SPACE BRAS AND SEXISM – AN ANALYSIS OF THE CAROL MARCUS SCENE IN ‘STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS’

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(Ed. Note This is an editorial feature article from a contributing writer, and therefore does not reflect or express the opinions of the webmaster, or any of the other contributors to Geek League of America.Com.)

In the past, the most controversial thing about a JJ Abrams movie was his compulsive use of lens flares in nearly every single scene of his films. That changed last weekend when Star Trek Into Darkness opened to underwhelming box office. The Geek God’s latest sci-fi spectacle launched an online brouhaha about sexism and misogyny in Hollywood thanks solely to one scene, in which the character of Carol Marcus, played by British actress Alice Eve, strips down to her underwear for the purpose of…well, there was no purpose really, except for the fact that Alice Eve is an attractive and fit actress and the sequence provided a PG-13 dose of T&A in the midst of a shiny series of space-set action sequences. It was a brief, seemingly inconsequential scene, yet it provoked a visceral online reaction that led one of the film’s writers, Damon Lindelof, to actively apologize for the scene on Twitter and to get Abrams to (weakly) defend it on Conan. The initial outraged reaction was, naturally, countered with the equal and opposite outrage at the outrage, with many saying the whole sorry mess was an overreaction to a non-issue.

Except…it is not a non-issue. It’s very much an issue, a very explicit issue that has touched a chord with many people, which is why creative is attempting to do damage control with apologies and reasonings. It touches at the very heart of sexism in the Geek community, in Hollywood, and in our world at large. It may be a brief scene, but it speaks volumes about the way women are still viewed in a supposedly modern society.

To me, it was quite striking when my boss, Jeff recently posted a poll about the controversy on the Geek League Facebook page and it garnered the largest number of responses that we have ever received: over 130 responses, most of the them declaring the sequence a non-issue (with one emotionally over-involved man even getting the dreaded Ban Hammer for his attitude!) What was interesting to me is that most of the commenters were men, some of them friends and even contributors to the site, and a good many of them actively said things along the lines of wishing that Alice Eve remained that way the entire film, that they wished she was naked, and a few went so far as to decry “stupid femenists [sic]” for making a big deal out of nothing.

It was disgusting.

And proof that, yeah, this was a big deal.


alice-eve-star-trek-into-darkness-audiobook

As a straight  man , I get it. Alice Eve is good-looking, she’s half-naked and I like to look at half-naked attractive women. As a straight man, I also realize I don’t have to deal with things in society on a day-to-day basis that women are confronted with as a whole. So I get why most of the men who took the poll could comment, shrug it off as a non-issue and then respond with crude jokes about wanting to see her further undressed. Men don’t get it. We don’t have to deal with it, and when you don’t have to deal something, you tend to lack the empathy for the people who do have to deal with it. For example, rich people will never understand the struggle to pay your bills week after week. They have money. Similarly, men can’t ever fully understand the magnitudinous struggle that is being a woman, because we have penises and the penis is its own currency. Your pay is not less. You are given more opportunities, treated with more automatic respect, not questioned about your abilities, allowed to have sex without defending yourself and you aren’t ogled on a daily basis, your worth reduced to how sexually valuable you are to the person viewing you. That’s not your life, so you can’t comprehend this. To you, you’re just being a red-blooded male embracing your natural sexuality. What’s wrong with that?

Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with that. Every person – gay, straight, male, female – should be free to embrace and engage in their sexual side without fear of reprisal. But not out of the expense of devaluing people based on their gender. And guess what, even if you don’t think you are doing that, you are. Because that’s what that scene was doing.

There is nothing inherently wrong with showing a woman in her underwear in a movie, if it fits the context of the scene in question.  Some commenters suggested that, as geeks, those who were against the scene were afraid of women’s bodies. That’s hardly the case; and the prudish dismissal of Eve in her near-nude glory, the desire to reduce a woman to a Madonna archetype (the biblical kind, not the singer kind) is its own kind of sexism. Aye, but here’s the rub — there was also no single reason to include this scene in the movie. Not one. It was probably one of the single most gratuitous moments of exploitative sexuality I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. It was so random, so out-of-place that it took me right out of the film. On a sheer technical note it was inept: a clumsily placed insert shot that did not flow directly out of the preceding shot or easily into the next one. In terms of cinematic grammar, it was some really bad editing, regardless of what it represented.

