Much of Alison Bechdel‘s content in her cartoon strip Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF) as well as her memoirs Fun Home (2006) and Are You My Mother? (2012) has addressed individual and family dysfunction as well as the use of therapy. In honor of her recently receiving a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, I thought it would be a good time to focus on one of her most famous accomplishments, the so-called Bechdel Test.
What is the Bechdel Test?
It started in the 1980’s as a joke in her comic strip but eventually became a widely known “thing.” Today, the Bechdel test, as it’s come to be known, is commonly applied when evaluating a particular TV show, movie, book, or whatever. One “passes” if it meets the following criteria:
- It has to have at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
Knowing about the Test enables us to better understand this popular online joke:
So this girl walks up to another girl and says ‘Hey, have you heard of the Bechdel Test?’
And the other girl says, ‘Yeah, my boyfriend was telling me about it the other day!’
Five Movies That Pass the Bechdel Test and Are Relevant to Minding Therapy
From a list of Test-passing films on TotalFilm, I’ve chosen five I’ve liked that have never wound up on Minding Therapy before. They’re presented in chronological order:
I. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
How It Passes: Rookie FBI Agent, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) riffs off her buddy Ardelia (Kasi Lemmons), as the two quiz each other for their upcoming tests during physical training. They later volley ideas back and forth about the case.
Best Female Character: Undoubtedly Clarice. Her voracious commitment to catching Buffalo Bill gets her tucked into some tight corners – all while being emotionally manipulated by Hannibal.
She never loses her resolve, swooping in to rescue Catherine Martin while the rest of her department bumble around elsewhere.
II. Secrets & Lies (1996)
How It Passes: Mike Leigh’s female-centric drama checks all three of Bechdel’s defining tenets throughout the interactions between Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and her birth mother, Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn.)
Best Female Character: Cynthia, brilliantly-realised by Blethyn. A deeply complex woman, her emotional tumult is aired across a seven-minute uninterrupted shot when she finally meets the daughter she gave up for adoption.
III. As Good As It Gets (1997)
How It Passes: While penning a thank you note, Carol (Helen Hunt)’s irritations mount as she vents about her daily frustrations with her mother, Beverly (Shirley Knight.)
Best Female Character: Struggling waitress Carol, whose fierce loyalty to her family’s wellbeing motivates her to thrive in an environment seemingly against her at every turn.
IV. The Sixth Sense (1999)
How It Passes: At the funeral of Kyra Collins (Mischa Barton), the procession watches a video unearthed by Cole secretly filmed by Mrs. Collins (Angelica Torn) in which Kyra asks her mother if she can go outside. Mrs. Collins tells her no, as she always feels ill after lunch.
Best Female Character: Dedicated mother, Lynn Sear (Toni Collette), whose struggles with her son depict her as a loving, determined woman wearing a tough exterior to mask her heart of gold within. One of the final scenes in the car between mother and son will melt your heart.
V. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
How It Passes: Boxer-in-training Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) returns to her white trash abode to offer her mother, Earline (Margo Martindale), a better life. She declines on account of it threatening her benefits.
Best Female Character: The tough-as-nails Maggie, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s constantly knocked back by life’s detractors yet never stops believing in herself.