The stereotypical MPDG can be spotted with simple characteristics: she’s got a unique even controversial) touch of beauty, a high on life energy, wacky quirks, and a sense of not being part of the mainstream. Although she is perceived as this unique creature, along the why we see her become something less than human, and more of a celestial being. It is because of this that I say the term is misused. Not every character that sets a male’s journey in self growth is a MPDG. She can only be considered one once we notice that within the film, she is a stock character — no exploration of character, superficiality, lack of depth — and she is simply there for the sake of our male protagonist. There have been movies that use this trope in their favor (in a sense of self-awareness type of way). The following are scenes from films, that I have decided to analysis showcasing the good, the ugly, and bad side of the MPDGs.
The first film is called 500 Days of Summer, within it our main character, Tom, views our female protagonist in a one-dimensional way. There is a scene in which she is confessing her most vulnerable and personal thoughts, through narration we discover that Tom isn’t interested in what she’s saying. In hindsight, he is thinking that he’s “made it”. This scene represents how our female protagonist is much more than MPDG, she’s deep, passionate, and complex. This is all erased the moment he reduces her to an object, treating her as less that what she is in hopes that she can complete him. By the end of the film Tom realizes that she is much more than MPDG, but it is too late.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the second film, does a similar thing. At the beginning our female protagonist, Clementine, checks off all the boxes of an MPDG. Yet, as the story changes and evolves (as does her hair!), we come to understand what being in a relationship with a girl like Clementine does. We learn that her “endearing quirks” are a sign of a deeper problem. She’s mean, hurtful, resentful, and most importantly: impulsive. Now, we are reminded that this a person, with emotions, she even states “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a f*cked-up girl who’s looking for my own piece of mind. Don’t assign me yours.”, in a twist, she becomes self-aware and address the problem. Women, much like Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly and Almost Famous’ Penny Lane, receive no character development.
In the last film, Garden State, the actress who played the female protagonist stated that she, felt at the time she was playing a unique like character that she hadn’t before. Over time she realized, that she fell into a traditional story line in cinematic history. The film unconsciously unforces the idea that women simply exist to please men. It is in my opinion that, representation like this adds of to society’s view on women. At the end of the day women are degraded to just being a support system. She has no dreams or aspiration, because that is not her purpose. This templates a young women’s life, and young females such as me, end up developing this subconscious association for fitting in within the trope, that she in terms neglects parts of herself in order to help a man succeeded.
By completely erasing the MPDG trope, young adults watching these films and learning from them, can embrace the fact that women aren’t there for men’s satisfaction and that it is not the job of a woman to constantly nurture and help a male. As stated by Adrienne Rich’s Taking Woman Seriously,” Vital individuals, defined not by their relationships but by their personalities.” (443) These women in cinema represent real human beings, and it should be stated that we are not fantasies and are not here to save anyone but ourselves.
Just like how life imitates art, we need woman to play the main characters. We need to see men capable of accepting that not all woman are perfect and some of them might be complicated, making them human. Realistically, “these acts of domination”, (447) as stated by Rich, bring light to the fact that most men become intimidated once they realize a women’s life doesn’t revolve around them. But I peg a simple question: If not now than when?