Every now and then a film comes along and it makes you angry. Really, really angry. Not because of anything the film did as such, but because like a man in the desert getting a glass of water you finally get something you desperately needed – even if you had no idea you’d been missing up until that point. Upgrade is that film for the fridging wives trope.
I’ve previously been expressed my displeasure at this trope, looking at you Deadpool 2, but since seeing Upgrade I’ve come to realise that it can actually be done well if you decide to put any kind of effort in. Interestingly enough there isn’t anything that stands out in the film as being wholly unique, but when put together director Leigh Whannell has managed to create something that is satisfying on so many different levels.
The premise of the film is simple – the guys wife dies, he becomes a quadriplegic, he gets a chip put in him, he gets revenge. Walking into the cinema I already knew from the trailer that the wife being killed was going to be the main character’s motivation, and was prepared to be annoyed by it. And while it is still annoying, and some of the scenes felt a little forced emotionally at the beginning, the screen time they give Asha (the wife) does more story building than most directors care to do for their female characters in 90 minutes.
Asha is shown as a human being outside of her relationship with Grey (main character / husband) with different interests, shown as being the breadwinner in their relationship, and being passionate not only about her job but about technology which plays a huge role in the film. Yes it’s true that she does die, and it can’t be argued it wasn’t to further Grey’s man pain, but her death scene is handled brutally and like the punch it’s meant to deliver to the audience. In another film it would be inexcusable to kill her, in this film its an unfortunate evil of the premise.
Through building the relationship between Asha and Grey you can easily see how he could survive anything if she was still around, even his injury. In order for us to get our sweet, sweet, revenge plotline (and oh how juicy it is) she can’t be there to support him. The film handles it gracefully, and well, and for once my seething rage at this otherwise uncreative and lazy writing trope was calmed. They didn’t kill Asha because she was inconvenient in a plot that otherwise worked, they killed her because her death was the plot. Showing her as a complete human before doing so is just better and more satisfying writing.
So with that said the argument can be made that fridging in and of itself isn’t a terrible thing, the problem comes when it is merely the result of a hack who doesn’t want to take the time to flesh out a character with a vagina. If anything comes of this film, and I hope so many directors and writers do learn from all of it as it’s just so good, I hope that it’s how to treat a motivating character death with the gravitas and care it deserves.