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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Where Are the Women? The Gift

Where Are the Women? The Gift

Little more than the standard woman-in-peril thriller, but worse, because it robs the woman of the bit of agency these sorts of movies usually grant her.

Warning! Some of the details in the Wildcard section may constitute spoilers for those not familiar with the story.


Is there a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story? (for an ensemble cast, or a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]


[no significant representation of women in authority]


[no issues]


Is there a female character whose primary goal is to become a mother? [why this matters]

Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men? [why this matters]


Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

The female coprotagonist is depicted as potentially unreasonable and irrational in a particularly gendered way: she went through a “rough patch” that appears to have included addiction to prescription antidepressants and/or painkillers as a result of a lost pregnancy. A woman unhinged over matters of motherhood is not a positive depiction. This isn’t to suggest that some women don’t suffer over such loses. The problem is how it’s treated here. Much of the film’s suspense is derived from wondering whether she’s “crazy” because she had a miscarriage, as if whatever grief she’s experiencing renders her incapable of interacting with and adequately judging the rest of the world or interpreting her own experiences with others.
The film’s ultimate “shock” derives from an unanswered question about whether the female coprotagonist has been violated in a way that has nothing to do with her (she remains, preposterously, unaware that there is a question about this) and everything to do with her condition as the property of the male coprotagonist. The presumption is that he may have been damaged as a man by something that may or may not have been done to her.


IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: This is little more than a fairly standard woman-in-peril thriller… except it’s actually worse, because while those sorts of movies usually at least give the woman a bit of agency when it comes to defending herself, this one posits a far more insidious “twist”… one that makes her pain nothing to do with her and everything to do with how it impacts her husband.

Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of The Gift! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) Read my review of The Gift.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)

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