Why Mystique from X-Men is my Idol

In Beastly & Beautiful, Film & TV, Film/TV-Superhero by Louisa Leontiades

I’m one of those people who drives an imaginary car whilst sitting in the passenger seat. It’s fairly stressful since, as you might imagine, the car doesn’t actually brake when I press my foot on the felt. Luckily, my vicarious driving also means a total virtual reality experience which makes for a great action at the cinema; so much so, that my boyfriend prefers to isolate me from other movie goers in case I randomly punch one of them with my involuntary karate chops during fight scenes.

And so for the confusingly titled X-Men ~ Days of Future Past, and my first ever 3D movie, he placed me on his left (away from his friends) and next to an empty seat. A move which saved the necks of several.

Many superhero movies are propelled by the plot which follows a boringly similar storyline. The protagonist and/or antagonist traversing through time to fight against the single defining event which threatens the existence of humanity (which ones…er. Timecop. Terminator. And… Back to the future although, it wasn’t strictly speaking to save humanity and he wasn’t strictly speaking a superhero). No surprises here then; in order to save the world, time must be changed.

But surprisingly for an action movie, this one is carried by its characters, or rather one character in particular. It’s not the hero Wolverine. He is ~ as usual ~ immutable, good, grumpy and single faceted. Even his consciousness is sent back into an ageless and thus identical-50 years younger version of himself (oh Hugh, thank goodness you kept your sideburns in preparation for just such an event). It’s not the younger Magneto, even though Michael Fassbender (a worthy follower of Ian McKellan) yet again reprises a role of such pure archetypal motivations, that even his single-minded cruelty, must evoke empathy in the most pious of new testament evangelists.

No, I’m happy to say that this movie pivots on the moral consciousness of the antagonist Mystique. Why happy? Because Mystique is fast on her way to becoming a queer feminist icon. That’s right… Mystique is ma kinda woman.

If in First class she grows to realize that she is beautiful in her natural form, it is in Days of Future Past that she forges her identity still scarred by the initial rejection of the conformist Xavier. She’s set up to be a perfect a symbol of rebellion for both oppressed and airbrushed womanhood.

Professor Charles Xavier: [tries not to look at her directly] Yaah! God’s sake Raven. Where are your clothes? Pu… put… put some clothes on.
Raven Darkholme: That’s not what you said when you first saw me. But I guess pets are always cuter when they are little, right?
Professor Charles Xavier: Raven, I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately. I swear you’ve been in a good mood. Hank, he tells me that he has found the answer to your cosmetic… problem.

She mutates her form fluidly through gender and race; and even though she has traditionally played a villain ~ or as she would term it ~ a freedom fighter (activist?), she now shows a newly awakened compassion for humanity by stepping in to prevent the apocalyptic future she once instigated with her thirst for vengeance in the alternate reality.  Moreover hunted by Magneto, a man she loves and who once instilled in her the pride to be herself, she finds herself able to show him (and others who have persecuted her) great mercy where it would be so easy to play the victim.

Of course on the surface the movie hinges on the power play and interaction of the 5 central characters – Magneto, Xavier, Wolverine, Beast and Mystique. But for me ultimately it’s about a gender fluid and beautiful individual pursuing her right, and her kind’s right for freedom and acceptance through her own personal growth through anger, forgiveness and compassion. And it is her victory from Xavier’s control which finally allows her to step into her own power. As herself… she has the power to save the world.

We know the struggles she faces to be herself because we face similar struggles every day. We  know how difficult it is to step outside the desire to retaliate and move out of the persecutor role. And we know the risk of rejection we all face in order to become the amazing and unique people we are born to be.