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Why does every ‘dead wife’ character look the same in Hollywood movies?

From 'John Wick' to 'Memento,' dead wives all receive the same bland costume design.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 4, 2021

We’ve all seen movies where a woman’s death motivates the hero’s story. From John Wick to Inception, dead wives are a staple theme for Hollywood action thrillers. And while plenty of those movies are genuinely great, the dead wife trope has earned some understandable backlash for sidelining female characters.

Often referred to as “women in refrigerators” (inspired by a Green Lantern comic where the hero finds his girlfriend’s corpse in a refrigerator), this trope reduces women to bland receptacles for male grief. That includes their costume choices. In this week’s episode of Behind the Seams, we examine the visual similarity between dead wife characters. Dressed in pastel shades and soft fabrics, they represent a generic brand of domestic life.

There’s an obvious contrast between the bland femininity of dead wife characters, and the more distinctive style of surviving female leads. Hawkeye’s wife in the Avengers franchise is a great example, introduced in a very different way to Pepper Potts or Agent Peggy Carter. So while you may not have noticed a dead wife’s costume choices before now, it’s definitely a recurring theme in Hollywood—and a clear example of lazy visual storytelling.

Each week on Behind the Seams, we dig into the costume design of a different movie or cinematic trope. Recent topics included a deep dive into the history of the Batsuit (with some surprising twists and turns!), and an exploration of the brilliant visual worldbuilding in Alien. Click here to subscribe!

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*First Published: Jan 4, 2021, 10:06 am CST