I made an interesting observation today when looking at my 10 all-time favorite films. In actuality, this theorizing came to me at an earlier time, but it pressed into me particularly today (not sure why) and intrigued me. There is one central theme that runs through all 10 of my favorite films, and that is a strong-willed woman or women at the center of each film. It reads like this:
- ORDINARY PEOPLE – The mother, Beth, is strong-willed, though in a not so nice way. Her strength is actually her weakness, for the facade of her invulnerability blocks her off from the vulnerable love of her husband and son. Their “male weakness” is what joins them in the end with Beth out of the picture.
- THE HOURS – Virginia, Laura and Clarissa are all strong-willed and complex women, i.e., a writer, a pregnant housewife, and a codependent party planner, respectively. They break barriers as women for their time and even break time, as there are three different time periods represented for each character (Enneagram aficionados have pointed out that the film should have been called THE FOURS instead of THE HOURS)
- PERSONA – Elisabeth is an actress who is so strong-willed that she goes mute, while the nurse assigned to her, Alma, is strong enough to pierce, prod, and promote Elisabet’s persona….or the other way around. Ingmar Bergman loved working with women because of their ready availability to feel naturally and intensely.
- THE DANISH GIRL – Einar is a man who feels he is a woman inside, and he undergoes the first ever sexual reassignment operation to become Lili. Lili is gentle and unassuming but Einar’s/Lili’s extremely supportive wife, Gerda, pre- and post-surgery, is the epitome of a strong-willed woman.
- CRIES AND WHISPERS – 4 women, Karin, Maria, Agnes, and Anna. 3 sisters and a caretaker. All 4 strong-willed and determined to understand their relationships with one another and themselves. And speaking of “4,” did I mention this is a total Enneagram “4” movie? Fellow “4” Ingmar Bergman would probably agree.
- WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? – Need I say more….Martha IS the poster-child for a strong-willed woman, but she is also a self-defeatist who takes down all those near and not so dear to her. Martha plays her will so strong that in the end, the joke of the film’s title is her last line and her answer to the film’s question, “I am, George….I am.”
- YENTL – It takes a strong-willed woman to disguise herself as a man to study the Talmud which was forbidden for women. And, if I’m being honest, it’s got Barbra Streisand playing the lead (and directing and producing and singing), and they don’t come more strong-willed than this “Greatest Star.”
- THE COLOR PURPLE: It’s Celie who stands up to Mister, but the film also features Shug and Sofia, two strong-willed “S’s,” and all 3 of these characters divide and conquer the dominating men in their lives. Steven Spielberg (a Jewish man) was robbed for the Best Director Academy Award.
- TESS – Tess is a vision of youth and beauty in a time when they called it lust and not rape. It takes a strong-willed woman to persevere from tragedy to seek true love, even if to her own “hanging” end. All Oscars garnered for Costume Design, Art Direction, and Cinematography were more than well-deserved.
- SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE – William Shakespeare would be nothing if it were not for his muse, Viola, who inspires him to write but, more importantly, to find love to be his greatest inspiration. This is probably the only “love story” on the list, but it is the greatest love story film I have ever seen. I melt every time I see it.
I adore these films. All 10 of them are superbly acted, written (only Ingmar Bergman wrote both of his own films on this list), photographed, and directed. But it’s the female characters of these films that move mountains to define and redefine humanity, to stand up and stand tall when the world wanted women, especially strong-willed, to be sitting still and to still be quiet. These characters haunt those around them with a steely disposition or, as is often the case, steely incapability to love intimately.
I am not a woman, but I am strong-willed (probably too much so). I am not a man, either. Sure, my parts tell a man story, but my inner landscape is of both female and male terrain. I refuse to be boxed into being a woman or a man….I am BOTH! I cry like a woman, I moan like a man, I love like both. If this central theme of strong-willed women be a testament to my emotional machinations, I’m also emotionally wired to be a strong-willed man who recognizes his weaknesses (sometimes unheard of for men but for me, actually, I seek to applaud them) and that any strength I possess is not in the domination but rather in the discovery of the harmonization of gender for the equal balance of BOTH!
I am a strong-willed woman and man. Just because none of these top 10 films would be considered “action films” does not make me any less of a man. Just because all of these top 10 films would be considered “women movies” does not make me any less of a man, either. All 10 of these films are about the heart and about the humanity and about the hunger and hunt for “realness,” and my pick of all 10 makes me a strong-willed woman….and a man.
Timothy J. Verret