The pickup truck is the totemic symbol of masculine American ecological disregard. The tires are big, the engine is always bigger than needs to be, and most tantalizingly, the bed is open and uncovered, without structure, its contents taking on whatever form that chance and the mission dictates.
Like many other """traditionally""" """masculine"""" iconography, pickup trucks have been co-opted, along with football, cigar-smoking, and profanity, into a bizarre modern archetype of subverted femininity. When a film puts a woman into the driver's seat of an F150, we are being told volumes about her attitudes towards work and life, her socio-economic status, sometimes even her relationship to gender. We are asked to consider why the easy and familiar image of a woman not having four-wheel drive or adequate towing capacity has been rejected.
And no of course we don't ask those questions when we see a man driving a pickup. It's never a "statement" when a man drives a pickup, but a woman, ooh!, there needs to be some ""reason"" the film did this! Let's figure it out!!
Okay, maybe I'm being a bit facetious, because it totally can be a statement to have a man in a pickup; directors and production designers make (we assume) intentional choices all the time about which characters drive which vehicles. But I'm especially interested in the ladies in these cases, because I can't keep away from how this still, here in the 21st century, feels like a cinematically momentous juxtaposition.
This discussion leads to further questions (which I won't even attempt to answer) about whether movies create stereotypes (based on storytelling convenience) which they can then subvert or not subvert, or whether movies' stereotypes are merely reflections of the actual real-world culture, as captured in such poorly sourced "social-science-ish journalism" articles like "Women Say They're Most Attracted To Guys Driving Pickups". The reciprocal nature of the conversation between film and the world very much muddies any attempt by assholes like me to boil it down to simple bloggable narratives about human nature.
But I still think that this image (I won't go so far as to call it a "trope"; more on this in a moment) brings with it a certain characterizing power that it would behoove us to take notice of. Because the "traditionally male symbol" suddenly shown in the hands of a woman changes as the society changes in very interesting ways. There was a time when showing a woman riding a horse carried as much dramatic novelty as showing her driving a Toyota Tacoma. Then it was a woman with a gun. Then a woman in combat fatigues. Etc. Tracking how these alleged "gender juxtapositions" morph over time gives us an oblique lens onto the complex interactions between art and gender in the West.
The fact that I could only think of five decent, "totemic" examples of women driving pickup trucks in film means that this concept has probably not yet achieved the universal recognition that would warrant it being called a "trope". But I cannot get away from the thought that how notable (or simply weird) we find these moments is somehow a microcosm of the zeitgeist's entire conception of the female sex.
So let's step our way through these five films, ranked in order of their Flickchart Global Ranking, and let's see what they have to say about women who need to haul some stuff.
Global ranking: 3425
Wins 36% of its matchups
1105 users have ranked it 12,908 times
0 have it at #1
7 have it in their top 20
Right off the bat, I need to bend one of my rules a bit.
This was the first film I thought of on this topic. The memory of Kyra Sedgwick rumbling out of the lumber yard and up next to Kevin Bacon is such an indelible image in my mind, I knew that it must contain a kernel of something deeper to explore. The vehicle seemed like such a necessary choice for her character, a way to demonstrate visually, early on, that she was not a shrinking violet and did not think of herself that way.
The vehicle allows her exude the toughness and confidence (again, visually, and not hitting us over the head) that Kevin Bacon's character has lost, or perhaps never had, in some chicken-or-egg relationship with his pedophilia and/or his incarceration for it. When she offers him a ride in this big, rumbly, manly machine, with a cocky smile on her face, we see, as Bacon's character does, an image of femininity as dissimilar as possible from what he used to be (and maybe still is?) attracted to.
But I found out from further research (on the fucking invaluableInternet Movie Cars Database) that Kyra Sedgwick is not technically driving a pickup truck, but rather a 1985 Chevy Blazer, which is technically considered an early-stage sport utility vehicle. The Blazer has a factory-attached hard-top cover over an upholstered storage bed, so despite giving the impression of a truck, there are some truck things that it's not designed to do.
However, I am not disqualifying The Woodsman from this list because a) the hard-top cover is technically removable (with a little mechanical effort), and b) the film uses the Blazer as if it were a pickup truck; it is making precisely the mimetic statements that I see repeated in the rest of these films.
Global ranking: 2670
Wins 31% of its matchups
69,383 users have ranked it 433,058 times
227 have it at #1
4838 have it in their top 20
This film features probably the most blatant truck-as-product-placement in this list, and in addition to all of the usual reasons people hate this movie, this film deserves our scorn for this as well.
But in Twister we actually have the two primary pickup trucks functioning as metaphors for their owners. Bill Paxton rolls into town with his new fiance and his brand new, current model year Dodge Ram, shiny red and (at first glance) as citified as the stupid sport coat he insists on wearing for some reason. He is the bright modern future, his dust-bowl past left safely in his eight-cylinder dust until later when he's forced to confront it one last time.
