At Work

Curator's Note

I long for scenes between talented women at work: between women as creative, competent peers on the job; female-driven scenes of brilliance, collegiality and productivity; smart women guiding growth. Or even better: bright women working together to save the world.

Does this scene from “The Bourne Legacy” [2012] between Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and Dr. Connie Dowd (Elizabeth Marvel) fit that description? Not exactly. Even though it takes place in Shearing’s home, it’s a scene featuring “women on the job” from 2012.

It’s part of a long sequence at the film’s midpoint that ends in violence, and with super agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) saving Shearing; the journeys of Cross and Shearing are joined from this point. Spoiler alert: Shearing eventually “saves” Cross, too. 

The Dowd-Shearing clip stands out to me because it’s long, interrogatory, and centers on Shearing’s work experience and credentials.  Dowd offers her full name at the start of the sequence as they walk through the house. Both women “identify” as Ph.D.’s, and as we learn in the longer sequence, Dowd works for the CIA. Between Dowd and Shearing, at this point in the film, it’s hard to distinguish which character has the true “ethical” high ground, as both women work for organizations shrouded in governmental secrecy: the CIA and “Sterisyn,” respectively.  

In a strict sense, it could be argued that because Shearing’s former boyfriend is mentioned, the scene does not pass The Bechdel Test. I think it does qualify, because the former boyfriend is mentioned in two lines, a part of her personnel file/background--to indicate that Shearing’s private life is under investigation due to the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sterisyn, her work environment. Foite is discussed as a work colleague. What do you think? Does the scene pass?

In the January 18, 2013, issue of Entertainment Weekly, director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”), describes the new film “The Heat,” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy: “It seems like such a no-brainer. Why has no one done this before? These are two professional women who aren’t looking for a man or to get married or be saved” (35).

Will there be more 2013 films that center on “women and careers” or “women in the professional arena”? I hope so.



Thanks for this, Laura! To me this clip is great (and yes, completely Bechdel passing despite mention of male ex, AND the fact that the subject who put them into this confrontation is a man - does the BT have a "dead vs. living" clause?) especially since both women hold positions that are "traditionally" male. At least in this scene, the characters could completely be men. But the scene would definitely be different. Because these women are acting and reacting like women. Strong, professional, real women with vulnerability and shades of grey (without the bruises).

Interesting idea on "dead vs. living" idea, Jennie. lists "The Bourne Legacy" as passing the Test, too. Here's another 2012 scene that's relevant to a discussion of professional female characters in films - from "Zero Dark Thirty," with Maya (played by Jessica Chastain) and Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) at the hotel restaurant in Islamabad, before the bomb goes off. Jessica questions Maya briefly about dating in a couple of lines in that scene. But the scene is really about two "professional" women becoming friends. We learn that it's a big step for Maya to trust Jessica. Other sequences with Maya and Jessica are about strategy, and include co-workers in their Group. On, there is some disagreement about whether "Zero Dark Thirty" passes the test or not, as many of Maya/Jessica scenes involve strategic discussion of searching for a man (OBL) or the men in his network. That question seems to relate to this clip from "Bourne Legacy," in that discussions of men are related to their work environment or job goals--and not personal relationships.

Brilliant women will be featured collaborating on screen for more than just men. Patriarchy has existed for thousands of years--at least that we can find written evidence of, but surely, it's been a bit longer than that. ;) We ladies have only had our political voice, and therefore rights, for 93 years. It took nearly 100 years from the 15th Amendment to the creation of Civil Rights...and 40 years after that before an African American was voted in as the President of the United States. Women are behind by about fifty years based on the historical context. But our Independence Day isn't far won't be Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saving the world in the summer blockbuster of 2063--it will be two women. And Bill Pullman-like Presidents will be replaced by someone more akin to Viola Davis or Rosario Dawson. Great contribution!

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.