Tag Archives: Anya Taylor-Joy

Good for Her: Unleashing the Sexually Transgressive Woman

You’ve probably seen it on Twitter or Instagram at some point in the last several years: a photo of a woman smiling mischievously in the ending shot of a film, with the words “Good for Her” emblazoned over her head. Amy from Gone Girl. Carrie. Dani from Midsommar.

As they usually do, the “Good for Her” meme has grown to encompass a broad, often contradictory plethora of female characters from horror cinema and beyond. If you ask some people, the Good for Her Cinematic Universe (GFHCU) includes every and any female character who has done something vaguely satisfying over the course of a film. I, however, am going to be pedantic and posit a theory: not every triumphant female character should be included in the GFHCU canon. This is specifically due to the transgressive nature of the characters who embody the meme that make their choices so deeply satisfying. A real Good for Her woman satiates a part of our lizard brain that screams out for a specific kind of revenge, a righting of the world that society at large cannot condone.

The meme originated as a phrase from Arrested Development, wherein Lucille Bluth uttered the infamous words in praise of a mother who became so overwhelmed that she allowed a car full of children to roll into a lake — which just goes to show that the phrase, as memed, has always had a subversive edge to it. It’s not merely about women doing well or overcoming adversity, it’s about “bad” women finding their bliss in socially-unacceptable ways.

She isn’t the one you’re normally encouraged to root for, and she’s different from the final girl, who’s all next-door charm and morality embodied. She’s most likely looked down upon or feared by her contemporaries, and is often considered the villain of the story. A true Good for Her character is a person who: 

  • Identifies as female.
  • Is an underdog or villain for most of the film.
  • Triumphs over the status quo by asserting agency over her own body, almost always by unleashing the scariest and most monstrous thing of all: her sexuality.

Take Robert EggersThe Witch (2015), one of the first horror films to gather steam under the Good for Her meme. In the film, teenaged Thomasin and her family are banished from their Puritan colony due to religious disagreements and forced to make it on their own in the wilderness. “Suffer now, summit later” could be the family slogan, and life on Earth is a real slog when you have only the slim hope of a happier afterlife to keep everyone going. The farm isn’t doing well, crops aren’t growing abundantly enough to ensure the family will make it through the winter … and that’s all before a witch steals little baby Samuel right from under Thomasin’s nose, when things really start to get grim.

The family quickly falls into the habit of blaming Thomasin for every mounting misfortune. As the only young woman for miles, Thomasin’s very body is considered a sign of depravity. Thomasin is regarded with suspicion even before the baby disappears under her watch; she’s also seen as a tool of seduction by her mother and a shameful temptation by her brother. Afterwards, things get much worse. The family’s most valuable possession, a silver cup, goes missing and her mother blames her. The twins forget their holy prayers and claim it was Thomasin’s evil doing. 

After spending the bulk of the film accused of witchcraft, seduction, murder, and every other imaginable sin, it’s little wonder Thomasin chooses to become a witch herself when she’s finally presented the opportunity. “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

The answer is yes, she would.

In doing so, of course, Thomasin signs her soul over to the Devil and accepts some fairly dicey practices. She is making an obviously immoral choice (dead baby is a key ingredient in flying ointment, after all), and yet the audience can’t help but feel vicarious gratification at seeing this trod-upon character find some form of happiness at last. Thomasin’s decision to eschew all that society has told her — that her only path to salvation is through a lifetime of drudgery — is unexpected, and all the more delicious, because it is “wrong.” A woman is never allowed to choose herself, her own desires or happiness, over the good of anyone else.

But Thomasin does. She chooses pleasure for herself, now, in this life, no matter how fleeting. By making the unacceptable choice, Thomasin sheds all societal expectations — and all the shame and guilt that has been heaped upon her simply for being born a woman. She sheds her clothes and all the trappings of civilized society, and she becomes liberated, god-like — and we in the audience feel liberated as well. The film ends with Thomasin walking naked and unafraid through the woods, approaching her new coven of witches, ready to soar.

Now compare The Witch’s ending to that of another movie that’s oft-cited as a Good for Her film: Promising Young Woman (2020). Cassie is a depressed and jaded med school dropout who — still reeling years later from the trauma of her best friend, Nina, committing suicide after she was raped by a classmate — spends much of her time trolling bars and pretending to be drunk. When an unsuspecting man takes her home and attempts to rape her, Cassie reveals she’s not actually drunk at all, giving the man the scare of his life. It serves as a warning: be careful who you try to take advantage of.

