girl is hurled right into the centre of the most absurd situations, which they rarely, if ever, really know the full extent of in the way that McClane does.

And what is it that gives McClane a lot of his relative freedom? He's trained. He's been in similar situations before, and has some idea of how to deal with it. He has the physical strength that is required, and of course, he has weapons (as easy as it would be to get all Freudian on this point, I'm going to resist, take note please). But wait, surely this sounds familiar even in a horror context? Of course it does, you've seen Aliens haven't you? If we pretend for a moment that it's possible to see past the things that I brought up in my previous post about Aliens, and the fact that it's full of aliens, then this describes the 1986 version of Ripley perfectly. Which makes Aliens more of an action flick than a horror film. Whaddayaknow.

Meanwhile, back in the skyscraper, McClane is busy not only hiding from/killing the European terrorists, he's cracking jokes while he's doing it! What a man. So his ability to distance himself from things is not only about the physical distance, but it's also the ironic distance. He is allowed to have some sense of fun in the midst of it all.

If we keep Derrida and his crazy theories in mind from the previous post, it can easily be argued that the action hero seems somehow aware that there is an audience. We are watching him, he's aware of it, he talks as if to himself in order to further entertain us. And this can create some sort of sense of being equal – John knows what's going on just as much as we do. This is never, ever the case with the Final Girl in the conventional slasher films. It is not us watching her and following her around, it's the killer. Again, she does not know the extent of the situation. If anything, the joke is on her.

Finally, there's the unavoidable fact that both the action film and the slasher traditionally belong to genres that are made for men and by men. Of course they'd like to see themselves as the big, strong, handsome and even funny guy who can take out entire international terror organistations on their own. This image will only be further enhanced if they can see the woman as someone who is completely weak and meek and entirely helpless without them.

Or was that helpless against them? Hmm.


  1. Please tell me you follow The Vault of Bunchness! You two think alike!

  2. Not yet, but I'll be sure to have a look! Thanks for the tip :)