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Let’s Hope That Christopher Nolan’s Sexlessness Doesn’t Ruin Catwoman

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

If Christopher Nolan is going to usher Catwoman into his cinematic universe, he better be ready to leave Neverland.

Let me explain: Nolan is a vastly talented filmmaker, and although I have mixed feelings about his influence on the Batman movie series, overall he’s delivered two memorable outings for the Dark Knight. Nolan’s talents as a filmmaker have also happily spilled over into his other projects – big, brainy enterprises in which he smuggles a lot of heady concepts into mainstream, commercial moviemaking – Memento, The Prestige and Inception. There’s a lot to like about the guy.

But the prospect of a Christopher Nolan Catwoman makes me nervous.

Why? Because despite Nolan’s considerable strengths, his movies are largely sexless, even with the presence of great female leads like Scarlett Johansson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ellen Page, among others.

I mentioned this in my and Lance Carmichael’s joint review of Inception:

Moving on: Lance, I wanted to revisit our earlier discussion about Inception’s lack of sexuality. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started reading through some of the responses to this movie, and upon further reflection, it occurs to me that the absence of smolder makes the movie feel awfully sad. The biggest sexual thrill is a chaste peck that any grade-schooler could experience. It infuses the whole proceedings with a Peter-Pan-like sense of quaint ignorance.

Selina Kyle is not only one of the great villains from Batman’s venerable rogues gallery, but her character has also served as one of the best onscreen villains in Batman’s movie history. In my lengthy examination of the six modern-era Batman movies, I argued that Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was the best villain in any of the six movies – narrowly edging out Heath Ledger’s terrifying Joker – and that her forceful presence in Batman Returns made that entry the strongest in the series.

I stand by that opinion, but more than that, I want to underline just what a powerful figure Selina Kyle is in the world of comics. She lives a complicated life by her own set of rules. Filmmaker Elisabeth Fies – who’s been interviewed on CC2K before – laid out a fantastic argument for how and why Selina Kyle kicks so much ass.

In short, she’s a dangerous woman. To wit:

There are several extraordinary elements to the Catwoman myth that defy the sexist stereotypes found in most of modern media. Unlike token females who must be represented as perfect, Selina is not virtuous, gentle, or whitewashed by a lack of human frailties. Selina Kyle is always portrayed as a very complicated woman, full of conflicting emotions and desires, and not afraid to change her mind. She admits when she is wrong but does not accept patriarchal punishments Rather, she operates under a self-regulated morality kept in delicate check by her own will. Though operating outside the laws of gender and society, she is never punished for her transgressions. Indeed, she is almost impossible for the law to catch, and always escapes. This is unheard of in fiction, where even feminist authors like Kate Chopin and Margaret Atwood unilaterally kill the female heroine who can not be reprocessed back into society. Instead Selina is championed as a female trickster, an insouciant who laughs at society’s rules and wins (Landay 206). This unpunished insolence might not be so astonishing if the behavior was confined to the underground world of comics. But this phenomenon continues in every Batmedia form. The last image of Batman Returns is of Catwoman eclipsing the Batsignal in triumph, free to roam Gotham once more. Catwoman is the first highly visible female character in modern media to escape the wrath of patriarchy.

Now, here’s the thing: I think that Nolan’s sexlessness encompasses both genders. None of his characters has ever smoldered with the same kind of sexual danger as, say, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. Again, the prospect of a neutered, sexless, bland Selina Kyle makes me shudder, and even worse, I fear that Nolan will try – and fail – to fake it. There are fewer things more embarrassing than watching someone who doesn’t know about sex try to be sexy, and I’m afraid that Nolan might try to do just that. The result might be the most wince-inducing movie of his career.

But …

I could be wrong, and I hasten to offer that because I’ve been wrong about Nolan’s movies so many times before, especially when it comes to his two Batman movies. I thought that Scarecrow and Ra’s al-Ghul would make lousy villains, and he proved me wrong. I was puzzled at the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker, and Nolan allayed my fears by delivering one of the great onscreen villains in recent memory.

Pursuant to this idea, I have to heap praise on Nolan for casting Tom Hardy. Hardy was the real standout for me in Inception. Unlike his costars, Hardy managed to exude sexual danger and roughneck charm in his supporting role, and although I can’t imagine how Bane will exist in the Nolanverse – I mean, will he wear a luchador mask? – I look forward to Hardy’s positive influence on the movie.

Anne Hathaway is also an interesting choice. To be sure, just about any able-bodied young female actor would be physically appropriate for Selina Kyle – but can she bring it? After all, she has to live up to Pfeiffer’s performance. In fact, let’s look back at a memorable scene. I task you to watch the following sequence without feeling chills run up your spine:

To be sure, playing Selina Kyle requires physical presence and – let’s face it – a nice figure, but if Hathaway is going to suit up, she better be able to deliver the kind of intensity that Pfeiffer packs into her eyes at the 19-second mark of the clip above.