To address here the theme of Yin and Yang – and for once – I will not speak here of a woman of flesh and blood, but rather a woman of paper and celluloid: Lorraine Broughton.
Lorraine Broughton is the heroine of a 2012 graphic novel, “The Coldest City”, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, and a 2017 film directed by David Leitch, “Atomic Blonde”.
In this film, Charlize Theron – perfectly blonde and just as perfectly atomic – plays a British MI6 secret agent sent to Berlin a few days before the fall of the Iron Curtain (i.e the Berlin wall), in order to find a list of spies that had unfortunately been lost. Beyond the genuinely cleverness of the film, which twists the codes of spy movies to combine them with women, the character of Lorraine Broughton deserves special attention.
To say that Lorraine is blurring the lines would be an understatement because she is, at every moment, everything and its opposite. And because of this, she perfectly combines Yin and Yang, which are ultimately just a story of conjugation of opposites. Yin and Yang evoke unity and multiple, opposition and complementarity, feminine and masculine, black and white. Yin, symbolized by black, represents the feminine principle, darkness, receptivity and freshness. Yang, on the other hand, illustrated by white, evokes the masculine principle, light, action and warmth. Yin germinates Yang, with this white drop on a black background, and vice versa, of course. Yin can only be conceived because Yang exists – and this principle of opposition and complementarity applies to every element of life.
Lorraine Broughton is just like this: in a world where gray predominates with an Eastern bloc, a Western bloc, an Iron Wall and a multitude of hidden political interests in the middle, Lorraine is brutal and tender, present and elusive, single and multiple, feminine and masculine. One can endlessly comment on her style – all in black and composed white – because it perfectly illustrates the alliance of opposites that governs the extreme life of Lorraine’s secret agent.
The costumes of the film were adapted to the female morphology for the sake of realism and flexible pieces were favored. Apart from a pair of red Dior stiletto heels which are, well, very very high (and which are part of a funny fight scene), Lorraine’s wardrobe is simple and functional and is almost invariably bi-chromatic. This black and white contrasted wardrobe – which I am wearing here – seems to be perfectly illustrative of what goes on underground in Lorraine’s life, which is so unique and so multiple.
Unique because she is only defined by herself, and not by a man, a relationship, a dead lover or a lost child, as the Hollywood tradition too often depicts violent women. She’s not particularly likable, she’s not particularly endearing. For once, the main female character of a film offers no angle to which the viewer can relate, to identify with her or find her pleasant – according to the traditional Hollywood machine – especially with female roles. She is herself and has no desire to please anyone. She is only defined by her own actions and goals. She has no past, no future: she is present in her reality and fights because it is her job.
And it is because of her profession which puts her in danger at every moment that she has to be multiple and elusive: she disguises herself, is a double or triple or quadruple agent (who knows, after all) and blurs all the lines. She has an incalculable number of passports and therefore an incalculable number of personalities.
Lorraine is certainly unique in its reality, but I have to give you that her reality is multiple.
Which brings us to her gender, since she is absolutely feminine but also perfectly masculine, according to the social codes applying to her.
Her femininity is certainly assertive, but she never falls into the Hollywood archetype of the “femme fatale”. Although she preserves her free will and is the antinomy of the good mother figure, her sexuality is not abusive, whether in her behavior or her outfits. If men are dying around her, it is not because they would have been caught in her snares, but because they are, like her, part of a very dangerous underworld.
She is also terribly masculine, according to the gender codes of her time (and ours, may I add). She only fights with men – and as equals. The fight scenes are nonetheless suited to a feminine musculature (I almost can’t wait to defend myself with a refrigerator door or a garden hose). His injuries, which we see in close-up, have nothing to envy those of his male opponents and I admire that a Hollywood studio accepts for once to show us a close-up of a beautiful woman damaged by fights.
However, is she binary? I don’t think so. Lorraine doesn’t tick the boxes of Hollywood canons as her sexuality also is blurry. Where one would expect a torrid scene with a man, a relationship takes place that is certainly physical but nonetheless full of tenderness with a woman. His pansexuality blurs all the lines.
Because, in the end, Lorraine isn’t an archetype, whatever the field considered.
She does not fall on the side of the dark force like certain Marvel’s heroines, nor on the angelic side by taking the posture of the savior, if I have to compare with the “WonderWoman” movie, released the same year (and which in my opinion, worked no wonders).
Paradoxically, Lorraine knows that, in her world, one often has to do bad to reach good.
The rare traces of red that sometimes adorn her bi-chromatic wardrobe and her blondness camouflaged under brown wigs remind us of her multiplicity, her doubts, her difficulties, in short her humanity.
She carries the universe within her, in all its richness and complexity.
Like all of us, dare I add.
July 9, 2021
Personal dressing, as always or almost
Special thanks to my son’s boxing teacher, Thierry Pinheiro, who played this (photographic) game with his legendary cheerful spirit
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