But it’s what it represents that makes it even more problematical and worthy of discussion — even if quite a few of you would rather not deal with the repercussions of what it asks. I’ve heard so many defenses of the scene, yet all of them can be easily debunked, and all of them simply refuse to deal with the core of the issue at hand — the inherent sexism still prevalent in sci-fi, geek culture and culture at large. Carol Marcus, as seen in Star Trek Into Darkness, is a horribly written character, a plot device and easter egg for longtime fans. She isn’t a character, but a place marker and an exposition spouter;  her character could have easily been written out and no one would notice. She’s repeatedly been said to be a weapons expert of high intelligence, yet not once do we see her actively show that intelligence — but we do get to see her perfectly sculpted six-pack. Her two big scenes of “heroism” are deeply undercut by stupid writing. As someone pointed out, she saves McCoy from a ticking bomb, but only due to blind luck — the supposed bomb expert can’t defuse the bomb so she desperately yanks the innards right out of it. No display of her vaunted intelligence required. Her other big scene, wherein she tries to save the Enterprise crew by revealing her presence to her villainous father, Admiral Marcus, fails because once she does so, she’s immediately beamed aboard his ship. So her sacrifice as a bargaining chip carries no weight whatsoever and renders her ineffectual.

Star Trek Into Darkness trailer 2 Spock and Uhura

That Carol Marcus is so underwritten in a film that already has issues with female characters — Uhura is reduced to being identified solely through her relationship with Spock, and her big scene, the Klingon negotiation, also ends with her failure and is resolved with the actions of a male character — makes the underwear scene even more obvious. The scene has no reason to exist — there is no reason for Carol to disrobe, not even the flimsiest excuse to justify the T&A. She isn’t having sex with Kirk. Her clothes aren’t dirty or need to be changed. It’s literally apropos of nothing that she changes. She isn’t even effectively flirting with Kirk . I’ve heard people respond that it’s a cute moment of flirtation between Kirk and the future mother of his child. But she isn’t that. In the original franchise maybe, but this Abrams’ alternate world version — you know, the one where Kirk dies and Spock yells “KHAAAAAAN!!!” instead of the other way around. The one where Khan’s motivations are completely different from “Space Seed” and Wrath of Khan. Even if Carol becomes Kirk’s baby mama in this timeline, there is no indication here, in this film, that she is ever going to be that. She doesn’t even get to be the hoary old cliché of “the girlfriend” to Kirk, in the way that Uhura gets to be with Spock — even that simplistic character identity is denied to this plot-moving non-entity of a character.

JJ Abrams has tried to defend the scene by promoting his “equal opportunity” exploitation, but the shirtless scene with Chris Pine as Kirk is both a) contextualized (he’s bedding two alien ladies) and b)builds off his character as a womanizer. The Carol Marcus underwear scene comes out of nowhere, does nothing to establish her character and does nothing to advance the plot. It exists solely to pander to the male fanbase, something the costume designer made clear in one interview. Just the way it was shot has a leering, ogling quality to it: the aforementioned clumsy insert shot from low, Carol fully displayed, hip cocked, arms splayed, not even attempting to cover herself from the peeping of space’s biggest man-slut. There’s an oddly presentational quality to how she’s shot, as if Abrams is serving her up on a silver platter to the male gaze in the audience. The irrelevant Benedict Cumberbatch shower scene was cut from the film, why not this?  The one-shot screams “look at this, a half-naked woman everyone!!!” which is not only sexist and exploitative, but serves only to reinforce that most galling stereotypes about the male geek community — that we are only comfortable with idealized half-naked images of women rather than the real, human thing.

