It’s the classic movie scenario. The guy gets the girl, and the girl gets the guy.
Or does she?
Not according to the movie Bumblebee.
Charlie Watson is the protagonist of Bumblebee but she doesn’t get the guy at the end of the movie, despite saving the world. In contrast, the male protagonist of the previous instalment in the Transformers franchise gets the girl after proving himself a hero.
Charlie Watson, played by Hailee Steinfeld, battles the same humanoid robots, overbearing parents and cynical government forces as Sam Witwicky, but she doesn’t finish the movie in the arms of her crush. It’s not clear if she even has a crush. Sam Witwicky, however, definitely gets the girl, and his movie-long crush is the character Mikaela Banes, played by none other than Megan Fox who was once declared the hottest woman alive.
Sam Witwicky fulfils the role of the hero. He overcomes self doubt and many other obstacles to defeat a seemingly impossible enemy and concludes the movie in a romantic scene with Mikaela. He gets the girl because he is the hero, and it could almost be said that he is the hero because he gets the girl. It’s what heroes do.
So why doesn’t Charlie get the guy?
A guy is within her reach. Her neighbour Memo is shown to have a very obvious crush on her from the moment he appears on screen and the two are drawn together during the battle against the Decepticons. Just as the music slows, peace is restored and the sun begins to set, their hands draw closer; but she pulls away. Charlie makes it very clear to Memo that nothing is going to happen. The girl doesn’t get the guy.
Is she too young?
No. Charlie is 18. This is made abundantly clear at the beginning of the movie. In fact, her 18th birthday is the pretext for her being given the beat up old VW which later turns out to be Bumblebee. Thus, Charlie is clearly old enough to decide if she wants to pursue a relationship with Memo, but she doesn’t. Perhaps she was shown to be 18 so that she could legally drive a car, not so that she could pursue a romantic relationship. The character was also given a name more associated with males. Should we read anything into this?
Is a sequel planned?
Will they, won’t they? helps sustain the narrative during this movie and Charlie’s declaration at the end hints at a continuation of the budding romance in a future movie. Keeping viewers hooked could explain why Charlie doesn’t get the guy.
Is there a deeper reason?
Is a young female protagonist not allowed to get the guy, no matter how courageous, physically capable and badass she is?
Must she remain pure, chaste and virginal simply because she’s a young woman? Perhaps a heroine is tainted if she succumbs to any physical desires, even though Sam Witwicky certainly succumbs to his physical desires. Will one loving, extended embrace or one kiss on the lips reduce Charlie to a fallen angel, a tramp, a slut or a loose woman. Perhaps a young woman acknowledging her physical desires is simply too much for Hollywood – too progressive. No fast women, just fast cars.
If this is the case, we must ask why. The genre of the movie itself may tell us.
The Transformers franchise is clearly aimed at males. Fast cars, machines, action and explosions appeal to the stereotypical male – the same stereotypical male who believes every young woman should be chaste, except the ones who satisfy his cravings. The same males with underlying Christian notions of female chastity.
In addition, every male viewer must be led to believe that he has a chance with the good-looking Charlie (Hailee), just as they believe they have a chance with coupled Instagram models who never reveal their relationships. For this reason, Charlie must remain single.
The male viewer could also be said to control Charlie’s body and choices. Marketing-savvy Hollywood producers know what sells blockbusters like Bumblebee. They know the formula and they adhere to it religiously. They know that predominantly male viewers will reject a sexually liberated and free-thinking young woman unless she practices that liberation in their lounge chair, and not on screen. The collective attitude of men towards young women traps Charlie in the friend’s zone with Memo and denies her the opportunity to connect with Memo in the same way that Sam connected with Mikaela.
Is it positive?
This could be an empowering moment for Charlie and female protagonists. Charlie decides if the relationship is initiated, at the end of the movie and throughout the movie. Charlie is shown to be in control. The producers could also be making a statement that a heroine doesn’t need a male love interest in order to be a heroine. She is independent. Female protagonists and heroines could in this way be subverting the action movie genre. Or maybe we’re reading too much into this. After all, it’s a Transformers movie.
Charlie doesn’t get the guy…but at least she gets the car.
Actually, she doesn’t.
The movie ends when Bumblebee flies off to save the universe.
Images: Paramount Pictures