Adam Serwer, blogging at the left-wing American Prospect, recently watched “The Adjustment Bureau” (2011). His reaction involves the deconstruction of a popular cinematic theme revealing the unattractive desire lying just behind the fantasy.
The female lead, played by Emily Blunt, is a variation on Nathan Rabin’s ” Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” concept, defined as a woman “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.” …
As the Onion writers later note, the key offensive quality of the MPDG is, like the Magic Negro, subservience: She exists to lead the male protagonist to happiness/catharsis.
Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.
It’s prominence as a cinematic archetype, I think, stems from the fact that it’s the ultimate female fantasy of a particular kind of “nice guy” overrepresented among artsy men*. She’s on hand to “lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums” because male writers are often the gloomy male protagonists of their own internal dramas. …
My theory is that the MPDG is a fantasy molded from the clay of an infinite number of adolescent rejections from the women of their youth. Precisely because the relationship never reaches the stage of genuine intimacy, the MPDG remains a two-dimensional projection of the desires of a guy who is progressive enough in gender matters to want a woman who is “interesting,” but not one that has an internal life of her own beyond the superficial qualities that made her “cool” and “not like other girls” to begin with.
Key to the MPDG is that the concept reflects the gender-based hostility of the nice guy. She frequently suffers from a form of (mental) illness, because this both proves that she needs the nice guy and shows why he has such a hard time acquiring her. Even if she’s not sick in some way, she is defined by some kind of glaring emotional vulnerability that makes her, in an abstract sense, a damsel in distress who needs rescue. Under the circumstances, the nice guy’s qualities become as heroic as he imagines them to be. She often suffers cinematically, because she refuses — like the unattainable women of the nice guy’s imagination — to recognize just how good for her he is.
Just as with the Magic Negro, though, the insidiousness of the MPDG archetype lies in the way the creator assumes that their characters are progressive. These characters are in a superficial sense positive in that they’re usually protagonists or allies of the protagonist, but the purpose of this is merely to assuage guilt and provide the unparalleled sense of comfort that comes with the knowledge that everything is in its proper place.
I thought it was rather a pity that there does not seem much likelihood of Mr. Serwer deconstructing the whole array of pleasing political fantasies, minorities, victim groups, the poor, the environment, unions, that serve to feed the ego and power needs of the community of fashion intelligentsia.