And judging from the comments made in the Geek League poll — leering, sleazy, defensive, angry, insulting, objectifying — maybe those stereotypes are right. And they prove, if nothing else, with every single question of why this is an issue, that this is something that needs to be an issue. You all proved why women and their male allies need to make a big deal out of small scenes like this. Because this single, inconsequential moment is the seed to a larger conversation about gender roles and how they are treated, respected and disrespected in the geek community. Your responses are exactly why I need to write this article, and why women need to write blogs about their life in the geek community like this one http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/why-the-fake-geek-girl-meme-needs-to-die, this one: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2012/11/nerds-stop-hating-women-please, or many other blogs around the net from women who have to defend their love of geek culture from mouth-breathing apes who only view women according to their tit size. Until the day that stops happening , we have to make a big deal about small potatoes like a Star Trek underwear scene.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Joss Whedon:

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About Author

Johnny Donaldson

Johnny Donaldson is an actor, writer, foodie, and raconteur who’s been immersed in the geek world since childhood, especially when The X-Files changed his life. (Fox Mulder is his Han Solo.) A published film critic (his college-era movie reviews can be found in the archives of rottentomatoes.com) and a film producer with two films under his belt, Johnny likes kitty cats, coffee, the color purple (not the movie, the literal color purple), dark microbrews and good horror/scifi/fantasy and superhero movies. And occasionally long walks on the beach, when it’s not too hot.

  • NON-ISSUE

    Men go topless in films all the time. This is a non-issue.

    • Obviousness_Infinite

      Yes, clearly male chests and female breasts are the same thing.

      • Not buying it

        I wish radical feminist’s ( male and females ) would make their mind about the appropriateness of women to go topless in public or in the media / entertainment venues , hypocrisy is an ugly attribute on any ideology.

      • MechaShadowV2

        If you read a fanfic done by a teenaged girl, you’d see they pretty much are.

    • Another bitter cynic

      Whilst wearing a tight banana hammock, at completely inappropriate times?

  • Matthew Clark

    Yep, dumb scene for all reasons listed. And sexist… They could have done a scene at least that was not sexist and explained all the waredrobes chanegs — THAT would have been funny. My girlfriend kept asking “Oh man, why do they have so many outfits?!?”

  • My two cents

    Seriously? I’m sorry, but I have never read an article so rife with grammatical errors outside of public school. Was this article not edited? Do the editors feel so much scorn for their readers that they’ll print anything that’s handed to them without even a cursory glance?

    The truth about Hollywood is that sex sells. So there was an almost nude scene in Star Trek that was put in for the only sake of having a sexy girl half undressed. So what. No one forced the actress to do the scene. It helps ticket sales if there is a half dressed woman in the trailer. How many times did James T. Kirk lose his shirt in the original series? How many movies were Arnold or Bruce or Sylvester in where they DIDN’T lose or take off their shirt?

    Please. Make a fuss over something that actually matters, like professionalism in journalism instead.

    • Rob Holman

      Exactly.

  • Guest

    Wow. The Internet truly has empowered every overwrought douchebag on the planet to start playing journalist. I mean this sincerely, fuck off. Just please fuck off.

    If you ever watched a single episode of Star Trek you would know just how stupid your emasculated hipster bullshit sounds. I am so sorry to herar you hate your penis but stop fucking typing things online it’s a waste of good bandwidth. Get a job.

  • Rob Holman

    Wow. The Internet truly has empowered every overwrought douchebag on
    the planet to start playing journalist. I mean this sincerely:

    fuck off.

    Just please fuck off.

    If you ever watched a single episode of Star Trek you would know just how stupid your emasculated hipster bullshit sounds. Alice Eve doesn’t want or need your pearl-clutching, hand-wringing faux feminism. The fact that so many self-loathing men and hystrionic females could find the time to post their outrage over this scene on the Internet says more about them than JJ Abrams.

    • @robholman:disqus Any credibility your critique of this article had was rendered null and void the second you typed the swears and personal insults. You’ve been banned.

      • Will

        OOh Ooh how about mine!!!!

        Why did you lead with the offensive shot? Subquestion, do you think this article would have gotten as many clicks had you not provided the pander material for “context.” (Read: To use a woman’s half nude body to get people to read your article, but differently than when the exact same shot was done for T&A. “It’s JOURNALISTIC T&A brah! We’re like… getting boners ironically.”

        Don’t do the thing you’re complaining about in the article complaining about it – if you really believed all this you wouldn’t have made the main picture the very body you consider exploited.

        I agree with you in general- but you or your editors made the exact same decision at the front of this article… you want them to come for the story, but you SOLD it with T&A.

