By: Meghan Hebbard
As a feminist, whenever I watch a superhero movie, I always cringe whenever the main lead’s love interest is treated more like a plot device than a real person. Often, superhero girlfriends are used in order to create tension between the superhero’s daily life and his dangerous decision to fight crime. Because of this, I tend to be wary of superhero movies because of the lack of multi-dimensional female characters.
With that being said, my favorite superhero film is The Dark Knight (2008). The film has one of the best villains of all time and has my favorite superhero love interest in film: Rachel Dawes¹. Rachel Dawes first appears in Batman Begins, and was never in the comic books beforehand. Like many superhero love interests before her, she serves as a “what-if” girl for Bruce Wayne, the woman that he can truly be himself with. However, she’s also the woman who will always come second to his duty to Gotham. My favorite thing about Rachel is when she realizes that Bruce is Batman, she decides that she does not want to be with him. Rachel recognizes the danger in this job — and wants nothing to do with it. Rachel already has a treacherous job as Gotham’s Assistant District Attorney. She has already found a more responsible way to stop crime, and has dedicated her life to the cause. Even though Rachel is not dating Bruce, his love for her is what eventually gets her killed.
Now, Rachel Dawes seems to be a wonderful example of female strength and intelligence, until the screenwriters in The Dark Knight forget the importance of this, and kill her off like any other superhero girlfriend. Except, unlike most other superhero love interests, she was written in the twenty first century. Even after decades of women falling into examples of “Women in Refrigerators”, the writers of The Dark Knight make the same mistake.
If you’re confused, Women in Refrigerators is a website created by feminists in the 1990s who read a Green Lantern comic in which the hero comes home to find his girlfriend killed by the villain and stuffed inside his refrigerator. This later serves as only a plot point, just motivation to lead the story arc forward. These writers noticed this theme in superhero comics, and decided to compile examples of similar storylines to prove how poorly women are written in these comics. And Rachel Dawes, who is written almost a decade after the creation of this argument, is treated almost the exact same. She dies, and creates motivation for both her love interests’ character arcs, and then is forgotten after the first act of the next film, never to be mentioned again.
Rachel’s death is so devastating to Harvey that he becomes the opposite of the man he once was. While Bruce is so depressed that he becomes a hermit for years, but once Bruce is robbed by his new love interest, he completely forgets about Rachel. Rachel is strong, intelligent, and interesting. That is, until the plot no longer needs her, and kills her off without a second thought.
¹Peggy Carter did not shine on screen until she got her own cable television show