Enchanted versus Salt

March 8, 2011

I recently discovered this post (which contained only this title) sitting in my draft folder and realized I should probably either write some semblance of what I was going to originally or just delete the thing.

One evening in December, through no intentional plan on my part, I ended up watching the movies Salt and Enchanted back to back.  Now I had seen both of these movies previously, but the direct juxtaposition made me realize what a fascinating dichotomy these movies presented in regards to society’s ideas about femininity.

Before I get into my points, here are some brief [Spoiler Alert] plot summaries, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot lines of these movies.  Salt is a taunt 100 minute  spy thriller in which Salt (played by Angelina Jolie) is accused of being a brainwashed Russian spy. The movie follows Salt on her quest to either save her husband and clear her name or fulfill her secret anti-US mission*.  Throughout the movie, Salt displays a wide range of spy skills including jumping on moving semi-trucks, barefoot ledge climbing, familiarity with explosives, knowledge of poisons and disguises.  In typical spy movie fashion, the audience is not allowed into Salt’s head, but clearly meant to remain in awe of her abilities.

On the other hand Enchanted is a children’s movie (with appeal to adults) which plays on many of the typical fairy-tale princess tropes including (but not limited too) swash-buckling prince, evil step-mother, talking animals, innocent princess, the all-encompassing power of true-love’s first kiss.  The twist in Enchanted is that the cartoon princess of the opening, quickly segues into a lost princess wondering a cold/cruel New York City where she must find a way to return to “true-love”.  Of course she ends up meeting a much more interesting modern-day single father, discovering the liberating concept of “casual dating” and ends up rescuing her new-found paramour from the evil step-mother turned dragon.

Now to my points about society and femininity:

  • Interestingly enough Salt was originally written for a man and that foundation comes across in the finished product.  Unlike other female superhero movies such as Charlie’s Angels, Salt is not known for her beautiful fighting style, there are no lingering close-ups of her hair swinging as she round-kicks the bad guys.  Nor are there many lingering close-ups at all, her fighting style is rough, to the point and very effective,  in other words more similar to traditional ideas about masculinity (i.e. James Bond, Jason Bourne, etc).  Also it is only at the very end that she attempts to use her femininity to gain the upper hand and that is after she is dressed as a man.   Yet throughout all of this Salt’s redemption and constant priority is to find and rescue her husband.  While he is played mainly as a pawn, her husband is given very nurturing characteristics and the love Salt feels for him is depicted as the primary reason for Salt’s conversion to US-centric loyalty.  However even after dealing with the death of her husband, Salt keeps her focus and maintains her mission to save the President of the United States.
  • On the other hand, Giselle from Enchanted, comes into the modern world with a guileless belief in true love, a truly fantastic ability to excel at the traditional feminine tasks of cleaning (aided this time by roaches, rats and pidgins as opposed to her more traditionally animated woodland rabbits, squirrels and songbirds), sewing fantastically gorgeous clothes out of curtains, and leading random people in parks in full out musical numbers.  For her the struggle is learning that sometimes you need to know a bit more about someone to fall in love (although I don’t know if 2 dates, over approximately 2-3 days is a big step up from first sight) and that there are other emotions other than happy, giddy and excited.

In the end, I think I find it fascinating how both Salt and Giselle are seen as feminine ideals, but are in many ways diametrically opposed to each other.  I think there is a lot of pressure on modern women to also emulate the idea of being fiercely independent and highly capable, while also being the dewey-eyed innocent who main goals revolve around finding love and building a domestic haven for a family.  So those of you who have seen these movies (or those of you who haven’t, but still have an opinion about any of this) what do you think?

*the “or” is an indication of the fairly good job the movie does at making Salt’s true motives unknown to the audience, unless of course you are Katie, blessed with a omniscient eye for plot twists

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