Scarlett Johansson’s Cyberfeminist Cyborg
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Historically, representations of the female cyborg in cinema have held an ambiguous place in contemporary feminism, primarily because they are presented as highly sexualized beings designed to fulfil male fantasy. Scarlett Johansson’s recent body of work – Lucy (2014), Under the Skin (2013) and Her (2013) – radically challenges the historically imagined synthetic female of popular culture. Each film represents Johansson as a cyborg in some way and initially projects elements of the sexualized cyborg from popular science fiction onto Johansson. However, these projections establish a foundation for the films to carefully deconstruct the paradoxes surrounding the feminine and the virtual. Lucy, Under the Skin and Her advance female cyborg identity in two progressive ways: 1. each film under discussion prioritizes the pursuit of self-knowledge in the female cyborg character, and 2. they reject the heteronormative structure of romantic coupling. Unlike previous female cyborgs (like those found in Blade Runner (1982), The Stepford Wives (1975) or The Perfect Woman (1949)), this self-awareness does not serve a supporting male fantasy or a romantic resolution. Rather, it disrupts the traditional romantic narrative of coupling and embraces a polymorphic worldview that exceeds the limitations of male fantasy. In addition, each film explores mind-body dualisms in new and fascinating ways, playing with notions of the disembodied voice and cyborg embodiment. For example, what differentiates Johansson’s portrayal of a cyborg in Her is the literal lack of embodiment – she possesses no body, and her being is imagined through her voice alone. The highly sexualized representation of the female cyborg is nowhere to be found visually, at some level contesting biological materialism and its emphasis on sexual difference defined through the body. Yet, the star’s body is evoked through her voice, complicating this immaterial premise. These new versions of the female cyborg advance cyberfeminist possibilities.
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