When Cassie attempts to exact revenge on the men who raped Nina, however, everything goes sideways, and she is murdered. From beyond the grave (and through the miracle of scheduled texts), she delivers one last punch by sending evidence of Nina’s rape and her own murder to the police. It’s poetic in its justice, if Greek in the scope of its tragedy. So why doesn’t the ending feel more fulfilling?

Recall factor three of the Good for Her criteria: Cassie is ultimately unable to assert agency over her body, which is literally overtaken, and thus she is unable to carry out her plan and upset the status quo. Cassie attempts to work outside the system, first through her bar patrols and later by infiltrating Nina’s rapist’s bachelor party, because she knows that the system society has set up doesn’t work; rape victims rarely get justice and the majority of rapists go unpunished. But when her plan to force a confession and physically punish Nina’s rapist fails, she’s left with no option but to deploy a last-ditch effort, appealing to the justice system with undeniable evidence of her own murder. Of course, she has to die in order to gather such evidence.

That’s the problem: Cassie is reduced to working within a system that has been rigged against her the entire time. There’s no promise the rapists and murderers in the film will be punished, or punished adequately — statistically, it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t. It is achingly sad and all too real. There’s no feeling of mischievous glee after Cassie dies, even when we realize there’s more to her revenge scheme; we’re merely resigned to the fact that a few crumbs of retribution, doled out posthumously no less, are all women can hope for in a world that doesn’t care about or believe us. It’s a great film, a necessary film — but there’s none of the wicked escapism inherent in a true Good for Her film.

There are plenty of other films I would nominate for the GFHCU, but they all have a common thread: a woman’s empowerment, at any cost. For example, in CAM (2018), a woman manages to defeat an imposter who’s taken over her online persona, despite an utter lack of understanding or help from the police. In the end, instead of being cowed into a different career, the woman bravely adopts a new persona and continues on her chosen path. The Good for Her moment is not in overcoming a villain within the camming world, it’s in choosing to go back to camming despite a society that refuses to recognize that as a choice that could be good, let alone empowering, for anyone. It’s in her transgression that she finds freedom.

Society is terrified of women, and a woman who realizes the power inherent in embracing her desires — rules of polite society be damned — is the most terrifying thing of all. We’re scared of these women, and yet so many of us also secretly wish to be them. We see their stories onscreen and feel drawn to their perspective because it mirrors a shadowy piece of our own. We watch them commit heinous, unforgivable crimes and can’t help but mutter a single phrase under our breath:

“Good for her.”

‘The Witch’ Puts Coven Before Blood

In a genre typically considered “for the guys,” it’s time to give a nod to the ladies. Uterus Horror is a subgenre of horror films that focuses on the uniquely female experience of puberty and the act of coming into your sexuality, using horror elements to emphasize and/or act as a metaphor for that experience. These films are often ignored in theaters but quickly develop cult followings. Columnist Molly Henery, who named and defined the subgenre, tackles a new film each month and analyzes how it fits into this bloody new corner of horror. This week, we take a look at Robert EggersThe Witch.

Just a few short weeks ago, we got all lovey-dovey discussing Spring as a Uterus Horror film. Now it’s time to give you delightful readers a bit of whiplash, because we’re diving into a film that has absolutely no love in it, but a whole lot of puberty. That’s right, we’re talking about The Witch. While this puritanical slow-burner has been polarizing in the horror film community, there is no doubt it is an achievement in Uterus Horror filmmaking. 

If you’ve been following my Uterus Horror column from the beginning, you might remember my first entry on Fangoria (back when they had their online content last year) that covered Carrie. In that article, I not only discussed how Carrie is the first true Uterus Horror film, but I also examined how religion factored into the titular character’s demise. Many of those themes in Carrie can also be found in The Witch—but what makes this New England folktale especially interesting is how it presents these themes within a single family unit, allowing viewers to examine everything under a microscope. 

The first film from writer-director Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse), The Witch follows a family during the early 1600s. Their Christian values are so extreme that the community elders kick them out of the settlement where they lived. This period piece then takes a turn into pastoral folk horror as the family decides to venture into the wilderness and fend for themselves. It is in their new homestead when the focus turns to young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). She is old enough to be sexually mature, but young enough to not be married or have children. This means, as things at the homestead quickly go from bad to worse, Thomasin is blamed.

There are three women in this family: Thomasin, her little sister Mercy (Ellie Grainger), and their mother (Kate Dickie). Together they represent the different stages of life for women, along with how they are perceived at these stages in a traditional Christian family construct. Mercy is a child. Even when she is being a malicious little brat, she is still considered innocent because of her age, which also effectively makes her sexless and worthy of protection. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the mother is older, married, and has given birth to five children. She is shown as a woman who has done what she was born to do; become a mother and care for her husband and kin. 

