So by now, you’re probably aware of the Tomb Raider reboot, where our protagonist Lara Croft is being given a huge makeover to make her much more memorable beyond her mammaries. Make her more look more human instead of a supermodel with wonky proportions: Check. Make her have a story beyond… What did she have beyond boobs again? A dead mother?
Well, from the trailers, we know that this Lara is meant to be a relatable human than some Mary Sue-ish, unstoppable force we’ve known her for. With that in mind, executive producer Ron Rosenberg recently explained that the core intent behind the new Lara is the want and need to protect her. Totally understandable, she went through a lot of unpleasant stuff and we all want to root for the heroes we play. Unfortunately, this quote struck a really bad chord with many…
In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.
Hoooo boy… Lets look deeper into this before our emotions get the best of us, after the jump.
Let’s get this out of the way: This feels like 1 step forward and 2 steps back. Knee-jerk reaction-wise, at least, especially if you haven’t read everything before and after the quoted segment out of context. Everyone in the room with me had to stop and take a break before discussing this topic with a clear mind, because we were shocked despite the “We’re not trying to be over the top, shock people for shock’s sake” disclaimer. So… Take a deep breath with me as we look at this one piece at a time.
They want to tell a great origin story and when it comes to making Lara more relatable, they made her more vulnerable. She gets thrown around, dirty, and most of all, injured. Strong protagonists come from overcoming strong obstacles, if they’re written properly. The problem lies in saying something like this aloud: “We play as Lara Croft and we’re trying not to get raped.” I know. It sounds really, really wrong.
Thing is, I’m familiar with this survival horror game by the name of Haunting Ground, where you play as a largely helpless girl with boobs in the shape of torpedoes and try not to get caught by nasty, creepy enemies. Why? Not because she’s memorable–She wakes up without a clue as to how she ended up at a creepy castle, her personality isn’t too interesting, and ultimately, we don’t really know her. Well, her name is Fiona Belli, but seriously. We don’t want her to get caught because when the Game Over screen comes on and the screen goes black, we hear horrible, nasty things happening to her. I’ve met people who never, ever, ever wanted her to get caught and killed to avoid the horrific torture and rape-like sounds her captors made while harming the protagonist. It’s never said what’s happening to her exactly, but the player’s imagination fills the blanks and ultimately, despite Fiona’s weak character, we want her to be okay at the end of the day. The want to help and protect her is much more implied and acted upon subconsciously due to the ambiguity than outright saying what the baddies want to rape your female protagonist.
But alas, here’s a new problem, especially brought about by comparing Lara Croft, a protagonist in an action adventure game, to Fiona Belli, a protagonist in a horror survival game: There’s a trope called the Final Girl. Put simply, she’ll be the last character to confront the killer in the slasher flick, but until then, count on her to be a distressed a damsel, incredibly pure (in many ways–no drugs, no sex, etc.), resourceful, and hopefully a tough cookie by the time they face the big baddie. On one end, we can see this as some sick fetish of a young woman getting harmed in not just physically horrific ways, but sexually horrific ways too. See: “We play as Lara Croft and we’re trying not to get raped.” I don’t even know where to start with the “rape as a backstory” trope/cliche.
On another end, we have to keep in mind that the final girl trope has been a subject worth studying in terms of film theory. What does it truly mean to relate to a weak, vulnerable female character because she overcomes such horrendous odds? In Heavy Rain, Madison is forced to strip tease at gun point and in The Taxidermist DLC, she’s pursued by a serial killer who stuffs his female victims and puts them in suggestive poses in his home, aiming to add her to his collection. Both of these were compelling moments, and I feel we would’ve missed out if we blew them out of proportion before experiencing them. By weak and vulnerable, I also mean as a person, not just physically, so with that said, it’s too soon to say that the folks behind Tomb Raider messed up. We’ll have to see for ourselves how Lara is portrayed beyond the trailers in 2013.
If anything, the PR end of things messed up.