The Power of Gender: Dead Again
By: Monica Burch
Gender plays a major role in Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again. The film follows two storylines forty year apart, but of the same characters. In the 1940s, Margret and Roman meet as successful artists, the former a pianist and the ladder a composer. Stereotypical gendered behaviors playout between the couple. Conflict arises when Roman’s masculinity is threatened both when Gray Baker flirts with Margret and with his inability to produce an opera. Margret’s eventual murder with the infamous scissors is blamed on Roman, as his motive allegedly being this jealous from his loss of masculinity. Eventually, Roman is sentenced to death for his wife’s murder. The second storyline in present day follows this couple only now they have gender swapped, with Margret being the detective Mike Church and Roman as the amnesia-laden, mute Grace. With a swap in sex, came a swap too in gender normative behavior. Margret as Mike is now much stronger of a person, following many typically masculine troupes, while Roman as Grace follows more feminine traits, but seems to push for his lost masculinity. Margret’s embrace of her new-found strength and Romans yearning for his lost masculinity represent the power found within masculinity. Every stereotypical gendered behavior in Dead Againis a purposeful action to represent the roles in which gender plays in human behavior; men are seen as more powerful than women, causing characters to push towards their masculine traits to regain their lost power. Through the use of character behaviors and imagery, the movie represents this lean towards masculinity.
Margret’s stereotypically feminine qualities make her powerless against male characters. In the 1940s, Margret exhibited typically feminine traits. For the most part, her actions are dictated by men, represented in the many times men physically guided her around a scene. She also does not interject herself strongly, allowing Gray Baker to get closer than he should. Her lack of authority shows especially when she wants to fire Inga and Frankie, but Roman refuses. Because she is a woman, she is completely powerless in controlling many of the circumstances around her. Margret has little to no power in her marriage, causing Roman to ultimately allow Inga and Franky to stay. Because the two are allowed to stay, Margret is put in danger from the jealous Frankie, which ultimately leads to her murder. Margret’s murder further represents her lack of power as she has barely any push back against Frankie. Margret is powerless against Frankie, a young boy, representing that even the weakest, or youngest, of men still hold more power than women. Margret dies cruelly at the hands of Frankie, who brutally stabs her with the phallic scissors, all while she has no power to fight back.
Margret has to replace her femininity for masculinity in order to gain power. How will Margret gain power? By transforming into Mike, a man with many stereotypically masculine qualities, Margret expels her old feminine quarks and becomes powerful. With her reincarnation, Margret goes from a pianist, to a police detective. With this career switch, Margret has taken on a more masculine and powerful path, representing the level of strength gained with the gender switch. Mike first appears on screen implicitly stating he slept with a woman and refuses to call her back, a move Margret would never be able to make as a woman in a 1940s. Margret finally reclaims her power when she kills Frankie, showing her change into Mike has given her exponentially more strength. While Margret was helpless against the young boy, Mike is able to overpower the grown Frankie. Mike stabs Frankie in the leg with the scissors closed, representing the phallic attack that killed her and reclaiming any lost power. Now as a man, Margret has gained power and is finally able to take revenge on the man who originally overpowered her in his youth.
Of course, Mike does still have some of Margret’s old habits. Symbolically, Mike becomes more powerful when he distances himself from these traits. In the beginning of the film, Mike unconsciously fidgets for a cigarette in front of Cozy Carlisle and states he is “trying to quit,” but then Cozy Carlisle states, “People who say that are pussies who cannot commit” (Branagh). Through this connection to the feminine expletive “pussy,” Mike shows that he still has feminine traits and is not strong enough to quit smoking, and thus, overall not strong enough to regain power. Of course, once Mike sees the decay of Gray Baker, he commits to no longer smoking, gaining strength and power; he is no longer a “pussy.” Mike gaining power through being more decisive represents how losing feminine qualities makes an individual stronger. Right after Mike quits, he confronts Frankie and Inga, now symbolically strong enough to confront his past murderer.
On the other hand, Roman slowly loses power in his original life, represented when he is transformed into the weak Grace. In the past, Roman is introduced as a charming, successful composer. But as time goes on, he becomes less prosperous in his career, leading to insecurities that make him appear less masculine. Roman also becomes emasculated with the introduction of Gray Baker. As his career starts falling apart, Roman witness another man steps in the middle of his marriage, further reducing his own power as he has less control over his marriage. At the masquerade, Roman becomes even further emasculated when described as “not anybody” because he is not successful in the movie industry (Branagh). After this encounter, Roman feels completely insecure and lashes out against Margret hysterically, a commonly feminine behavior. Roman losing his masculinity is represented through kissing Gray Baker on the cheek. By kissing Baker on the cheek, Roman preforms a stereotypically emasculating act, showing his distance from his original masculinity.
Through reincarnation, Roman returns as Grace, representing his complete loss of power. Grace is first seen as a petrified mute. She has little strength, if any at all, representing Roman’s loss of power through her dependency which he never had previously. Of course, she wants to return to her original power. Grace only gets a voice once she reverts back to Roman’s memories; she needed to reconnect with her masculinity to regain power in speech. When living with Mike, Grace consistently wears his clothing, showing Roman’s unconscious want to reclaim his spot as the dominant person in the relationship. Graces leaning towards masculine traits, shows the unconscious belief that masculine qualities are needed to have power. Grace relies on Mike for most of the movie, exhibited when the actor attempts to abduct Grace. Grace acts as the stereotypical damsel in destress while Mike must rescue her.
This movie’s use of reincarnation helps represent masculinity’s role in power. Margret has to become a man and lose most of her feminine qualities and avenge her death, while Roman pushes to regain power as a woman by adopting masculine qualities. This movie shows that being a man is how one gains power, and the more masculine the character, the more powerful. These characteristics are based on western stereotypical beliefs. Analyzing both characters’ adjustment to their new genders, represents the idea that in order to have power one must adopt stereotypically masculine behaviors. Through reincarnation, Margret was able to finally gain power over the all of the men who controlled her in a time when women could not have a voice.
Dead Again. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Paramount Pictures, 1991.