Nathaniel of Film Experience Blog is hosting a Michelle Pfeiffer Blog-a-Thon this weekend to celebrate the birthday of his personal goddess, and when he asked me to join in the worship at the altar of La Pfeiff, I said bien sur. Because when I think about Pfeiffer, I think about her Catwoman, and how she is the closest Hollywood has ever come to truly tapping into female rage, an emotion that most studio films would like to deny even exists… unless it’s in the cause of saving a child.
Not that there aren’t children who need saving in the world, of course, but there are plenty healthily selfish, nonmaternal reasons for a woman to be pissed off. And while lots of films hint at that anger, only 1992’s Batman Returns really gets it. For all its many problems as a film, there is — for the girl viewer — something very cathartic and empowering in Selina Kyle’s transformation from a timid mouse to a powerful cat, from a woman who hides her brains and her beauty and her elemental femininity to one who embraces all that is potent and fierce about her womanness. It’s especially thrilling, for the thinking gal, to see that some silly traditional ideas about what is “feminine” get a trashing here, literally: the scene in which the just-felinized Selina returns home to spray black paint across the pink walls of her apartment and destroy her dollhouse and shove her stuffed animals down the garbage disposal is downright electric. And it may be, in a way, the most important scene in Selina’s story, the moment in which she throws off ideas about what a woman is supposed to be and becomes her own woman. It is the moment that says, The world is afraid of your brains and your beauty and your power and subjugates it with pink frills and fluffy toys: the world keeps you a child… but only if you let it.
Which isn’t to say that pink and quiet always means childish, and black and assertive always means grownup. (Comfort in fashion — or the lack thereof — is another matter for female rage, and all that vinyl Selina starts sporting in her new powerful persona cannot have been very comfy — vinyl doesn’t breathe, you know. And generally The Masked Crimefighter’s Handbook advises against teetering around the rain-slicked cobblestone streets of Gotham in four-inch heels. But probably Selina’s new cat-abilities include a lack of the need to sweat and preternatural aptitude for balancing.) It’s that Selina’s transformation is all about her being Selina, finally, and it works because of Pfeiffer. A slump in her posture and an apprehension in her step is enough to make you believe that one of the most beautiful women in the world could be mousy and beneath the notice of the men around her… and her new confidence in her stride and willingness to look others in the eye after her death and resurrection is enough to make you believe that a man like Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne would be riveted by her.
But even now, not everyone takes Selina seriously, a conundrum that even smart, confident, self-assured non-catwomen know all too well. And most of us can only wish that every time a man underestimated our abilities or failed to appreciate our talents or implied that our beauty was our only worthwhile asset, we had a bullwhip to set them straight like Selina does. But we can imagine it, and that feels pretty good.