Love, Death & Robots: "Jibaro" and the futile fantasy of feminine revenge
Art, especially in its visual form, has always been our escape from the real world. Films provide us with restful entertainment, in that we need only engage our senses of sight and hearing as the storyline is doled into our minds. Still, there are some which require our full attention in order to be comprehended, such as the web series, Love, Death & Robots.
A unique anthology of animated short films, the show has been mesmerising audiences on Netflix since 2019. The episodes of the three seasons (or, "volumes") so far have explored the genres of comedy, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. When I watched the first volume, what stood out immediately and captivated me throughout was the hyper realistic style of animation. So as not to reveal the extent of my illiteracy when it comes to the technicalities of such artwork, I will only say that I stared at—not only watched—the screen bright-eyed for several hours.
The third and newest volume is no exception. But the episode that has ensnared viewers' attention the most is "Jibaro." If you belong to the group of potential watchers for Love, Death & Robots and have been on social media of late, you have likely come across screen-grabs of this episode featuring the female protagonist: A golden, jewelled siren-of-the-lake with wide and eerie eyes. The story is simple enough, and short too, of course. A deaf knight (Jibaro) travels through the jungle with his fellow soldiers to meet a group of priests. But soon enough, all the men fall prey to the siren's serpentine dance and wailing song, tumbling over each other, swords slashing through bodies until all have died and/or drowned in her lake. Only Jibaro survives, inciting the siren's curiosity. Eventually, the two meet and collide. But while the siren seeks companionship in the knight, Jibaro ends up making use of her vulnerability to strip her off her jewels—discarding her injured body into the lake.
Of course, the siren does have the last laugh as Jibaro circumstantially gains his hearing, rendering him yet another victim of the golden woman's last call—one born of pain and betrayal.
Love and innocence evolving to become revenge is something we see being portrayed time and again on film. In recent years, fans of cinema have even coined a term for such plots: The "good-for-her" subgenre. Think of Gone Girl (2014), Legally Blonde (2001), Bulbbul (2020), Heathers (1989), Midsommar (2019), Hard Candy (2005), Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022), and so on. While many films of this subgenre may not include the female lead/s falling for The Man, they will most certainly include sticking it to him in the end. Hence, making it empoweringly "good for her."
What female and feminist audiences value most in the films and shows falling under this subgenre is the fiendish satisfaction (or, poishachik ananda, to be more precise) they provide. Realistically, there is little scope for the common woman to stand up for herself, let alone for all of womankind, and get even with the countless men who wrong her daily—personally, professionally, familially, sexually, publicly. So when the "cool girl" monologue of Gone Girl plays out, or when Dani laughs at the burning of her cheating and neglectful lover in Midsommar, when Bulbbul kills rapists and paedophiles left and right, and most recently, when the golden siren's grief ends the greedy Jibaro's life, those who have been victimised by society's patriarchal structure experience a kind of release. Finally, someone is turning the table for us. At last, a woman is giving it back as good (or bad) as she had to endure.
But this subgenre, though mostly satisfactory, is also often—with or without intent—exploitative. Thanks to the unending rise of capitalism and globalisation, feminism now is something that is almost equally vilified and marketed. The current wave of feminism was bound to be more mainstream than its predecessors. Which is why it is so easy for big corporations, who will do nothing to reform themselves institutionally to be more gender-equal, to make money off of simply slapping a quirky feminist slogan onto any of their products. Not only does this not help women realistically, but it also acts as justification for the naysayers of feminism, further slowing down the feminist cause among the general public. And while feminism in pop culture is important to keep the spirit up, the revenge fantasy is not something to strongly aspire to. At the end of the day, the good-for-her subgenre of cinema is, for the most part, only entertainment. Any real change in the lives of women still, and perhaps will always, demands tears, sweat, and some blood to be shed.
So, we know the streets of tonight will be just as unsafe for women to roam. It will still be "morally unacceptable" to wear a sleeveless top at railway station in Narsingdi tomorrow. The very fact of inhabiting a female body will earn one stares on public buses. The father who killed his daughter's harasser will face the law without delay—while rapists walk freely, sheltered by a societal structure seemingly built to protect them. Wives will continue to be emotional (and often literal) punching bags to frustrated husbands, while mothers who neglect themselves are crowned as heroes once every year. We ourselves will continue to let many comments and touches pass us by, with no one to hold accountable those who view women as nothing but objects of sex. And as satisfying as the ending of "Jibaro" was, we know nothing will change tomorrow morning—unless we keep the fight on with our minds and bodies. Yet, what respite to imagine otherwise!
Afia Jahin is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.