Youâ€™ve heard of the Bechdel test, right? To pass it, a movie must show at least two women having at least one conversation about something other than a man. Itâ€™s a fun exercise â€” does the last movie you saw get a passing grade? Go ahead! Try!
â€śThe Past,â€ť out today, fails. Going just from memory, there are three women in the film (pass), two of them talk to each other (still a pass!) but their major conversation â€” in fact, their relationship for the entirety of the film â€” is defined by oneâ€™s relationship with a man. So, the movie fails feminism.
Except not â€” not at all. Berenice Bejo plays Marie, the central female character, and Marie is problematic. Sheâ€™s a little messed up and pretty manipulative but sometimes really nice, and itâ€™s kind of understandable when she loses her temper with her kids because who doesnâ€™t, right? Marie isnâ€™t perfect but sheâ€™s not awful, and sheâ€™s not particularly likable but sheâ€™s not evil. What Marie is is unmistakably human.
Movies that pass the Bechdel test are rare; what might be even rarer are movies in which the women are as multidimensional as the men who surround them.
There is no â€śyou must be this feminist to rideâ€ť measuring stick for a film. The only way to see if a movie treats women as human beings is to ask the following questions: Do the women in the movie act as though they are human beings? Do they make choices a human being might make? (This does not mean â€śdo they make choices that you agree with?â€ť) Are they naked in a situation where a human could expect to be naked; do they have sex at times a human might have sex and in a manner at least approximating the manner in which a human might? Are they treated as humans by the other people in the movie and, when they are not, do they point that out?
The Bechdel test is a good test of gender representation, but itâ€™s not the only test. â€śThe Pastâ€ť fails on the Bechdel level, but it succeeds so well at giving us a realistic, nuanced woman that the failing grade doesnâ€™t really matter.