The Fifth Element (review)

One Man’s Guide to Women

The Fifth Element, writer/director Luc Besson’s science fiction odyssey, opens with a compelling and intriguing prologue set in Egypt in 1914. Deep in a desert tomb, an archeologist has made an astounding discovery: The four elements that the ancients believed made up the world — earth, air, fire, and water — when combined with some mysterious fifth element, produce a weapon capable of destroying Ultimate Evil. And then a group of cool-looking aliens arrives at the tomb for No Apparent Reason except to demonstrate that this weapon is actually of alien design and to let drop that the weapon will be needed in three hundred years.

At this point, I suspected The Fifth Element was gonna turn out to be a bunch of claptrap, and I was right. It’s a visually stunning film, to be sure — I’m a sucker for gorgeous spaceships and gorgeous spacescapes — but ultimately it’s a strange brew of Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Douglas Adams, mixed with a lot of pseudoreligious, pseudoscientific nonsense.

After Egypt, the film jumps — hey! — three hundred years into the future. The aforementioned Ultimate Evil is now on its way toward Earth in the form of a giant ball of fire — it’s bent on destroying all life as we know it, for No Apparent Reason. The nice aliens from the prologue send a spooky alien chick, Lelou (Milla Jovovich), to help save Earth. With the help of Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) — a New York City cab driver who comes to her aid for, say it with me, No Apparent Reason — Lelou tracks down a funky old priest (Ian Holm), whose brethren have served the aliens lo these many years. They all go off in search of the stones that represent the four elements, hopefully in time to save Earth, racing a nasty corporate type, Zorg (Gary Oldman, doing a weird Southern accent), who wants the stones for himself for, yep, No Apparent Reason. And then there’s that pesky fifth element…

I’m not quite sure what The Fifth Element is pretending to be about, but what it’s actually about is an extended riff on how men deal with women. (To be fair, I should say “how one man, Luc Besson, deals with women,” but it all sounds so tediously familiar.)

Corbin Dallas, we learn the moment we meet him, is searching for the perfect woman. Coincidentally, Lelou, the spooky alien chick, is a “perfect” being, according to the priest; she’s the savior of “mankind” (not “humankind,” but “mankind”). But even though she’s perfect, incredibly strong, and kicks some major ass, she needs the help of Corbin, a mere mortal. Lesson One: The perfect woman is out there, and she’s looking for an ordinary schmoe just like you.

The other women in The Fifth Element are all but silent — an aide to the president of Earth, a secretary to Zorg — with the glaring exception of Corbin’s mother, whose screeching voice we are constantly subjected to as she bitches over the phone to him about what a miserable child he is. Lesson Two: Women should be seen and not heard.

Clothing appears optional for women in this little fantasy world. Lelou spends a good chunk of the movie wearing nothing but some strategically placed straps. A group of flight attendants sport the most impractical and revealing uniforms I’ve ever seen. Even the gorgeous servers at McDonald’s have deep cleavage (like fashion models work in the fast food industry). Lesson Three: Men may dress for comfort and practicality while women should be as naked as possible.

One particularly egregious sequence cuts between a man making love to a woman and a spaceship pilot running through a preflight checklist preparing for takeoff, suggesting that bringing a woman to orgasm is no different than running a machine. Lesson Four: There are mechanical tricks to satisfying a woman sexually; don’t believe her when she says emotional involvement is necessary.

Oh, the list is endless, but you get the picture. These kinds of attitude are really getting old. If you’re gonna be a pig, at least be original about it.

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