It’s International Women’s Day, and I’m watching Dredd. I feel it’s time well spent.
Dredd is one of my favourite movies quite literally ever, for a variety of reasons (too long to list), but today while watching it I felt like it needs a bit more love and attention in one area, today being what it is. I don’t usually like writing down long rambles of opinion, especially feminist ones, because Tumblr is where I get to hang out and goof off. But it’s also for nerdy things I love and my god I love this movie. So you can get a daily dose of nerdy feminism here, or keep scrolling and look at porn/puppies/whatever, and no harm done.
Rookie Anderson, played beautifully by Olivia Thirlby, is a woman. The movie is not named after her, but it’s her journey we follow as she trails after Judge Dredd on her day of assessment. And I think she’s one of the best female characters to hit the screen in a long, long time.
Spoilers below the cut.
I could go on and on and on about this movie for longer than its run time, but a few things:
1. Anderson vs Dredd? No, they’re equal.
Through a good part of the movie, Anderson is in charge of their prisoner, Kay. She cuffs him, grabs him, hauls him around, throws him to the floor, and is generally in charge of making sure he stays in line. What’s so great about this? It’s not because she’s a woman. It’s because he’s practically one foot taller than she is. And it doesn’t fucking matter. She is given control of someone whose shoulder she barely reaches, and it is never mentioned. No jokes cracked. Why?
Because she’s a Judge, or almost one. Because in Mega-City One, it doesn’t matter your height, gender, race, weight. If you’re a Judge, you are the cream of the crop. You will kick anyone’s ass and do it without taking a scratch. You have been pounded into something that is nearly beyond human in order to police a ruined society. Unless you know Anderson is a rookie (unlike in the comics, there is little differentiation between the uniforms of a rookie and a full-fledged judge) you are equally terrified of the both of them.
2. Anderson is gorgeous; it doesn’t matter.
Kay makes a few quips about her (he says that for a mutie “You fit together pretty well”) and there are a few scenes where he reveals sexual thoughts about her. This has less to do with Anderson being objectified for the audience’s sake, more showcasing Kay’s character as being detestable. Sexual harassment is the age old way of exerting power, and while Kay gives it a shot, he ultimately fails (and pisses himself, to boot, since Anderson gets her own back - not through similar sexual methods, like the ‘turning seduction around’ technique most comic movie women have, but just by fucking his head up). When Kay takes her uniform off in his head, it’s not a sexy scene, it’s uncomfortable and despicable - so when she turns the tables on him, it’s extra satisfying. It doesn’t matter that she’s pretty - she’s a woman, so it’s assumed Kay would do this against her even if she had a face that’d been hit by a bag of hammers. If Anderson was a man, Kay would have tried a different approach. It’s Kay being an unoriginal and single-minded thug rather than the ultimate villain. (As Anderson says: “Welcome to the inside of your head. It’s kind of empty in here.”)
Anderson’s helmet is left off so that we, as the audience, have a face to connect to, not because she’s a babe. It’s similar in the comic books - Anderson and her blonde bob is always seen. There is no shower scene. There is no cleavage. There’s just a girl with a dirty face and a crooked little smile and layers of riot gear. Actually, I’m impressed at how beautifully Thirlby expresses her character - the vulnerable eyes with an underlying layer of strength and dedication. Thirlby really is gorgeous, so her fantastic acting might be overlooked by that until she gets her ‘Monster’ role (Lena Headey pointed out in an article how Charlize Theron had to ‘ugly herself up’ before people realized she was a brilliant actor).
3. She isn’t the victim
Anderson goes through some shit. But so does Dredd; that’s just the life of a Judge. She’s an orphan, but so what? Lots of judges are. If they aren’t, they’ve been given to the Academy by their families at a young age (Or s/he’s cloned for duty. What’s up, Dredd!) In any case, upon entering the Academy, you forsake any ties to your family. When it comes to missing out on family, that is all Judges, and doesn’t differentiate Anderson at all. Nothing has been taken from her that hasn’t already been taken from everyone else. This isn’t a story where the female character has to go through hardships so that she can become strong. She is already strong from the get-go, she just needs to come to terms with it. Her transition is going from synth combat to real fighting, to killing people and dispensing justice, and having real consequences for her actions. In the end she is the one saving people, and she didn’t have to get raped/almost murdered/tortured to do it. She doesn’t have to be driven to the edge in order to come back, which is how most representations of strong female characters are formed in today’s pop culture.
4. She saves Dredd, and other random badassery
Yeah, Anderson gets taken hostage, fails her assessment by losing her primary weapon, and is sentenced to be executed. Then she gets herself out, kills two of the four crooked Judges sent to help Ma-Ma, and saves Dredd in the process. Oh, right, then she gives Dredd a talking to when he disapproves of her choice to let one of Ma-Ma’s henchmen go. At which point Dredd, one of Mega-City One’s most feared lawmen, mentally shrugs and lets her do as she pleases. And if you’re a fan of Joe Dredd at all, you know that’s when he decides she has passed her assessment. (Remember in the comics how he passed Judge Giant? That was a pretty mean trick, but Dredd always prizes doing the right thing instead of acting out of self interest).
Dredd scolds her? She tells him to stfu and leads the charge into Ma-Ma’s suite. She’s been shot? Who cares, she walks right by the medics. Kay tries to fuck with her head? Once Dredd gives the okay, she gives back even better. She thinks she’s failed? She’s ready to move on and won’t cry about it.
In the end, Anderson is a woman and no one tries to hide that; but her identity as a rookie-turned-judge is more important, just as it is that Dredd being a Judge is more important than him being a man. There is no attempt to do away with her emotions in the interest of her being a ‘strong’ character. She’s emotional. She experiences fear, anger, desperation, righteousness, regret. And it makes her a good Judge, which is what is most important. And not only that, she is clearly forming into a great Judge, and the steps to her becoming the sassy, clever Anderson we know and love in the comics are clear.
This focus on character development is what more movies need - the creation of characters without putting them in a skintight catsuit, making them have long and mournful showers, or gaining influence by being cute, flirty, and seductive. Women should be allowed to wield power in other ways - with a gun, with a fist, with brains, with heart. In the comics, Anderson is one of Dredd’s only friends - it’s easy to see why.
The movie ends with a shot of a Judge ripping down the road on a motorbike. My friends asked me if that was supposed to be Dredd or Anderson. I said, “I don’t think it matters.”