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G.I. Jane   C

Hollywood Pictures

Year Released: 1997
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: David N. Twohy, Danielle Alexandra
Cast: Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Jason Beghe, Scott Wilson, Anne Bancroft, Lucinda Jenney.

Review by Eric Beltmann

From the opening frames, the politicized G.I. Jane puts the squeeze on you. In an experiment spearheaded by a crusading U.S. senator (Anne Bancroft), Demi Moore is Jordan O'Neil, a Navy officer vying to become the first female Navy SEAL. To director Ridley Scott, the relentless training is more seductively fierce than actual war. As the recruits endure recklessly absurd trials of brute strength and mental persistence, Scott turns the training into a torturous, masochistic test of self-will. He presents a rain-soaked, color-impaired vision of "harrowing" brutality, using his artist's eye to immaculately pose the abusive action. The grimly nightmarish style is somewhat ridiculous -- the training is, after all, not war, but glorified make-believe.

Moore, though, is surprisingly game for the grueling demands of the role. When Jordan rejects the Navy's "policy" of special treatment and double standards for female recruits, it's as if Moore herself is asking to finally be taken seriously as a performer. Shorn of her star vanity and doing one-armed push-ups, she's determined to beat the odds, and actually act for the first time. We sense Jordan's tenacity, appreciate her attempt to prove herself more than just a feminist symbol, and understand her vexation at being treated differently than "the guys." Her face bloodied and bruised, her hair shaved to a stubble, Moore throws herself into the movie, and comes out tough-as-nails and more likable than ever before.

The movie itself is quite predictable; of course Jordan will eventually prove herself in a genuine combat situation. But it's also pure propaganda. Should American women be allowed in combat? G.I. Jane declares that many women are physically and mentally capable of battle, but does anyone disagree? That's not really the issue. The arguments forbidding women from combat are not about inferiority, but practicality. (For example, no amount of social engineering will eliminate the inevitable sexual tension from integrated platoons. You can't shut down sex drives through legislation.) Scott never addresses these non-sexist reasons for banning women from combat -- doesn't even acknowledge them -- and offers instead all the usual, immaterial pieties like "How strong do you have to be to pull a trigger?" A better director would probe deeper, and question the underlying reasons for how the military is structured. For example, why are men assumed to be society's primary warriors, and why are women allowed to fight only under special qualifications and political motivations?

The script is prone to making nonsense analogies, such as comparing the military's current "discrimination" against women to how blacks were treated by the Navy at one time. It wants to compare what is considered two prejudices, without recognizing that a correlation between them simply doesn't exist. There are no relevant biological differences between black men and white men, while there are indeed relevant differences between the male and female bodies. As part of its idealism, the film ignores certain realities, which is an act that comes across as blind ignorance rather than enlightenment, or even dramatic license.

Deceitfully, G.I. Jane is also propaganda of a distinctly male variety. The suspense is driven by conventionally masculine questions: Will Jordan survive her master-chief's vile attack on her ego? Will she defy the senator after being sold out for political votes? Will she get to blow up lots of stuff? Most unsettling, however, is that Jordan ultimately becomes a worthy warrior not by establishing herself as physically fit, but because she claims to have a penis, too. In denying that she has different parts, Jordan willingly purges herself of her femininity. Isn't that a form of self-imposed sexism? G.I. Jane professes a desire for gender equality, but ironically sanctions instead a merging of the sexes where maleness is preferable.

Review published 04.02.2001.

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