        So is that all “rendered null and void” if I call you a hypocrite but with evidence? 😉

        • Ooooh oooh, how about you? Are you asking to be banned, too? Request granted, smart ass.

  • Anthony

    This really was an awful article for the reasons stated below. The trouble is people like you build their premise that this issue matters by stating “sleazy, defensive, angry, insulting, objectifying” people will argue against your position, and therefore dismiss any objection to it as further evidence of your position. There are perfectly reasonable objections to both your attitude and journalistic skill which fall out of the parameters you pre-assign them into. For example, there is no reason to think that this 2 second scene will influence anyone’s perception of the gender roles in society, particularly given the character’s intelligence and independence emphasized by her insistence that Kirk turn around and her unashamed pose in the underwear shot itself.

  • Scooter

    When you can’t even get the most basic fact about the “Australian” actress Alice Eve, who was born in London, England to English Parents, speaks with an English accent (watch some interviews, Craig Ferguson is a good one as he’s known here since she was a baby as he’s a friend of her dad), correct then you loss all credibility.

    Star Trek has always been about the sex. Look at the outfits the actresses wore in the 60’s, which could be justified as the 60’s, but that wouldn’t explain TNG and Marina Sirtis’s outfits or the Betazoid weddings, Ferengi kidnappings, outfits worn on Risa, etc. A theme that carried on with DS9, with Nana Visitor’s outfits, including the Mirror Universe tight leather! And as for Voyager’s Seven of Nine, who was only there for the Sex Appeal, or Enterprise’s Jolene Blalock, who was a Model trying to break into acting with bit parts before getting the “coveted” role in Enterprise!

    And whilst Carol Marcus in the movie was more of a throw to the original series as you know if character development continues in this Universe, then she ends up in a serious relationship with Kirk. Possibly the only one that’s ever been on the show, until the abysmal Generations. You could argue that the scene is tied to Kirk’s interest in her physically, which could lead to more stuff in later movies, and if rumours are correct about TV Development meetings, a new Star Trek show. But you could argue that
    most of the movie was a throw to the original Universe.

    And as for the great Joss Whedon, as much as he does create powerful women’s role, he also clothes them with Sex Appeal in mind! Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, Gina Torres, Charisma Carpenter, Eliza Dushku. All might have been powerful characters but all were beautiful women, whom clothing was generally chosen for the sex appeal!

    • Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy regarding her nationality, I’ve corrected it. That detail hardly invalidates the article, however.

  • I The Great

    This is You don’t really I’m not disagreeing with your affirmation that the scene was included primarily as aesthetic appeal to the largely male Star Trek fan base, but that in no way makes it sexist. Magic Mike for example (who’s target audience was female) was a movie who’s plot primarily revolved around Chaning Tatum’s awesome six pack. Do you think that’s sexist? (hint: it isn’t) The aesthetic appeal of attractive humans is a factor in marketability, and it will be as long as humans don’t become asexual. It isn’t sexist, it’s biological imperative. You say that the scene with Alice Eve in lingerie has no context, and then point out the context yourself (the fact that the two are OBVIOUSLY attracted to each other. Dude, blatant foreshadowing) and say it doesn’t count because we’re in an alternate universe and there’s no evidence that they will be together. However, what you’re pointing out IS THE EVIDENCE! Yet the Chris Pine shirtless scene does have context, because he’s Kirk, and Kirk does that kind of thing all the time, and we all know that because…wait, we’re in an alternate universe? No, we’re in an updated setting of an existing universe. Ah it all makes sense now. Is it slightly ludicrous that she just changes suddenly in front of some dude she’s never met? Sure. But again no one is arguing that Alice Eve’s physical beauty isn’t a marketing factor here; just that it is in no way sexist. Regarding the disarming of the torpedo: She disarmed the torpedo It’s not blind-luck, if I had been there, we would have died; because I know nothing about the construction of space torpedoes. Bones screws it up and she saves the day. Mis-contextualise (is that a word? It is now.) it if it helps your article, but anyone who’s seen it knows that’s what happened. She goes directly to the correct area (gee, wonder how she knew where that was?) and disarms the detonator in what was probably the most efficient method, since, you know, a guys arm was kinda blocking the access panel. Your argument is intelligently defended, and I enjoyed reading it despite my criticism, but the people have spoken: non-issue. (Also, just because a commenter uses language you’re not comfortable with doesn’t make their argument invalid, and banning those who disagree with your argument just makes you look like an angry child)

    • I The Great

      Lol, please ignore the first five words. The brilliance begins at “I’m” (also, that’s a joke) ((about the brilliance I mean))

    • That guy wasn’t banned for disagreeing with the article (which I didn’t write, BTW), he was banned for being an enormous douchebag.

