When I coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in an essay about the movie “Elizabethtown” in 2007, I never could have imagined how that phrase would explode. Describing the film’s adorably daffy love interest played by Kirsten Dunst, I defined the MPDG as a fantasy figure who “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.”
That day in 2007, I remember watching “Elizabethtown” and being distracted by the preposterousness of its heroine, Claire. Dunst’s psychotically bubbly stewardess seemed to belong in some magical, otherworldly realm — hence the “pixie” — offering up her phone number to strangers and drawing whimsical maps to help her man find his way. And as Dunst cavorted across the screen, I thought also of Natalie Portman in “Garden State,” a similarly carefree nymphet who is the accessory to Zach Braff’s character development. It’s an archetype, I realized, that taps into a particular male fantasy: of being saved from depression and ennui by a fantasy woman who sweeps in like a glittery breeze to save you from yourself, then disappears once her work is done.
When I hit “publish” on that piece, the first entry in a column I called “My Year of Flops,” I was pretty proud of myself. I felt as if I had tapped into something that had been a part of our culture for a long time and given it a catchy, descriptive name — a name with what Malcolm Gladwell might call “stickiness.”
But I should clarify a few things here. The trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally sexist one, since it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize. Within that context, the phrase was useful precisely because, while still fairly flexible, it also benefited from a certain specificity. Claire was an unusually pure example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a fancifully if thinly conceived flibbertigibbet who has no reason to exist except to cheer up one miserable guy.
The response to my review was pretty positive but relatively sleepy. The A.V. Club was a whole lot smaller back then and the phrase didn’t really gain traction until a year later, when my colleague Tasha Robinson proposed doing a list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls for the “Inventory” feature of our site. The list, published in 2008, was titled “16 films featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls,” and featured, along with Dunst and Portman, Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
I remember thinking, even back then, that a whole list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls might be stretching the conceit too far. The archetype of the free-spirited life-lover who cheers up a male sad-sack had existed in the culture for ages. But by giving an idea a name and a fuzzy definition, you apparently also give it power. And in my case, that power spun out of control.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
I hate when the media makes The Hunger Games look like a battle for love. Get your bullshit fantasies away. This is about murder, over powered government, and a girl trying to change the way things are. News flash not every girls fantasy is to find true love.
the irony here is that our media is doing exactly what the Capitol did in the books; downplaying the murder, focusing on the bullshit love story
That’s not irony, that’s just plain scary
A lot of what the media reports about The Hunger Games reflects the practices of the Capitol. That’s the whole point, and we are missing it. We are living it.
So they always put a girl character in movies for someone to fall in love with?
my 7 year old son (astutely calling attention to the lack of female leads in action and adventure films).
While watching Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz flirt in POTC On Stranger Tides my son asked me “Why is there always romance in every movie?” He had asked the same question last week when we watched Kirsten Dunst and Toby Maguire have their memorable moment in the rain in Spiderman. He’s 7 and not a fan of kissing scenes. I try to explain that many people, especially adults, enjoy romance so it’s a popular thing in movies.
He responds with “So they always put a girl character in for someone to fall in love with?” And I am floored, because I realize the message Hollywood has sent my child is that you only need to include one female character - and it’s not so she can be the hero. If a 7 year old boy can recognize that women in action films are nothing but a plot device it is time for the film industry to admit they have a problem.
I’m not going to apologize for the fact that there are things I don’t understand. I’d be a fool if I though there weren’t. And I’m not going to make nonsense of a mystery, just because that’s what people always do when they try to talk about it. Always. And then they think the mystery itself is nonsense.