Desiring Medea in Two Versions of Jason and the Argonauts

Margaret M. Toscano

University of Utah

This paper examines the uncertainty of desire in two films about Medea's relationship with Jason: Columbia's 1963 Jason and the Argonauts and Hallmark Entertainment's 2000 made-for-TV movie of the same title.  Using contemporary theories of gender as relational, I propose that the central difficulty in these cinematic images of the young Medea is the problematic relationship between the desiring subject and desirable object.  Which position does Medea occupy; or Jason, for that matter?  In each movie, it seems at first that Medea will assume her mythic role as a strong female protagonist who takes control to help Jason against her father.  But in both cases she quickly fades into the background, while Jason comes forth to assert his leadership in capturing the fleece and returning home.  Both films also begin by showing a sexually passionate Medea whose clear intent is to get the Greek hero.  However, her self-assertion is short-lived.  And when she turns passive, Jason does not step in clearly to assume the position of desiring subject.

The depiction of desire in these films is complicated by two other factors: the ambiguous eye of the camera and the controlling eyes of Zeus and Hera.  In both films the point of view of the camera is perplexing in its portrayal of Jason and Medea as sexual objects.  We are never quite sure who is looking--except, of course, Zeus and Hera, who parallel Jason and Medea as warring factions in a heavenly battle of the sexes, played out in both films over who will control the fates of the two mortals.  The uncertainty of desire in these films is not one that leads to gender fluidity and ambivalent borders.  Rather, it is a conservative hesitancy that downplays the kind of ardor that can break down prescribed boundaries.  It is the failure of desire in each version of Jason and the Argonauts that reduces the Medea character to a conventional pretty girl who is only there to support her man.


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