    • Daniel Gomez

      Hey, i just wanna clear some things up in your analogy. You see, in Magic Mike, they were legitimately at a male strip club. If the movie here were set at a female strip club, the nudity would be in context, there would be no problem (depending on why they were at that strip club). I’m a dude, I watch porn, I don’t complain about the fact that there are naked ladies there. It’s porn. Thats the idea. But putting in a totally needless nude scene in an otherwise serious movie is clearly saying “this movie is for men. Men want to see this so we made it for them.” it took me out of the movie honestly. Saying that the scene was flirtatious, I don’t agree with in that they hadn’t been flirty with each other before and she just had to change and told him to look away. The fact that he undermined what she wanted and looked at her in her panties without her consent and this is totally seen as okay is just another problem with this scene. I actually totally agree with you on the torpedo scene. The idea that the female character can’t act on impulse to save a friend like the author says is actually an idea that bugs me and i totally agree that she stopped that torpedo in a way that for the character (she had never studied it before!)
      As to your final parenthetical, the author of this article isn’t in control of the Facebook page, and he was just mentioning what had happened there.

      • MechaShadowV2

        There’s been plenty of times where a guy is shirtless in media for no reason other then to be fanservice for women, and if she acted on impulse ( basically on an emotion) people would be whining that it made her a stereotypical women controlled by her emotions.

    • FeistyFox

      Missing the point.. The scene was out of context.. Magic Mike ..a stripper movie. Duh

  • Taylor P

    I (a girl) want to genuinely thank you for this article.

  • freethinkingpatriot

    On the face of it I agree with this article. I really do. On the other hand, if the actress doing the scene doesn’t have a problem with it (and from other articles I’ve read this appears to be the case), then who am I to complain. Besides, quite frankly, I was much less offended by the bra scene than I was by the fact that both Carol Marcus and Khan were suddenly British.

  • Ninjzz

    Oh for shit sake, why are men constantly on flak for their sexual attraction to women, why is the media always on flak for cashing in on this attraction. Truth was if any of the men came out in a speedo, NO ONE WOULD GIVE A FUCK. In fact if showing scantily clad males in movies increased sales, there would be more of them. However our genders sexualize each other differently, so why are people only shaming the male version.

    Stop yelling “sexism” and “woman hating”, cuz the last time I checked enjoying Sports illustrated bikini edition did not mean I hate women, it did not mean the magazine producers hate women, and it did not mean we thought any less of women. So why the hell does a bikini shot in Star Trek, offend women… You guys are not gonna be taken seriously until you get off your high horse, and stop shaming men for liking scantily clad beautiful women, because it wont stop, it’s part why our species has been so successful.

    • punktoad

      So how do women sexualize men in movies?

      • Catalyst

        Channing Tatum for one.

      • MechaShadowV2

        Walking shirtless scene is probably the most common one.

        • punktoad

          Like George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

    • Another bitter cynic

      Supporters of slavery had similar arguments.

  • DG

    Johnny is a dick. Who has probably never used his dick. Maybe sucked dick. I reckon there was very little for him to write about the weekend this movie was released so he wrote this page of long and convoluted drivel. Get a life johnny, dick.

  • SkyEventide

    Thank you for this article. Every single disagreeing person missed the point and doesn’t even deserve to speak in the first place.

    • Copyleft

      Why do you hate America?

    • MechaShadowV2

      Or, you know, just have a different opinion on the matter.

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  • Late to the party, but thank you so much for this article.

  • StefawnieBrown

    If you’re going to strip her down, for Clyde’s sake, give the Benedict Cumberbatch shower scene!

