Can I Like a Film that Doesn’t Pass the Bechdel Test? | Swiss Army Man

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By Kate

The Bechdel Test originates from Alison Bechdel's comic 'Dyke to Watch Out For'

Last year I saw the film Swiss Army Man (2016, written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan), featuring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It was funny, endearing, creative and it had more heart than any film I’d seen in a long time. Yet it was about the woes of two middleclass straight, white guys, hardly a ground breaking concept. We demand better representation of race, gender and sexuality etc. in our media so can I justify liking and supporting a film that does none of these things? Shouldn’t I put my money where my mouth is?

My moral crisis is not I cannot like a film like Swiss Army Man because of its poor representation, but that I should not. I should not support a film that does not hire diversely, on and behind the camera. Where you spend your money matters. It tells the people who are making the thing to please keep making the thing the way that you are making the thing. If you want the studios to stop making the remakes of everything ever, stop going to see them. If you want the studios to stop making these blindingly white, male centric films, stop giving them money to do so. The power of the consumer is where ethics and economy meet.

A film does not necessarily have to jump over these bars that we set it to be a good film. There is no question in my mind that Swiss Army Man (and many other films that do not pass the Bechdel Test) is a good film. It is incredibility creative, charming, funny and beautifully written, shot and acted. It is, in essence, a good film, an excellent film and simply meeting the requirements of diversity in representation that we demand does not necessarily a good film make.

So could Swiss Army Man have been made differently? Certainly if an actor of colour had replaced Dano or Radcliffe it wouldn’t have made a world of difference to the film. If an actress had replaced Dano or Radcliffe we would probably have a very different film on our hands. Whether Swiss Army Woman would have been a better or worse film we will never know. 

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man

Whether or not I can love a film that isn’t diverse is simple: I can. I do. The Daniels have told a story that touches me somewhere in my heart. Whether I should like a film that is not diverse is more complicated. It disappoints me that more women weren’t written into the story in some way but I can appreciate the story that is being told. It disappoints me that the casting wasn’t more diverse but I will still praise the performances of Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. It doesn’t align with my values but does that mean that I should swear off this film like a vegetarian swears off meat? Is it enough to be aware of the problematic elements in a film that is otherwise an excellent and original piece of cinema?

The conclusion I have come to is that I will continue to support Swiss Army Man because it does things that I do value and that I want to see more in cinema. It is an original and well-told story with heart and a message that makes me think. I will continue to demand diversity in my media but I will recognise a good story where it is due.

Cause a Cine does not own any images used in this post.
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