We need to talk about a certain recurring film cliché. Why is it that a female character cuts her hair before her moment of clarity, or some turn around in her psyche? And I don’t mean going into a hair salon and telling the hairdresser some cheesy line like ‘I need a new look for a new me’. I mean the type of hair cut where they look desperately into their bathroom mirror, the camera cuts to their hand reaching for a pair of scissors before hacking off their own hair. They never do a trim either, it’s always a big chunk of hair that falls dramatically to the floor.
I have to say, I was rather disappointed by the inclusion of this cinematic cliché in David O. Russell’s Joy. It added nothing to the story. We would have felt the same emotions had Jennifer Lawrence swaggerred into the meeting with her manufacturer with long hair. So, what’s the point? The dramatic cutting of the hair seems to represent a switch in the character. In a time of absolute despair the heroine will cut her own hair, as if she is chopping away all the things that weighed her down and stopped her from achieving her goals. Only after freeing herself from the weight of those unneccessary, lucious locks can she be sucessful. But Joy didn’t need to cut her hair to show that she has transformed. Surely Joy didn’t need a visual reminder of the transformation of the eponymous hero? Surely we understood that anyway.
Joy isn’t the only film to do this. Many other heroines have braved the chop. Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for doing it. Although her character in Les Misérables in fact cuts her hair to sell it in order to feed her child… So maybe we can let her off. I’ll also let off Marie in The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne cuts her hair off so that she may be slightly less indentifiable to the authorities while they’re on the run. And I’ll let Gwyneth Paltrow off in Sliding Doors. Without that hair cut no one would be able to make head nor tail of the film.
The symbolic hair-cutting cliché also enters into the world of animation. Who remembers Mulan’s transformation? When she decides she doesn’t want to be the typical submissive female, so slices her hair off with a sword (that’s much cooler than taking a pair of kitchen scissors to do the job) so that she can become the heroine that saves China. It was dramatic, wasn’t it? For a 90 minute Disney film, it works, but Joy is a 124 minute film about the transformation of the lead female character, so do we really need a 2 minute hair cutting scene to reinforce that?
Even though I find this cliché irritating, I have to admit I understand to some extent the reason for it. I’ve got a hair appointment booked for Tuesday, and I plan on cutting my hair a lot shorter. There is something about a haircut that makes you feel 10x better about yourself, as if you can take on the world. Or at least the day. I know I’ll walk out of the hairdresser’s on Tuesday thinking I’m Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe it will inspire me to invent a new household product, or at least start doing some housework…