The short answer is obvious – male fantasies – but “Born Sexy Yesterday” digs deeper into the trope.
Pop Culture Detective is a YouTube channel that explores different facets of cinematic culture, with a particular focus on gender issues, for example Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies and The Subversive Boyhood of Steven Universe. Their latest instalment looks at the “profoundly naive, unimaginably wise” women who pop up all over science-fiction movies.
Using Olivia Wilde’s turn as Quorra in Tron: Legacy as a launching point, Jonathan McIntosh looks at the robots, aliens, mermaids and other outsiders who have the inexperience of little girls in the bodies of sexualised adult women.
Even if they know how to fight, characters like Leeloo from The Fifth Element, Madison from Splash, Celeste from My Stepmother is an Alien, Somni-451 from Cloud Atlas, various alien women from various Star Trek series… and even 1956’s Forbidden Planet and 1960’s The Time Machine… well, all of them are clueless when it comes to human society.
Which means the male hero of the piece – straight, single, directionless – can teach the Born Sexy Yesterday woman how to live. He becomes the most extraordinary man in her life because he’s the only man who has ever been in her life.
“They’re all deliberately written to be completely unaware of their own sex appeal,” says McIntosh. “This then provides filmmakers with the excuse to provide at least one scene where she disrobes in front of men. And because she’s so naive, she doesn’t understand the implications of this action.”
What’s the heart of this besides some on-screen T&A for the viewers? An unbalanced relationship where a man can hold power over an innocent girl who is untouched by any other male – but she’s in the body of a grown woman, so there’s nothing obviously gross about the visuals.
Watch the video and think about the other movies that are like this. And, if you’re writing sci-fi stories of your own, keep an eye on the relationships between characters. It’s easy to fall into this trap!