How many times have I watched Charlize Theron die? Specifically, I wondered this as I watched her in Old Guard, an adaptation of a comic book in which she plays an immortal warrior. An immortal warrior who can be killed over and over, then rejuvenated and sent back into whatever fray history has them taking part. So here's your spoiler alert, of sorts: She and her compatriots are riddled with bullets in the first few minutes of the film. Really gory stuff. Charlize is laying flat with a bullet hole in her head, then slowly she blinks, shakes it off and the hole begins to heal. Moments later she is up and kicking and shooting and slashing her way through what we can only assume are "the bad guys."
Then the movie goes on for another two hours or so, with plenty of blood spilled and limbs hacked at and bullets fired. But since she's the star, and an executive producer, we don't expect her to be part of the nameless pile of bodies that continues to stack up as the story progresses. Which led me to the next question: How many times have I watched Charlize Theron kill?
Not as many as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not as many as Bruce Willis. A whole lot fewer than Clint Eastwood. And yet, I was confounded by the notion that this is a way that we can announce that women are finally getting their due in Hollywood: body count. I know that I am thinking more about this since I started reading and thinking about our worship of guns and violence. More to the point, I was reconsidering my own place in the matter of guns and violence. I can remember feeling so clever when I was still quite young, pointing out to anyone who would listen, that this or that movie was unrealistic because the good guys never ran out of bullets. There was no reloading. That point has been addressed patiently and methodically in all manner of action movies since then. My wife noted that she had her own passing familiarity with how to reload a semi-automatic handgun from just watching characters in moview do it. Over and over. Thanks for the small arms training, Hollywood.
Then there's the matter of the damage done by guns big and small. It used to be that simply clutching one's chest and falling down in a heap was enough evidence for us to believe that you were dead. Bullet holes have given way to exploding heads and exit wounds that have been deemed realistic by forensic specialists. Sure, it's make believe, but without a certain amount of guts spilled, you wouldn't ever believe that Charlize Theron had been shot in the head, and then got up to mangle those responsible for it. Maybe the romance of a sucking chest wound has diminished for me over time.
I think this is a good thing.