If you stop and think about it… Fifth Element is pretty creepy, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love the film, but Leeloo is basically two weeks old when she gets with Bruce Willis’ character, Korben Dallas. Yeah, she’s wise and knows a lot, but she’s shown as woefully ignorant of just about every facet of modern society, and that creates an odd power imbalance. Leeloo relies on Dallas for shelter, food, and protection.
The trope is called “Born Sexy Yesterday,” and it’s surprisingly common in science fiction. Blade Runner, Tron: Legacy, Firefly, several times in each Star Trek series… I could easily go on. Thematically, the trope relies on a large power imbalance between a male hero and an adult woman who is “profoundly naïve and unimaginably wise.”
Few tropes are ever copied wholesale, and this one is no exception. Variants are frequent, but most center on a woman who is central to the plot. Often because of her combat abilities, unique wisdom, or some special power. These women are powerful and to some degree self-sufficient, but they’re also criminally ignorant of the world and have only met or seen only a couple of men in their lives.
That’s fine so far, but the lynchpin of the trope, like so many of the tropes of women in media, is sexualization. These women are developmentally akin to children but in the form of an adult. That gives a quick-and-easy bullshit excuse too. If a woman appears to be an adult, it doesn’t seem as wrong to sexualize her.
But regardless of how old these characters look, the imbalance of power is still there. A child is a child whether they look it or not. We protect children not only because they can’t always defend themselves, but also because they can be manipulated easily. That’s why statutory rape is a thing, after all. If these stories took place in the real world, Korben Dallas and pals would be in jail.
And that’s just it; speculative fiction often centers on schlummy, “normal” characters. This makes them relatable to most of us and also reveals a likely cause behind this trope’s overuse. After all, without any comparison, any man will seem amazing. They don’t have to compete or be genuinely good people; the men just have to exist.
This 20 or so minutes long video dives further into the topic than I can here, so I’d suggest you give it a watch when you have the chance.
I’d like to think we can all get behind more interesting, creative stories that don’t rely on what is essentially pedophilia in all but name. Dare I say that nothing will change until we change the pale face of moviemaking?