Who Am I This Time?
Rachel Ward and Women Who Flee

by Sasha Stone

The trouble with women who flee is that sooner or later they get tracked down and destroyed. Janet Leigh in Psycho is a famous example. Does she ever have a moment of power? The cop, the used-car salesman, Norman, all men out to bum her high. There's that one moment, though, when she smiles on her way out of town, the voices in her head turning into surreal parodies. In that one moment, she's free. Free to marry, free to not be a secretary anymore, free to decide to run back home. Unfortunately, like most women, Leigh eventually gets punished. Take Rachel Ward in Against All Odds. One day she's riding around a sparsely populated city in Mexico on her bicycle, picking up fruit at a local stand, getting richly tanned on the beach, having sex in a sweat cave and the next minute, some thug (boyfriend or father?) is stalking her. Julia Roberts in Sleeping With the Enemy: beautiful, huge house, cute drama geek boyfriend, cut to: psycho husband stalking her with a gun. Some might say my fantasies of fleeing might actually be fantasies of getting caught and tortured. But where's the fun in that?

See, there are very few moments I own anymore. So when I feel frozen I imagine I am a woman fleeing to a far off place where no one can find me, where I own all of my own moments, where I can bicycle around barefoot and sleep with guys like Jeff Bridges on beaches in Mexico, drink tequila and smoke cigarettes, or, dare I say it, take a bath.

Like Thelma & Louise who, tragically, never get to their destination, Mexico, my idea of fleeing has more to do with the brief spot of freedom, in flight, where nothing matters except plain old survival. Women who flee do so for good reason.

In Hollywood movies women are usually running from something or someone who is out to destroy them. They can't stay any longer, so off they go. In very few instances does a woman end up free, safe and alone. If she flees with a man there's a good chance she'll be okay (Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater in True Romance.) But to flee alone is to give up life (Thelma & Louise) or to be a selfish Noir heroine, out to screw over some poor hapless male (Kathleen Turner in Body Heat).

So where does that leave who I am this time? It's easy. Just trim off the first and third acts and savor that second act where the woman has fled and allows herself those few days of glory before it all goes to shit. Lost and not yet found. A past left dangling. A sentence in present tense with no conclusion, only a very active verb. I'm forgetting briefly what I do day in and day out. I'm living.

Of course, like all women who flee, I eventually need to get caught. And it's not such a bad thing to have commitments, to have people who count on you. Nastassjia Kinski in Paris, Texas abandons her child and husband for a life unexplained. She doesn't like being tied down. She needs land, lots of land and big wide sky. I could never leave the kid. I'd never really want to. Diane Keaton takes the kid (Baby Boom). When you keep the kid, you are in less danger of being destroyed. I guess I'm through running away. I've been fleeing scenes most of my life. Now that my feet are firmly planted, I can only drift off in my mind for a brief moment. It doesn't mean much at all.

So here's to women who flee. In that second act, between here and there, before we have to get back in the game and play by the rules.

CineScene, 1999