He's there to see Helen Hunt, a rare, tough breed of lady who drives a rare, tough breed of truck: the 1982 Jeep Pickup, painted a dirty yellow, like cloudy prairie corn, or Helen Hunt's hair. It was one of the earliest models to offer what we now call all-wheel drive, and with its enormous 5.9L engine and conservative size, it's actually an ideal vehicle for vigilante meteorology. Way better than the U.S.S. Paxton with its nature-stomping profile and diminutive proportional horsepower.
But, see, he's the man, so clearly his choice of truck must be shown to be superior. We need to make sure that her truck is destroyed as soon as possible so that he can flop his big red man-piece down onto the Oklahoma interstate, thus demonstrating that he is the superior mate, not Cary Elwes. Please, anything but him.
Global ranking: 875
Wins 44% of its matchups
9353 users have ranked it 87,448 times
13 have it at #1
213 have it in their top 20
Dr. Gillian Taylor is a highly educated, erudite, and passionate scientist working in a small, specialized research institute in San Francisco. She dresses well and has amazing hair, but don't think that means she'll be taking any crap from any man, no matter what century he's from.
The fact that she drives a 1975 Chevy C-10 communicates all of this to us. Her rejection of feminine roles could have been communicated with a muscle car. Her full dedication to her work at the expense of all other areas of her life could have been made clear by seeing her in an '82 Rabbit full of garbage. Her practical-mindedness could have been reflected in a Sarah-Connor-esque Jeep-like vehicle.
But a baby-blue eleven-year-old Chevy with rust stains on it, screeching to a halt in response to an impertinent comment from Spock, speaks volumes about this woman and the life she leads. Again, not hitting us over the head with it, but nonetheless meant for us to notice, to consider her choice of vehicle as an extension of her character, and, in this story, as a marker of the socioeconomic phase in which the crew of the Enterprise has found itself.
Global ranking: 611
Wins 48% of its matchups
77,346 users have ranked it 583,421 times
488 have it at #1
9539 have it in their top 20
This entry in our list is, comparatively, rather a weaksauce contender. The character appears so briefly, and her truck so fleetingly, that one wonders how much of an impression can actually be made. But everyone I talked to on this topic consistently mentioned this film, the truck's moments on the screen were so powerful in their portent.
We have here the most "intentional" truck in this list, chosen by its owner no doubt for its aesthetic appeal and, whether conscious or not, contribution to her personal brand. The woman in question is characterized only obliquely in the film and barely given a name, but her presence is palpable throughout it, her painted talisman embodying hope and life beyond what she could ever have intended or imagined.
And so when we see her and her truck, we feel, even before she is revealed, a peculiar, uniquely cinematic kind of magic emanating from her, her arrival in a rust-colored 1953 Ford seeming to magnify her rustic, artistic beauty. The moment is explosively significant for Tom Hanks's character, with whom we have grown so close and gone through so much, and so it holds in the audience member's mind a place much larger than it holds on celluloid.
I believe that with any other type of vehicle, that place in our minds is either distorted or diminished. She needs to be a pickup truck lady; there is no getting around that.
Global ranking: 159
Wins 63% of its matchups
80,432 users have ranked it 784,803 times
893 have it at #1
14,327 have it in their top 20
At the top of our list we have a pickup truck which undergoes an identity transformation before our eyes. It is the only truck in our list with an explicit name, and this becomes an important lever on which its dramatic power ultimately depends.
When owned by Buck, the Pussy Wagon is implied to be a wagon by which one obtains pussy. Its dramatic purpose in such a man's hands, is to articulate a certain distasteful brand of male-dominated sexuality, a neon-lit, Southern-Comforted, stubble-faced, gold-rimmed-sunglassed abortion of inelegance, which augments and exponentiates what we already know about Buck being a rapist and rape-enabler in medical scrubs, until we are sick and angry at the thought of him and his stupid fucking truck.
When The Bride takes ownership of the Pussy Wagon, literally over Buck's dead body, she redefines both the truck and its name, and it in turn redefines her. The Pussy Wagon becomes a wagon that is made of pussy and that embodies it. Its essence is transformed from desperate, tacky beacon to brash declaration of existence. Instead of bragging emptily, it announces profanely, daring you to find fault, laughing pinkly at you clutching your pearls.
This new Pussy Wagon, throughout the course of the film, remakes The Bride in its own remade image, a noisy yellow machine once owned by an asshole, now loose upon the world. In many ways, this is the apotheosis of truck-female interactivity, two powerful dramatic entities that bounce off of each other, augmenting both the character and the story she is telling.
Got a favorite example of this not-a-trope trope? Let us know!