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John Scalzi – Pondering Inception’s Sequel Odds and Revisiting the Bechdel Test

Hey! I’m on vacation this week, which means it’s a perfect time to dip into the mailbag and answer a couple questions brought up from the last couple of weeks of columns.

First question:

You took the coward’s way out of discussing the Bechdel Test last week when you told people to make up their own minds about what it means. Well, what do YOU think it means? No weaseling this time.

Damn, someone figured me out. Well, fine. As regards the Bechdel Test, I think two things:

1. It doesn’t tell you whether a specific film (or other sort of creative work) is good or not. Last year’s science-fiction film Moon, for example, fails the Bechdel test, primarily because it’s about one guy and his isolation from humanity, and it was arguably last year’s best science-fiction film as well as one of the best films, period, of 2009. On the flip side, as mentioned last week, AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem passed the Bechdel test, and it also got my vote as the worst science-fiction film of its year. Not every good film needs to pass this particular test, and bad films don’t get credit for doing so.
2. The value of the Bechdel test is not in testing any
one film or work but to highlight a general mind-set in Hollywood. Or to
put it another way: in a general sense, what is so hard about
having enough female characters in a film that two of them could have a
conversation, not about a man? It’s not, although I’m aware there are a
lot of excuses for why it is, particularly for science-fiction film. In
that case, many of the excuses seem to boil down to this: science-fiction
films are made for and marketed to men.

This rationalization
puzzles me. When I go to science-fiction films, I see a lot of women who
don’t appear to have been dragged there, nor do they appear to be
tolerating the science-fiction film so that they can drag their men to the
next Nicholas Sparks film. I don’t buy the “by men, for men” line as
regards science-fiction films and certainly not for films like Inception, Avatar, Star Trek, Despicable Me, and Monsters vs. Aliens, to name a few of the most successful recent science-fiction films. (I grant that Transformers and Iron Man are boy movies.)

even if science-fiction films were made for and marketed to men, so
what? Does this mean that if men are confronted with the cinematic sight
of two women characters talking about something other then men, their
reaction will be to clutch their eyeballs and fall to the floor,
screaming, “It burns”? Out in the real world, men are confronted with the
sight of women talking about all sorts of things nearly every single
day, and yet somehow we survive. Science fiction is supposed to be about
the future, so I don’t suspect it would be difficult to drag its
cinematic arm into the present.

Full disclosure: I write science-fiction, and not all of it achieves Bechdel-osity, either. I find the
test useful for asking myself if I have an artistically defensible
reason for that and not just, “Whoops, forgot women have lives outside

Next question:

I love Inception. I dread the inevitability of Inception 2. Tell me I’m just being paranoid.

You’re not being paranoid. Inception is
going to get past $200 million domestically, do as well or better
internationally, fare fantastically on home video, and rack up all sorts of
end-of-the-year awards, very possibly including Oscar nods for Best
Picture and Best Director, not only for itself but as a way for the
Academy to atone for stiffing The Dark Knight. If you don’t think Warner Brothers isn’t slavering for a sequel, you’re nuts.

But an Inception sequel will be harder to pull off than it looks. For one thing, name a sequel starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The correct answer: Critters 3. But that was when he was 17 and still doing TV. Since then, there’s not a single sequel on his résumé, which is sort of amazing when you think about it.
DiCaprio doesn’t need sequels or franchises. As for Nolan, he is
interested in franchises, but he’s already got the Batman one to tend
to. Inception was a labor of love for him, and I’m guessing he’d
probably be happy to leave it where it is, standing on its own highly
ambiguous two legs.

My prediction: if there is an Inception sequel,
it won’t star DiCaprio or feature his character, and it won’t be
directed by Nolan. Nolan will produce and possibly have a story credit,
but other people will write the screenplay and direct. The real question
is whether anyone will see an Inception sequel without DiCaprio and
Nolan. My short answer: it wouldn’t be on my list.

And now back to vacation. See you next week.

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