Gender Roles in Last Unicorn

Often it is during endings that the message of the movie is conveyed. Taken together does the ending of Last Unicorn reinforce gender roles, or does it subvert them?

Discussion: What we Think

“I am really torn about the ending. On the one hand, Amalthea refuses to do what she must until she is forced. First, she refuses to return to being a unicorn to save the others until she is forced by Schmendrick’s magic when the Red Bull attacks. Second, when she is a unicorn, she only fights back when Prince Lir is wounded/killed. This part seems to strongly reinforce the notion that women are naturally gentle and only fight back when the their loved ones are threatened. On the other hand, for a movie made in 1982, the heroine is quite active, she does fight her battle and the ending is bittersweet. She doesn’t stay with her beloved, she returns to the forest, to her former life. The lack of a pairing at the ending is amazing. It subverts the notion that lovers need to always be together regardless of their other dreams and obligations. In the Last Unicorn, love is important but it doesn’t take precedence over other important things and that in itself is very subversive to the notion that love is the most important thing in a woman’s life.”

“I think that the ending of the last unicorn is really gendered in the sense that once she has turned into a unicorn, she goes back to the forest and doesn’t live in the “wild” anymore or what not. I mean if it were the prince that turned into the horse he’d end up staying around the castle and what not. It seemed as the unicorn went off to the quiet forest where she will be accepted”

“It appears that this both subverts and reinforces gender norms simultaneously. On the one hand, the hero breaks out of the norm by telling the heroine that this doesn’t have to be their “happily ever after”. Also, SHE appears to rescue HIM, and defeats the red bull, however the issue with this is the idea that the female character defers to the male character for guidance and becomes more attached to him than he is to her.”

“That is very true Mina. There was something that bothered me about that exchange but I could not put my finger on it. Now I can. The exchange was very paternalistic. The men (Lir and Schmendrick) were both telling Amalthea what she should do, what has to be done. I did not like that either, that she could not come to her own conclusion that saving the unicorns is important; instead she need a man to point it out to her.”

Continue the Discussion: Tell us What you Think


2 Responses to “Gender Roles in Last Unicorn”

  1. 1 Tobi-Dawne December 13, 2010 at 1:08 am

    She didn’t NEED the men to tell her what to do… they were just telling her what to do because that’s what they do. Whether or not the forced their opinions on her, her character would have done the same thing. Her character, like many great heroines before her (thinking specifically of the little mermaid – not the crappy disney version) is selfless in nature. She saves the unicorns and returns to her forest to ensure safety for those who dwell there. That is a very strong role.

    And truly, what third-wave feminism is all about is supporting women in their choices… whether selfless or selfish – every woman has the right to make choices. And that is the right the Almalthea character exercises.

  2. 2 January 31, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Re: paternalistic discussion of “what is best” at the end. In this case, yes, it comes off like that, but she is not necessarily being pushed towards her destiny because she is female. Heroes often get pushed towards their destiny unwillingly, and because the hero here is female, this is true of her, too. Odysseus gets carted off to Troy against his will; Bilbo Baggens never wanted to leave. In those situations it was other men doing the dragging. But the movie this theme most reminds me of is the Lion King, and there it is female Nala who is urging Simba not to stay where it is comfortable but to be a hero and face his destiny. If we can allow that possibility as non-sexist, shouldn’t we also allow its inverse?

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