Why 'Elysium' fails the Bechdel Test, and why we should care.

This source preferred by Christa Van Raalte

Authors: van Raalte, C.

Start date: 8 January 2014

The 'Bechdel Test' is a rule of thumb to determine the extent to which women are marginalised in a film or television text. Popularised by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, it is not an academic theory but a joke of sorts that has become itself a meme of popular culture - and is arguably all the more powerful for that. To pass the test a film must feature at least two named female characters, who have a conversation with one another about something other than a man. While it does not grapple with qualitative issues of ideology and representation, it does have the virtue of simplicity, and is able to cut through the post-modern sophistry that can obscure some unpalatable truths about modern culture and the society that produces and consumes it. At a time when the number of speaking female characters in top grossing Hollywood films appears to be in decline, from an unedifying 2009 high of 33% (Smith, S 2013) I would argue that the issues highlighted by the Bechdel test merit serious academic attention. I intend to discuss some of these issues in relation to the recent sci-fi blockbuster Elysium (Blomkamp 2013), the utilisation of its two female leads, and the pointed manner in which they are deprived of an opportunity to pass the Bechdel test, which brings into focus some critical concerns about gender representations in 21st century Hollywood.

The data on this page was last updated at 04:55 on April 21, 2019.