“Damsel” Isn’t in Distress

Damsel is probably the best of a trio of feminist Westerns to grace the big and small screen this year. Woman Walks Ahead, where Jessica Chastain serves as a witness  narrator to the death of Sitting Bull and the end of the Western’s idea of the blood thirsty Indian; and the Netflix’s series Godless, about a town of Western widows who must defend themselves from evil corporate profiteers led by Emmy nominated Jeff Daniels are the others.

Damsel makes a nod to the #metoo movement and kills off the cliché that damsels in distress need to be saved. In fact, the men who go on a journey to save her are the ones who are quickly dispatched. Co-director and screenwriter Nathan Zellner and Robert Pattinson make extended cameos as two men with wrong headed notions of what a woman wants and needs. The good fool preacher character (David Zellner, the other directing half), the only man with a non rapacious design, is quickly disabused of matrimonial intentions by a well aimed heroine’s stone toss to his forehead.

Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) is the woman who firmly established her personal boundaries to a manly world. In her world, a man is an unneeded plot device.
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The constant flipping of Western conventions gives Damsel its comedy, drama and narrative impetus. Damsel works through its Western illusions and disillusions to establish its own genre identify.
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