Fair warning: This post contains spoilers for The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, The Beguiled and Big Little Lies. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you to stop reading it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you must certainly have seen, heard or know at least one movie where Nicole Kidman has been a part of. She’s been active since 1983 and has won multiple awards for her diverse set of performances.
From Eyes Wide Shut to The Beguiled, Nicole Kidman has always managed to draw people’s attention to her striking and nuanced portrayals over the years. She’s dedicated, hard-working and totally devoted to the art, and that’s something is reflected on everything she’s doing and has done in her career.
In fact, one of Nicole Kidman’s many assets is her ability to choose the right characters for her. Make no mistake, many of them haven’t been random choices. She has played lots of different characters, yes, but if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that most of them share one particular trait: they are strong and unwavering women.
Women who have been violated, taken for granted and pushed aside by the patriarchal society as a way to maintain control and power over their bodies. Women who had been to hell and back but always get back on their feet with their heads up and standing tall. In hindsight, Nicole Kidman’s women are unbreakable.
The unbreakable woman she represents is the irremediable daughter of the patriarchy. She’s strong because her misogynistic upbringing has made her that way; she’s cautious but never stopped fighting for what she believes is right, even when every man around her insists on telling her to do the exact opposite; she’s opinionated because the world wants to silence her constantly and she will retaliate when the situation needs her to do so.
As I said before, her decision to play these characters is not random, she’s been trying to tell something to us with her body of work and the portrayal of these particular traits. In a way, she’s been representing every facet of womanhood since the very beginning.
With that in mind, Kidman’s unbreakable woman portrait can be defined by one of the most important narrative choices that she has ever made during her career, to represent her in two very nuanced ways: The Retaliatory Unbreakable Woman and The Cautious Unbreakable Woman. Two types of women who choose to confront the same problems in different ways. Two women bound by loss and divided by empowerment.
Both these women know that the world they live in is made by men and for men and that they need to fight their own battles because no one is going to support them or save them but themselves. They know they are under constant threat and that the only way to fend for themselves is to face their problems up front and not perpetuating the misogynistic actions they’re surrounded with.
The Cautious Unbreakable Woman is the one that has suffered more of the two of them. She’s the one that has to put up with the awful society standards that have been bestowed upon women, but also the one that is capable of defying them by not letting them affect the way she lives her life.
She’s often portrayed as a rebel woman who is really fed up with the ways that women are supposed to get by on each day. She’s opinionated, very vocal and will always find a way to circle around societal norms in order to get what she wants, especially when it comes to standing for what she believes.
She is Satine in Moulin Rouge (2001), a woman who works at a cabaret as a showgirl — one of the few jobs women could have at the time —that is often sold to the male visitors as nothing more than an object. She is a rebel because, although she lives in a world where women’s bodies are the most requested type of currency and sex is the only way they’re able to connect with someone, she chooses to follow her heart and fall in love with someone, even if that may cost her way of living.
She’s the one that’s constantly defying the societal norms around her by not letting the Duque (Richard Roxburgh) and Harold (Jim Broadbent) control her body and by living her life the way she chooses to until her last breath, in the hands of her love, Christian (Ewan McGregor).
She is Gilly in Practical Magic (1998), a (very witchy) woman comfortable with her body, her autonomy and independence, who is not willing to compromise any of that for anyone, even if that means to stand up to her boyfriend (Goran Visnjic), and to follow up with the lie behind his demise on her sister’s hands.
She is also Anna Murphy in The Killing Of a Sacred Deer (2017), a woman who is capable to stand against someone who’s trying to harm her family and go to the final consequences in order to protect them from a sudden menace embodied on Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenager who forces her husband (Colin Farrell) to choose to save the life of one of its members: their two children or her, as a personal vendetta.
In the movie, she decides to confront Martin knowing the type of person he is and the danger he represents, but putting her family first. She is also constantly fighting against her husband wishes to push her around by neglecting her opinion and diminishing her.
She is Evelyn in Stoker, (2013) a woman who will stand against Charlie (Matthew Goode), her violent brother-in-law who wants to take her daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) under his wing as a serial killer, even if she’s not that fond of her and doesn’t want to know anything about her.
One of the main traits that stand out from The Cautious Unbreakable Woman is that she may find herself in odd and violent contexts, but she will not act on it. She will stand against a threat, yes, but she will never fire back. The Cautious Unbreakable Woman doesn’t believe that violence solves violence nor it helps to make her point across for that matter, but rather does so by showing fortitude and keeping her head high.
Unlike her, The Retaliatory Unbreakable Woman does believe that the better way to face her problems and the male violence behind them, is by acting on it. She also is a daughter of the patriarchy, but one who is really fed up with dealing with the everyday misogynistic attitudes towards her. She will stand against her perpetrators and she will not endure any type of injustice or act of violence against her.
The best example of this is Grace in Dogville (2003), a woman who will not hesitate to fight back when she feels threatened. Sure, she will live and put up all kinds of abuse and acts of violence against her if that means she can hide from the people who are looking for her, but she will remember it and hold people accountable for their trespasses. Even if it means to kill everyone involved in it, including the man (Paul Bettany) she thought was in love with her but did nothing more than taking advantage of her.
She is Martha Farnsworth in The Beguiled (2017), a woman who will do anything to protect the young girls at her care, even if that means poisoning John McBurney (Colin Farrell), the civil war soldier staying at her school, once he starts making violent threats against her and scaring her protegées.
She is also Celeste Wright in Big Little Lies (2017), a woman who will endure all the violence perpetrated by her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) in order to protect their family, specially her children, but will not hesitate to fight him back when he starts to act violently against her best friends.
With her body of work, not only Nicole Kidman has managed to portray effectively different facets of the male violence that women have to endure every given day, but also, she has given a voice to all the female victims that society has refused to acknowledge along the way.