In the upcoming July release of the new movie, Catwoman, Halle Berry plays the title Jekyll-and-Hyde role, whose character is split between a shy, retiring graphic designer and an untamed, feline superhero. Naturally, the superhero is sexy and sleek, while the mild-mannered designer ("Patience" is her name) is a submissive loner who comes alive only after sundown: she's a study in black leather and curly claws with deep, red lips to match her rich, croony baritone. As a superhero she is agile; as a designer, aloof. The superhero is keen and cunning, while the designer is timid and apologetic "mal dans sa peau," ("sick in her [own] skin") according to the French version of the Warner Brothers website.
And so it is that God (or at least Warner Brothers) gives with one hand and takes with the other: think of Clark Kent on antidepressants, with smaller shoulders and better cleavage. The superhero, let it be said, is not the designer, any more than The Man of Steel was a newspaper reporter. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound of course, Clark Kent was a newspaper reporter, he just never rescued anyone until he stepped into that phone booth, transforming his boxy, bespectacled persona into the world's mightiest superhero.
It looks like Hollywood has yet again dramatized a profession that in truth, is better characterized by toiling into the wee hours. (I, for one, have never known a journalist who ended his reporting day at 5pm any more than I know any graphic designers who are nine-to-fivers.) Does "graphic designer" as a character type suggest a kind of banal anonymity, a chameleonlike identity? Or is it just an amorphous character type: in other words, just as "graphic designer" may be the antidote to superhero, is it also the opposite of villain?
Not that any of this is likely to have an impact at the box office, mind you. In the meantime, we should welcome the opportunity for our profession to be represented on the big screen. Or should we? Personally, I can imagine better personifications, on the screen and elsewhere: maybe we'll see this when William Gibson's Pattern Recognition comes to the screen. In this novel, Gibson's enigmatic heroine, Cayce Pollard, inhabits a world of action and intrigue, where dare I say it her nomadic forays in modern consumer culture meet with unprecedented bouts of hacking, sabotage and terror. As far I can tell from reading the book, our heroine has a rather exciting time of it, all without leaping from tall buildings in a single bound. Even more than this, as a so-called "cool hunter" she's keen and cunning in a manner perhaps more intellectually suited to, say, reality.
But then again: when did we ever go to the movies for a dose of reality?
For those on the edge of their seats, we'll know in a year or so, when Pattern Recognition comes to the big screen. Peter Weir will direct. And who knows: maybe Halle Berry will star? Warner Brothers is releasing this film also, leading the dreamer in me to wonder if design has more of a future in Hollywood than any of us ever dared consider. Meanwhile, my inner pragmatist (or maybe it's my inner Rodney Dangerfield) says that the problem with our profession isn't that design isn't taken seriously, it's that we're not getting a cut at the box office. So long as designers continue to inspire big-screen characterizations, there may be quite a brilliant future for us after all.