When I was a textbook pre-teen girl trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted people to see me, I would often aspire to be one of those eccentric, free spirits I saw in films. Those “manic pixie dream girls,” as film critic Nathan Rabin called them, were my idols because I thought that I wanted to stand out and be “different.” I realized later in life that these characters, as inspiring as they may seem, are really put in movies to serve the agenda of the male character.

Rabin defined the manic pixie dream girl as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." She is basically that free-spirited girl who suddenly changes the lives of the sad, bored male characters.

Examples include Kirsten Dunst in "Elizabethtown,” Natalie Portman in “Garden State,” Charlize Theron in “Sweet November,” and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany's.” I still look up to these female archetypes, but now I have noticed how they perpetuate the idea that women exist to serve as muses to men.

In “Sweet November,” Theron’s character dedicates herself to inspiring workaholic men for one month in order to get them to appreciate life as more than just success and material possessions. This movie turns out to be an endearing love story and made me want to live my life for the simple things; however, it does support the notion that men are shallow and materialistic and women are somehow more enlightened.

Kirsten Dunst’s character in “Elizabethtown” simply exists to push Orlando Bloom’s character through the film because he isn’t interesting enough to do that on his own. Dunst’s character isn’t allowed to have her own purpose or problems. It is completely unrealistic that anyone could exist without any sort of issues or concerns about the world. The male character is the only one with any ambivalence about the future, while his love interest dotes on him and reassures him.

The only truly admirable manic pixie dream girl is Kate Winslet and Clementine in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” She is a truly unique complicated person who resents men who try to rely on her for emotional support. Her classic line in the film is “Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours.” I hoot and holler and cheer every time I watch the film because it is so true. Too many man, both in films and society, seem to rely on a woman to complete them and serve their need for self-validation.

Both women and men are people with needs and fears. I now resent when filmmakers portray women as the charming, bizarre muse meant to carry a male lead who feels uncertain about his life. It isn’t realistic and I no longer aspire to be a part of it. I’m not saying that films reflect real life because they rarely do. I just fear for every weird thirteen year old dying her hair pink and playing the penis game in a department store because she thinks it’ll make someone fall in love with her. I’m sure I wasn’t only delusional teenager doing that.

(4) comments


Interesting article. I have always found any 'slanted' perspective- whether misogynist or feminist, as they are polar to each other in nature- to be somewhat limiting, but even in my youth, age 15 and up or so, I was annoyed by these 'muse' roles, which happen in parts, and my reaction was always closest to Winslet's. First comes the perception, and then comes the acceptance or denial of the perception: the ultimate reaction to it. They do (the roles) exist in real life, but there is more to the process than is portrayed in the movies. Part of the character creation, also, is in the pixie-muse's apparent oblivion to any other simple role-modeling that the male opposite may have tendency to. She is just special and notable for no known reason, somewhere outside of the typical motivations, but not the seductress, not the sister, and not the potential girlfriend/wife! Unclassifiable. Why these muses are manic? I can't attest to that. But over time, I grew to embrace the muse role without mania. It's liberating to defy standard motivations and to find you are not devalued by it. I much more resent having to contend with 'not girlfriend material/not wife material/not life partner material = essentially useless' roles and live in distant harmony with the muse. But I'm no pixie. No, no, no. (beats chest , but ever so slightly) 'This is not for YOU.'


Wonderful, wonderful piece. Great job.


Love this.!


I can't help but point out that Jack in 'Titanic' was sort of the manic pixie dream boy of Rose. He died but apparently still had a major, major effect on the way she lived the rest of her uncertain life. I'm sure there must be other examples. Of course that's like the #2 grossing movie of all time.

Sometimes people are in a rut or need help discovering their true selves. I don't think that is gender-specific. Some people would rather be lazy than manic if that is their true nature. That's okay. Some people are naturally more selfish (or more giving) than others. That's okay too. Some people are true romantics while others are social climbers and gold-diggers. Life would be boring if people were all the same. I see no need for being judgmental.

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