  • Natalie

    please shut up about Uhura because your bias and ignorance is showing.
    1) Uhura is more than a love interest. She saved the day in the end when she saved Spock and Kirk, she’s always portrayed as being a competent officer and she showed an enormous amont of courage in that scene where she faced the klingons alone. The fact that you point gingers at her for ‘failing’ only shows your sexism because, actually, if someone was showed being ‘weak’ and failing in that scene where the men (especially Kirk) but you don’t even notice it so preoccupied as you are to in assuming that just because Uhura couldn’t turn the klingons into puppies then she failed (missing the double point of the scene)
    2) being in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re reduced to a love interest only just because you’re a woman. The men in these movies are all about their feelings and relationships even more than Uhura but no one says that they’re reduced as characters.
    3) Uhura is a woman of color so trying to fix her with the ‘strong independent woman who doesn’t need no man’ thing is actually racist because woc aren’t subjected to the same kind of stereotypes that white girls are subjected to. You don’t take this into account, at all. For WOC being portrayed into a loving relationship with one of the leads is much rarer so when it happens it actually sends a good message. This is the one thing that the writers did good because Spock and Uhura was supposed to happen in the original series too but racism didn’t make it so possible at the time. Making Uhura a love interest in the reboot fixed something here. Having her in the background or make her kiss Kirk while both are forced to do it are not enough anymore in 2014.

    • MechaShadowV2

      Thank You, I really couldn’t have said it better, nice to see someone who more or less feels the same way on this subject matter.

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  • Henry

    You can’t blame nerds or geeks for liking this sort of thing, how many times have guys that are fans of Star Trek or Star Wars or anything sci-fi been shit down by women who would rather go for muscled, toned and ab-wielding hunks than sweet, funny and sensitive geeks?
    Too many.
    Let’s be honest, we (as nerds) don’t have much of a shot with gorgeous women like Alice Eve, this scene could merely be seen as an impromptu glimpse of an attractive woman.
    This scene reclaims the right for us geeks to be justified after years of bullying, rudeness and condescension from popular woman be it at school or as adults!
    Oh and FYI if you want real sexism look at films like Bridesmaids or Grown Ups, and see how the women in those movies value men.
    Peace.

    • You’re a special kind of stupid, Henry.

      • Henry

        Nothing like a good old keyboard warrior, please enlighten me as to why you feel it necessary to be condescending and rude to someone you don’t know on the internet. Just because my opinion conflicts with yours you feel it ok to resort to rudeness.
        You are the epitome of the worst people on the internet.

        • I think your fedora’s on too tight, Henry. It may be cutting off the circulation to your head, because you sound an awful lot like a neckbearded, “nice guy” MRA who blames women for having the audacity to not spread their legs for you and the rest of nice guy nation. News flash: you are not a victim and you are not opressed because a woman you like prefers the company of another gentleman.You got treated badly by a woman? Boo-fucking hoo. Ever think it was YOUR fault? Take responsibility for yourself. It’s no excuse for misogyny or for viewing this scene as a sort of revenge fantasy against all those mean “popular” girls, sicko.

    • ColBatGuano

      Ah, the “good guys never get laid” fallacy. It never gets old.

    • Tatiana Andersen

      Don’t you dare use us as a reward for your sorrow. We’re not objects.

  • MechaShadowV2

    I find the fact that this person acts like men have it made to be sexist tbh, as for the scene itself, yes it was stupid and pointless and blatant fanservice, but then again star trek has had that for some time now. And to be fair, we’ve seen kirk in nothing but boxers and there wasn’t an outrage, star trek tos had kirks shirt constantly torn for no purpose other then to attract a female audience, and again, to my knowledge, no outrage, so I really don’t see why then a seen of her in her underwear is misogynist then, stupid and pointless yes, misogynist, no.

    • ColBatGuano

      You know that the “it’s always been this way” excuse just doesn’t justify it, right?

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  • FeistyFox

    I think it’s sad that many miss the point of what the writer has explained.. I don’t think those that disagree have even read anything more than the name Carol Marcus & underwear scene.

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  • discsolo

    I can’t even begin explaining how wrong the writer took what is a terrific little scene for a well-written character with an actual decent, complex role.
    But the readers below generally disapprove of intelligent arguments, So, I’ll be quiet and keep what I clearly see at work in this terrific, superior and unfairly criticized (even hated!) motion picture to myself.