A View From the 20s: Underworld

Image Credit: Lakeshore Entertainment

When Underworld came out in 2003, it seemed like a feminist film. The reason was that the main character, Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, fights a lot with big guns and kills the bad guys. Looking at a film today, however, that isn’t enough to make the film feminist. In many ways, the film could be seen as anti-feminist.

 

First, there is the relationship between women. There really isn’t one, other than a rivalry with Erika, played by Sophia Myles (who is great in Moonlight, a one season show that aired from 2007-2008 and is also about vampires). This furthers the idea that women can only have a relationship if it’s in competition. Erika is jealous that Kraven, the leader of their group, played by Shane Brolly, likes Selene and wants her to rule beside him. That entire story is archaic, and is presented that way, catty relationship between women included.

 

There is one other woman in the film, an ancient vampire, and the only ancient vampire to be killed by the bad guys after delivering approximately one line and doing essentially nothing to defend herself, even though we are told that the ancient vampires are the strongest.

 

Image credit: Lakeshore Entertainment

Selene’s wardrobe is another strike against feminism in the film. This is not the first film to feature the main female character in some sort of cat suit, but at least other films try to put it into a “practical” light, where they are wearing it for the ease of movement. Also, it is not usually the character’s only piece of wardrobe. For Selene, other than her coat, she spends the entire movie in what appears to be a possibly vinyl catsuit, where she is sexualized by both the other characters, as well as the camera.

 

The main plot of the film is that Kraven and the main Lycan, Lucian, who is supposed to be dead, are conspiring together with the intention of Kraven becoming/remaining the leader of their vampire clan, rather than one of the ancient vampires. Selene tells Viktor, an ancient vampire presented as a sort of father figure to Selene, who immediately ignores everything she said and says she will be punished. After escaping, Selene brings back a male Lycan, the vampire’s sworn enemy, who repeats the same story that Selene already told Viktor. Well now, then it must be true. The entire section of the film between Selene telling Viktor about the conspiracy and the Lycan telling him could be cut out if he believed Selene. The story would otherwise remain unchanged.

 

Lastly, while Selene is the main character, she is essentially passive in her own story. Nothing she does forwards the plot. All of her actions are reactions to male characters. Even when she does something active, like turning Michael (a potential hybrid, blah blah blah) into a vampire, it is after being encouraged by Lucien. She kills Viktor because Kraven told her he lied to her and he confirms it. She has basically no agency in her own plot. Her own actions never further the story.

 

Watching Underworld from the 2020s, it is clear that it is not a feminist film. 

 

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