Valerian and the City of the Female Erasure
“The first woman I fell in love with was probably Laureline. She was totally free and badass and it was a very modern heroine at the time and I was totally in love with her.”
Director Luc Besson may have told Collider that, as a 50-year-old director, he was not casting his manic pixie-dream girl, but the evidence is there, in the film and in the question posed during the interview: “So what is it like casting this dream girl that you have had a crush on almost your entire life?” This was not a character to empower, this was a portrayal for the satisfaction of a 10-year-old’s fantasy.
The film itself is not great. There are obvious reveals of plot points, characters talking about what happened when seeing it would have been more interesting, and a confusing government system. That, however, is the least of the film’s problems. If those were the only issues, this might have been a film that I guilty-pleasure watched. Instead, I was left groaning throughout because of the two dimensional nature of the females in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Laureline, the female lead, is the first major female with which I take issue. While the original comic was Valerian and Laureline, this film is simply Valerian. And mind you, Valerian really isn’t that interesting of a character in the film. Despite this, Laureline is only there for show.
Their relationship dynamic begins off oddly enough, with some flirtation and annoyance as Valerian forgot… her birthday. Oh and he keeps a log (playlist) of all the women he’s been with. But of course, she’s the only one for him now.
Later during a mission, he asks her to marry him. Story-wise this felt awkward as the audience hasn’t been given the impression that they’ve known each other for very long, but apparently they’ve known each other long enough for Valerian to fixate on her. She, of course, smirks and kisses him on the cheek. She’s playing hard to get.
She’s a strong, independent woman after all.
At the end of their mission her one comment is, “He ripped my dress.” Darn those space monsters tearing her ridiculous tourist disguise dress.
She does show off some impressive fight skills, saving herself when she is being arrested, showing technical prowess, and flying a spaceship. Yet that means nothing because of how they also make regular jokes about those same skills. Women and driving, am I right?
Those skills can’t make up for the ultimate fact that her role is to make Valerian care about someone other than himself. She is the sidepiece. She is there as his love interest. She is the manic pixie dream girl, here to save the hero from his self-absorbed and bull-headed nature.
Female representation throughout the rest of the film does not fare much better. When visiting the Pleasure Cove, the director leans into a world where the 8-billion species that coexist here are still binary chauvinists expecting sexy female alien hookers. Even Rihanna (one of the few characters with some actual emotional depth) spends her entire introductory scene dancing for Valerian, flitting from sexual fantasy to fantasy.
In such a diverse universe, it’s disappointing that this film was trapped by the fantasies and understandings of women that a 10 year-old dreamed up. I would have forgiven this film so many things, but the erasure of women as independent, strong, brilliant, integral leaders and characters, that I won’t forgive.