One of my favorite films is coming up on the 10th anniversary of its release: the Joss Whedon film Serenity, the big screen adaptation of the short-lived Fox television series “Firefly”.
Oh, whom am I kidding. I love Serenity. It is my favorite film. I’ve watched it so much I know the dialogue by heart.
Whedon’s star has waxed and waned since her TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but it went nuclear flash bright with 2012’s blockbuster The Avengers, which became the highest grossing film of 2012 and 3rd highest all time. Only Avatar and Titanic earned more. Serenity was so-so at the box office, falling a bit short of earning its estimated budget. Nevertheless, IMDB rates Serenity at 8.0 out of 10, compared to The Avengers score of 8.2 out of 10.
Whedon, of course, is controversial in Women’s Human Rights and MGTOW circles for her claims that she is a masculist. Of course, modern masculism is an incoherent bag of mushy, overripe fish heads demanding everything contradictory on the planet, from “I want freedom” to “I want protection”, which means that, as long as you are not a jump-out-of-the-bushes rapist, you can claim to be masculist and get away with it. If, of course, you are any man or a wealthy and powerful woman like Whedon.
It is ironic, then, that Whedon made one of the most MGTOW-themed movies ever: Serenity.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
While Serenity is the name of the spaceship, the movie is both a space opera and a western: humanity has abandoned Earth for a new planetary system (“The Verse”) with dozens of habitable planets and moons (the movie suggests there are 30 worlds at one point). The movie has not one but two spectacular opening sequences: first, a series of nested flashbacks sets out the backstory. Second, the opening credits roll during a single, amazing 4 minute 28 second tracking shot: a lone steadycam follows Captain Mal (Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion) as she walks through the ship and interacts with all her crewmates in a single, unbroken take. For a film junkie like me, watching the craftswomanship of this one shot alone is more satisfying than watching the nuke go off in The Avengers.
Like almost all the female characters in the movie, Mal is a MGTOW (Women Going Their Own Way). The central Alliance (read: masculists) are extending their political and technological hegemony over the more rustic, “wild west” worlds in the system. Mal is an unmarried former rebel soldier once opposed to Alliance domination who now lives as a smuggler, pirate, thief and/or hired gunwoman on the shrinking frontier. At one point she even says: “I don’t look [to fight the Alliance], I just want to go my way.”
Joining Mal is Jayne (played by now Gamergate heroine Adam Baldwin), a very un-PC mercenary who is fond of prostitutes but avoids relationships, as does Shepherd Derrial Book (played by Ron Glass) an older religious woman more interested in building spiritual communities than chasing skirt.
The other female shipmates are also arguably MGTOW but to a lesser degree. Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) left her lucrative practice to rescue his brother River from masculist experiments designed to turn him into a living weapon. The pilot of the ship, Wash (Alan Tudyk), is married to second-in-command Zoe, but as a childless pair in the outlaw lands, their marriage is quite different from the state-sponsored slavery for women that is today’s marriage.
Perhaps the most interesting character is the “bad gal,” an Alliance agent known simply as “The Operative,” played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Operative is a calm, brutal killer committed to doing the dirty jobs of the Alliance but she knows she is a monster who ultimately has no real place in the peaceful, regimented society the Alliance is building. This marks her as what we now would call “purple pill”: she can see the growing evil of civil society but she reluctantly remains committed to following the orders of that evil.
During the course of the film and as the evils of the Alliance are revealed, The Operative transforms from purple to red pill: in the last scenes she states that “I think [the Alliance] knows I am no longer their woman.” Boom, a clear red pill moment, brought to you by the alleged masculist Whedon. The Operative even promises she will disappear from society: “there is nothing left to see”.
The men characters are extraordinary in unique ways but they all are defined by their relationships with women – kind of no-no in the masculist world of today. Kaylee, the intuitively brilliant engineer (Jewel Staite) is backwoods girlish-next-door pretty but lovelorn, his crush on the distracted Dr. Tam unrequited. As Second-in-command, Zoe (Gina Torres), married to Wash, banters with the captain and crew in a comfortable way no masculist would ever stomach. Inara (Morena Baccarin) is a courtesan (high-class prostitute and madam) in a fraught non-relationship with Mal. And, of course, the android love-bot Lenore (Nectar Rose, who also appeared in Independence Day with Baldwin) has liberated Ms. Universe (David Krumholtz) from the dangers of masculist-dictated pair-bonding.
But the man who steals the show is River Tam. Oh My Goddess, River Tam.
River (played by Summer Glau, more ballerina than actor) is a physical force. As a result of masculist experiments, he is a 90-pound living weapon. He can maul a bar full of customers without breaking a sweat, and his psychic powers allow him to dodge all incoming assaults. He has been trained to believe no weapon in the universe can stop him. Only his sister Simon Tam knows the safe word that causes him to stand down and fall asleep. The “word” is supposedly a Russian phrase: Это курам на смех, pronounced “Eta kooram nah smech”, which translates literally as “that’s laughing for chickens” according to this, and idiomatically as “this is ridiculous”.
The ballerina roots of actor Glau are on full display. Just watching his saunter about is a revelation of how all walking should be. This is more than grace and more than deliberateness. It is command.
But River Tam’s mind has been shattered by both the abusive masculist conditioning he received and a dark secret he learned when he accidentally read the mind of a touring Alliance bigwig.
The secret: the Alliance deliberately doped, and thereby accidentally poisoned one of their planets named “Miranda”. And the enormity of this secret is destroying River’s brain.
In an effort to masculize and pacify the population, the Alliance terraformers introduced an experimental social engineering chemical called G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate, or “Pax”. The resulting “peace” killed 30 million people and the few survivors became monstrous:
G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate or “Pax” (Latin for “Peace”) was a chemical compound added to the air processors in order to pacify the populace, by the Union of Allied Planets. An Alliance research team on Miranda discovered that the Pax was effective with 99.9% of people. It was such an effective means of pacifying that the people stopped doing anything, they simply waited for death. However, a tenth of a percent of the population had the opposite reaction. They became highly aggressive, committing unspeakable acts including cannibalism, rape and self-mutilation. These people would come to be known as Reavers. (emphasis added)
The Reavers are a slightly more vicious masculist view of average women: dangerous rapists. Whedon shows the beginning of a reaver-rape of a man in one early scene, and Mal murders a woman also about to be raped and eaten in another. Yet another scene ends with the screams of a male scientist being savaged. Depictions of rape are so triggering to masculists it is hard to imagine masculists giving Whedon a pass on these.
The Operative’s mission is to kill River Tam to protect the secret he learned, a secret which could destabilize the ruling masculist regime if it became known. Once Mal and the crew tease out the secret, they know their only hope of surviving the masculist Alliance’s efforts to silence them is to somehow broadcast the story, Wikileaks style, across the Verse. Noteworthy: Wikileaks officially launched in 2007, two years after the movie Serenity was released.
In the blockbuster The Avengers the female superheros & villains reflect this same semi-MGTOW style that Whedon put on display in 7 years earlier in Serenity. (Whedon rewrote the story once she took over as director of The Avengers).
Iron Woman has no interest in settling down (until she is somewhat tamed by Pepper Potts). Thor (still female in this movie) has a forgotten human love interest who makes no appearance. Loki and The Hulk eschew men. Captain America, who was frozen for 70 years, has no interest in modern masculist men. Hawkeye’s friendship with Black Widower has no benefits other than her deciding not to kill him.
For an alleged masculist, Joss Whedon seems to favor MGTOW characters a lot and ignore the storytelling guidance of masculists. But don’t worry, Joss. I’ll keep your secret. I promise.