“the Presence of Woman Is an Indispensable Element of Spectacle in Normal Narrative Film, Yet Her Visual Presence Tends to Work Against the Development of a Story-Line, to Freeze the Flow of Action in Moment of Erotic

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  • Topic: Gaze, Laura Mulvey, Jacques Lacan
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  • Published : May 30, 2012
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“The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story-line, to freeze the flow of action in moment of erotic contemplation” (Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”). Discuss the significance of this observation in relation to one or more narrative films. Laura Mulvey’s essay appeared for the first time in “Screen” in 1975 and immediately created quite heated debate that continues also today. It explores the objectification of women in classical Hollywood cinema or indeed any cinema conforming to that style of narrative. Laura Mulvey based her essay on psychoanalysis, using work of Austrian neurologist and psychotherapist Sigmund Freud and his follower Jacques Lacan as a tool in constructing her ideas on representation of women in films. The points she specifically focused on where scopophilia, otherwise known as pleasure in looking and Lacan’s mirror phase, essential part of developing ego. According to his theory, the infant confronted with its own mirror reflection, recognises itself but also perceive the image as more sophisticated and developed than it is in reality, overestimating its own physical abilities. Laura Mulvey compares that first experience with a mirror, to the way the audience in the movie theatre perceive an image on the screen as their own perfect reflection. In other words, recognition of a human form on the screen tricks the brain into identifying with a protagonist which is our ego ideal. Above all, she assumes the position of a heterosexual male viewer caught in a society driven by outdated (wrong?) model based on patriarchal order where the female form is a “male other”, a castrated outcast who can only ever be “...bearer, not maker, of meaning.” It is worth adding that patriarchal order is assumed by the society unconsciously. Position of a woman in film is therefore reduced to the role of a performer existing only to fulfil the voyeuristic need of a male viewer. Laura Mulvey goes as far as insinuating, that woman’s presence is merely a spectacle and has very little to do with a plot. What’s more, her presence is distracting to the story. She is on display, subjected to the male gaze not only from the audience but also from the character in the story simultanesly.1 To explore the significance of this theory we will look at two Hollywood films. First one, Out of Sight is a story of forbidden romance between bank robber Jack Foley played by George Clooney and Police Marshall Karen Sisco played by Jennifer Lopez. Despite the fact the film was made in late nineties it perfectly illustrates some of the points made in the essay. Another film we will look at is Bourne Identity which being even more recent will hopefully provide some interesting counterpoint argument to the one presented by Laura Mulvey. In the opening scene of Out of Sight Jack Foley robs the bank using his charm rather than violence on a female bank clerk. In the end, she even wishes him a good day. We can see how in control he is and identify with his character even though he plays a criminal. It illustrates a scopophilia in a narcissistic aspect where movie plays on recognition in providing a perfect human form. However, the really interesting part is that George Clooney does what normally female actress is supposed to do in films. He freezes the flow of action in a moment of erotic contemplation, and is by the end of the scene subjected to a very brief female gaze from a bank clerk whose femininity on the other hand, is not exploited or accentuated. It contradicts Mulvey’s argument where she states that “... the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification.” That short scene perfectly illustrates the male figure can handle being objectified although only consciously, as a mean to an end and on his own terms. The first scene we see Karen, is when she interrupts Jack’s prison brake and is being...
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