Ah, Disaster Movies, those awe-inspiring films that can put their audiences to live all sorts of sceneries around the inevitable apocalypse, the dreadful consequences of superpopulation, and the possible obliteration of human race. They are also known as the stories that has and stil have been constantly exploiting the already worned out trope of women as carers.
It doesn’t matter if Godzilla is threatening to destroy an entire city, an alien race is on the verge of wiping out the whole human race of existence or a new ice age is on its way of freezing the entire planet, women will always be those concerned human beings that will stay behind (and even sacrifice their lives) to take care of all the helpless people that can’t take care of themselves, waiting for their ultimate demise.
This superficial representation of women in cinema is nothing new. The selfless mother trope exists since the Golde Age of Hollywood, when woman (specially mothers) where portrayed as those people that transformed their households into waiting sanctuaries, waiting for their families to finally arrive in order to help them to fulfill their only mission in life (and on the movie): be there for everyone. In México’s golden age of cinema, the selfless mothers where often compared with clocks.
Apparently, even after all these years of progress in female representation on cinema, women’s intrinsic and sole effective attitude to deal with the unstoppable planet’s destruction is still to take care of their loved ones until the very end. Such characters as Kate (Amanda Peet) on 2012, Sarah (Leelee Sobieski) on Deep Impact or even Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) on Independence Day are clear depictions of this idea.
Films nowadays seem to kind-of know that, though. So, in order to create a somewhat adequate depiction of their martir selfless women, Disaster Movies have gifted us with their ultimate solution to solve this one-note character problem: the Doctor/Nurse women!
Ah yes, the Doctor/Nurse women are those concerned characters that will stay behind (and even sacrifice their lives) to take care of all the helpless people that can’t take care of themselves, waiting for their ultimate demise, but wearing scrubs!
Godzilla gave us Elizabeth Olsen’s nurse, Elle Brody, The Day After Tomorrow presented us Sela Ward’s Doctor, Lucy Hall and even Independence Day: Resurgence outsmarted itself by promoting Vivica A. Fox’s selfless character, Jasmine Dubrow, into a Doctor before (SPOILERS) killing her off at the movie’s beginning.
These carers are in charge of the weak and innocent people that are left behind when the catastrophe strikes. Lucy Hall stayed behind to take care of her (woman) patient at the hospital while a new ice age was happening around them, Jasmine Dubrow sacrificed herself to help her very pregnant patient to get into a helicopter before the hospital they’re in was destroyed, and Elle Brody evaquated the premises she’s attending before running to look after her son while Godzilla is destroying the whole city.
This particular type of characters, such as the woman doctor, the woman nurse and the selfless mother, have always worked as the perfect analogy of the womb: Life taking care of life. These women changed their aprons for scrubs and moved their homes to the hospitals. They are the carers in charge of the ill, the helpless and the innocent. They are in charge of the next generation.
Don’t get me wrong, I think is fantastic that these women are drawn as professional individuals and not one-dimensional clichés whose only motive is to wait for their husbands to come back home alive and well. But, if you are a film director/producer/writer, the least you can do is to give them agency and purpose. Make them well-thought and fleshed out characters, with a full arc, equated enough with their male counterparts.
Everything is not lost, though. Not all Disaster Movies are trapped in the selfless carer vortex of tropes and clichés . Films like San Andreas and Cloverfiled succesfully have created well-constructed characters like Emma (Carla Gugino), Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) or Lily (Jessica Lucas). Strong women, with particular backgrounds, agency and motives, looking for survival outside their homes and hospitals and into the apocalypse.