Thomasin is either just beginning to experience puberty or she is right in the thick of it, as evidenced by her budding curves. We even get a glimpse of her older brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), checking out those curves because she is the only sexually mature girl there for him to look at. She’s no longer viewed as an innocent child, but she hasn’t started her journey as a wife and mother either. Unfortunately for Thomasin, this means she is the only woman who is associated with sexual desire, as Mercy is too young and their mother is “too old.” 

Obviously, the mom isn’t really too old to be sexy, but in the context of how women are represented in The Witch, she is. Within the perspectives of puritanical Christian views, this makes Thomasin dangerous. Not only is her very sexuality threatening to their beliefs, but the simple fact that she has likely bled connects her to sin. Being looked upon as a sinner means she is no longer afforded the love and protection we see given to the other children, who are all either younger or male. This allows the rest of the family to easily associate all the evil they have experienced with this innocent adolescent woman.

It’s interesting to note that these roles for women are not placed on the male characters. There are men of similar age juxtaposed next to all the women in the family. While it is obvious the women have very specific roles and expectations depending on the stage of life they are in, the men simply get to exist. They gain more responsibilities as they get older, which is expected, but their age and sexual maturity doesn’t necessarily dictate how they are viewed by those around them. They are always honored just for being men. Especially with Caleb, who is assumed to be about the same maturity as Thomasin. He is loved and respected in a way that Thomasin never experiences from her family. This juxtaposition helps to build a stark and startling contrast of gender roles. 

Thomasin is quickly blamed for every wrong that happens to her family for no other reason than she is a young woman. When the baby is taken while under Thomasin’s watch, she is held responsible even though the baby was taken by a witch. When the witch takes Caleb, curses him, and he returns home only to die, the family accuses Thomasin of being a witch and cursing her own brother. By the end of the film, as the family is thrown into chaos and bloodshed, every single member of the family believes Thomasin is the source of their misfortune. This is especially evident in how the mother treats her daughter. 

Much like the relationship between Carrie and her mother, Thomasin wants nothing more than her parent’s approval. Yet her mother is emotionally incapable of giving that love now that Thomasin has gone through puberty. The two main reasons for this are because she looks at her daughter as the embodiment of sin now that she has bled and, in a more primal way, as sexual competition because she is the only other woman of child-bearing age. In fact, the only family members who are kind to Thomasin are Caleb and, to a lesser extent, her father (Ralph Ineson). Although the father has to mask his kindness in order not to upset the mother. As mentioned, Caleb dies after being cursed by the witch, and their father turns on Thomasin by the end of the film. 

While many aspects of Thomasin’s Uterus Horror story are similar to Carrie’s, especially the influence of extreme religious views and the relationship between mother and daughter, the end of Thomasin’s story is in many ways a happier one. Yes, her entire family dies horrible deaths, but Thomasin is left alive. It is at this point she meets someone—Black Phillip (aka The Devil)—who sees Thomasin for the person she really is. In this story, religion and outdated, sexist, patriarchal views are the true evil despite the involvement of the witch and the devil. Black Phillip serves as Thomasin’s savior, and after her family betrays her, Black Phillip steps in to give Thomasin everything she desires. 

Black Phillip’s allure is that he isn’t judging Thomasin or trying to change her. He doesn’t expect Thomasin to conform to the narrow-minded views of what society thinks a young woman should be. Another part of this allure is joining a coven of women who are powerful and independent. By signing his book and joining the coven of witches, Thomasin is freed from the confines of her family’s puritanical hold. She is finally given the space to be the person she wants to be and to live the life she chooses for herself. Thomasin is now surrounded by other women who will support her in her endeavors. When we see Thomasin floating into the air with these women, it is meant to be the physical manifestation of her finally breaking free of those shackles and reaching her full potential.

Thomasin’s journey throughout The Witch is a prime example of Uterus Horror. In the most basic terms, it is a film that uses a small family unit to show the different stages of womanhood and how women are perceived at each stage, with a particular focus on the sometimes harsh changes of puberty. Even before outside satanic influence comes into play, we see how Thomasin is cruelly treated by those in her family—this is what makes the end of the film so satisfying. Thomasin is finally free of the restraints inflicted by her bloodline, and she joins a new family (or coven) of women who truly accept her. As the final shot of the film shows, women are at their most powerful when they are their authentic selves and supported by those around them.

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