The postmodern story of the femme fatale

Authored by: Julie Grossman

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138924956
eBook ISBN: 9781315684062
Adobe ISBN: 9781317408055


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Contemporary films that feature fatal women adopt various attitudes, although almost all of these works are deeply self-conscious about a legacy of stylistic traits and character types associated with classic film noir. Some of these more recent films exemplify a feminist affirmation of female power; others apply the femme fatale, as sexual badass, to a neo-liberal individualist agenda; still others offer a politicized critique of the construction of gender and power relations in the social world. This essay explores the abiding relevance of the figure of the femme fatale, not as a static object of vision, but as a dynamic critical tool for understanding the workings of gender in popular culture and society. Like other fictional icons—dominant televisual characters such as Walter White in Breaking Bad and Joan Holloway Harris and Peggy Olson in Mad Men—the figure of the femme fatale exemplifies the power of popular cultural representations to inform our notions of gender and social rules and, sometimes, to challenge them.

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