The Seductive Power of the Femme Fatale
In response to the kinds of female characters that tend to appear in fiction, author Gillian Flynn once proclaimed, “We’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.” She rightly points out that characters built on shallow “girl power” ideals lack the complexity and messiness that make women and women’s experiences interesting and emotionally resonant. One solution to the problem Flynn has posed lies in the femme fatale, one of the few fictional archetypes that allow women to be mean, scary, conflicted, lustful, and greedy — in short, to be villains.
Certainly, cinema has seen its fair share of female villains. Yet genres such as horror, fantasy, and science fiction tend toward villains that are psychopathic caricatures, and while they are terrifying and alluring in their own ways, they typically stand in stark contrast to the seductive complexity of the femme fatale, an archetype that has morphed and changed throughout history but has never disappeared from the silver screen. As is befitting for such a complex character, depictions of the femme fatale have not always been perfect. Still, they remain fascinating and indicative of larger societal and cultural trends and are therefore worthy of critical attention.