Spy movies have long been a cinema staple, and they are almost always the domain of men. Ranging from James Bond to Bourne to the recent Kingsman, the sexy, suave, lethal spy is a heartthrob type that female characters fawn over — and in Atomic Blonde, the same is true for Charlize Theron's Lorraine. Like Salt and Spy before it, Atomic Blonde seeks to smash a glass ceiling by putting a woman at the forefront of the action. But what makes Atomic Blonde truly original is the fact that its protagonist isn't just a woman, she also enjoys seducing women, which is a revolutionary step forward for Hollywood.
A Lesbian Fling In The Heart Of Berlin
As the trailers revealed, Lorraine's mission to uncover a malicious spy ring takes a quick detour when she "makes contact" with the French agent, Sandrine (Sofia Boutella). At first, Lorraine suspects Sandrine has a murderous motive for following her, until she questions James McAvoy's David who answers:
"You're an attractive woman. Do the math."
Meeting Sandrine at a club, Lorraine decides that the best way to investigate the French operative is to get up close and personal — really personal.
But it seems that this isn't just a clandestine sexual encounter to feel out a potentially hostile agent — Lorraine clearly takes great pleasure with this part of her mission. Saying "you look like you need saving," Sandrine's fascination with Lorraine is combined with a budding affection, and later shots in the trailers show Lorraine, post-coital, looking with care upon the French agent. Of course, people close to Lorraine tend to turn up dead, so one-night-stand or not, Sandrine and Lorraine's fling is sure to be short lived.
So why bother inserting this subplot into Atomic Blonde? As Charlize Theron revealed to Entertainment Weekly a few months ago, she and screenwriter Kurt Johnstad were searching for a way to make the film really stand out from the crowd of high-octane spy flicks, and Johnstad suggested a female romantic interest. His idea was to have Lorraine fall in love with Sandrine, but Theron stressed that Lorraine should follow in the tradition of James Bond, and should simply seduce the French agent. This gives Lorraine the same element of suave aloofness that Bond has, toying with the stud dynamic and making Theron's heroine even more sexy and cool than 007 ever was:
"I see you made contact with the French operative." "Obviously."
Sandrine's inclusion has already elevated Atomic Blonde above similar genre blockbusters, transforming Lorraine into the first queer heroine of a spy movie. And that's exactly what Hollywood needs.
We Need More LGBT Characters In Genre Flicks
If you browse through Netflix's selection of LGBT movies, a pattern will begin to become apparent. Queer cinema is preoccupied with the very concept of sexuality, with most movies depicting coming-of-age stories as the characters struggle with social prejudices — and more often than not, these tales have a tragic end. For LGBT viewers, this can get pretty depressing, especially if all you wanted was a bit of escapism.
What we need more of is LGBT characters in genre films: A gay captain of a starship, a transgender superhero, a bisexual secret agent. Atomic Blonde finally fulfills this quota, and what makes the film stand out is that Lorraine isn't just a female spy, but a bisexual one, giving queer viewers some much-needed representation and the chance to vicariously live through her adventure.
In fact, the lack of LGBT representation is one of the reasons that Theron ran with Johnstad's idea to include Sandrine, as she told Variety:
"I just loved it. For so many reasons: My frustration of how that community is represented in cinema, or lack thereof. And also, it made perfect sense. It just suited her. It just felt there was a way through that relationship and the fact that it was a same-sex relationship to show a woman not having to fall in love, which is one of those female tropes. ‘It’s a woman; she better fall in love — otherwise, she’s a whore!’"
Atomic Blonde won't be bogged down by Lorraine questioning her sexuality and what her feelings for Sandrine mean. Instead, she gets to have sex with a women then move on to the important stuff: Saving the world from World War III.
However, there is a potential pitfall here in the avoidance of a love plot. Theron makes a good point — her male spy counterparts, Bond in particular, sleeps with women all the time without falling in love. Yet they are often criticized for this, and Bond's womanizing has really started to grate on audiences over the decades. Being a woman does not free Lorraine of this vice, and in fact, the idea that bisexuals would sooner sleep with women than fall in love with them is a very damaging stereotype.
By erasing a romance between Lorraine and Sandrine, Atomic Blonde is in danger of fetishizing their encounter, and reducing their relationship to just sex. It all depends on how this relationship is handled, whether Lorraine really does care for Sandrine, and what happens after their one-night-stand. Without seeing the film, it's difficult to tell whether a romantic lesbian subplot would have been more revolutionary, or if this would have contradicted Lorraine's character.
But regardless of whether Lorraine and Sandrine's night together is motived by desire or deeper feelings, Lorraine's position as a queer super-spy is still an important step forward for Hollywood. Here's hoping that Atomic Blonde is just the first of many genre movies to include LGBT characters — because queer cinema, as well as blockbusters, could benefit from a bit of variety.
Atomic Blonde is set for release July 28, 2017.