There is no Dana, there is only Ripley

If one actress brings it like no other when she steps onto a set, it must be Sigourney Weaver. Honestly, if I could just have a few hours alone with her, the things we’d do…at the mall…in the shoe store…then we’d head over to GAP and make fun of the people who work there…then go grab a big cookie in the food court and feel bad about it. I mean, she’s just that amazing.

In Ghostbusters, we see Sigourney Weaver in need of help. But she’s not some shrinking violet. Sigourney doesn’t do shrinking violet. Rather, she’s a grounded, confident, and somewhat skeptical woman who finds herself thrust into a bad situation.

When Weaver’s character discovers an ancient Sumerian demon living in her fridge, she seeks the help of the Ghostbusters–a recently-formed group of parapsychologists who specialize in hunting, trapping, and imprisoning ghosts. Immediately she clashes with Bill Murray’s character whose nonsensical demeanor and blank affect clashes with her serious, professional attitude.

In the snarky back-and-forth between Weaver and Murray we’re reminded that opposites attract, that scientists can be playful, and that even if a woman is in need she’s not always tied to train tracks waiting for a savior. And therein lies the meat of the movie: Sigourney Weaver seeks out help, initiates her own solutions, and is willing to put up with Bill Murray’s shenanigans in order to validate her experience. She’s worldly, she’s wise, and she just happens to be in the wrong apartment building at the wrong time.

When I first learned that there was to be a reboot of the film with an all-woman leading cast, I seriously hoped Sigourney Weaver would get a role. Of course, she’s not one of the principles, and that’s a bit sad. The tougher-than-nails woman of the ’80s has largely been forgotten, I fear.

As we find more female leads in action flicks, I’m concerned that we’ll forget the practical feminine heroine. Sure, Weaver wasn’t a “Ghostbuster” but she was bold enough to take a chance. She didn’t run into the GB office screaming and wailing and blubbering hysterically–she was calmer than I would’ve been in that situation.

We need role models like Wonder Woman and Katniss, but we also need more subdued (in terms of the fantastic, not in some broken-will sense) heroes and heroines. We need ordinary, everyday people acting sensibly, being rational, taking risks within established boundaries, and doing what they can to help themselves. That’s who Dana was in Ghostbusters–a woman capable of knowing herself and knowing when to seek assistance.

While I think about it, the other lady that had a big role in the original GB was Annie Potts who played Janine–the smart-mouthed, competent but not enthusiastic receptionist. Yes, being a receptionist isn’t a very forward-thinking career role in a film, but she was perfectly suited to the role. Her dry sense of humor and interest in the less-than-macho Egon proved refreshing. Like Weaver, she wasn’t just another scream-queen.

One of the problems facing feminist genre fiction is the presence of the “TSTS” male villain (You know “TSTL” means “Too stupid to live?” Well, “TSTS” means “Too stupid to scheme.”) The end result produces a two-dimensional heroine who defeats a nemesis that can’t even think his way out of a paper sack (so how did he build an orbiting laser?) I like to call this scenario “Schoolmarms vs Keystone Cops.” It’s ludicrous and it doesn’t really work.

In the original GB, the heroes were the Keystone Cops, while Sigourney and Annie proved competent in their roles. But having buffoonish male heroes proved successful–it lent depth to the women on the screen and made their characters truly pop.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need to see if I can find the number for Ms. Weaver’s agent. There’s a big cookie at the Glendale Galleria with our names on it.

7 thoughts on “There is no Dana, there is only Ripley

  1. Interesting analysis from the Feminist perspective. A good friend of mine just composed an open letter to 20th Century Fox, outraged that the limited release of Ripley’s “Alien Stompers” from the film Aliens were only made in male sizes. Completely defeats the entire point, doesn’t it? I’m in total agreement with it.

    But Weaver is definitely one of the strongest female leads of that decade (and 1979 Alien was the warmup, right?). She deserves praise to the strength she brings to any role.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People really forget how amazing Sigourney Weaver is. She really changed the persona of “Unlikely Heroine.”

      Jamie Lee Curtis did a decent job of it in ‘Halloween.’ But even then, Curtis was still a “Scream Queen.”

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  2. michaelkingram

    I thought the movie struck a pretty good balance with how it handled Dana. Yes, it’s a boys club movie, but Dana isn’t treated as a weak damsel in distress (which, as you say, is probably influenced by Weaver’s acting chops). Instead, she’s just a regular old independent woman with a Sumerian deity dimension in her refrigerator. She doesn’t need to be saved, she just needs people who know about that kind of thing. I will say that if not for Weaver’s ability to parry the constant (and sometimes creepy) pickup lines thrown at her, Venkman probably would have seemed less of an irreverent prankster and more an opportunistic creep preying on vulnerable women.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really the beauty of this. Dana has the right perspective on Venkman–she puts him in his place in her head and her demeanor forces him to change. Sure, he’s still smarmy, but there’s a difference between how he treats Dana and how he treated the girl in the telepathy experiment. He has to be more honest with Weaver’s character, he has to work harder, and that work involves working on himself in a sense.

      She’s a very stable woman. A solid, lady character who occupies the perfect position in the film–neither a quacky Keystone Cop, nor a School Marm.

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  3. kristinsuzy

    Great perspective, Victor. You’ve deepened my respect for Sigourney Weaver, and maybe even added an element of girl crush. Or maybe I’m just salivating over the idea of a cookie and some shoe shopping. I so want to tag along.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: A Quick Update – Victor T. Cypert's Spectacular, Tentacular Spec-Fic Roundup

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