Unbalanced Representations of Gender in William Friedkin's Killer Joe

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Critical observations of unbalanced representations of gender In William Friedkin’s “Totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story” Killer Joe

Freeman 1
British film theorist Laura Mulvey has spent her career using psychoanalysis to uncover pre-set molds and social expectations about gender and sexuality, to interpret classic Hollywood films. Mulvey has argued that there are three ways in which gender is represented within Hollywood cinema. First, she argues that women lack control and meaning, thus fueling their desire for the penis and power of a man. She also states that women exist as a silent opposition to the dominant man (a child-bearing subject merely in relation to). Last, this essay will argue that women are meant to carry no significance of their own but acting as merely a threatening obstacle for the male to “overcome” or re-work (Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975). Laura Mulvey and her views on female representations and gender roles within Hollywood films still prevail with fundamental relevance in modern Hollywood cinema. This essay will underline the truths of Mulvey’s observations by using William Friedkin’s violently obscene farce Killer Joe (2011) to argue that Mulvey’s article, no matter how outdated, can still be used to address prominent and modern examples of unbalanced sexual representations within Hollywood cinema. On the surface it may seem very obvious that the men have the power in this film due to how the women are represented and treated. But, as Killer Joe unfolds the question is whether it is the women with the power, or just an obvious desire for power fueled by their lack of meaning, control, and a phallus, as Mulvey has mentioned in previous years. The first man we see in the film is young and weak, wet, vulnerable, locked out of the trailer and getting violent. He is verbally demeaning towards his younger sister Dottie as if it were her fault that he is locked out, and her purpose to wake up and let him in. Dottie Smith is the first female we see, and becomes a central subject for the ruthless male – she Freeman 2

lacks authority, lacks independence, and her fetal position is an obvious symbol for needing nurturing from a stronger being. Dottie is made to appear lonesome, without companionship or passion. As she lies there, Friedkin intends to focus on Dottie’s innocent aspects, such as her belongings: dollhouses, stuffed animals, pink curtains, teen-pop heartthrobs taped to the walls, although the young woman in the bed appears to be too old for such childish decor. The second woman we see is placed directly in front of the camera by her unruly crotch. Her face appears after we become acquainted with her lower half, with makeup smeared down her cheekbones and her nipples exposed from under a thin sweat-stained shirt. The first two women in this film are polar opposites (one a fragile blonde virgin who sleeps with stuffed animals, and Sharla, an older brunette women a little too comfortable with her sexuality). This difference expresses to us that this story will focus hugely upon the different aspects of woman as a representation, and highlight that Laura Mulvey’s views on women are still incredibly relevant throughout Friedkin’s film. Mulvey also mentions that the act of looking is a source of pleasure for the male scotophil. The explicit placement of the camera exhibits these women and their features to the audience as sexual spectacles while it solicits our attention, shapes our opinions about women to make “erotic lookers” out of us, and creates an unevenly distributed “power to look” (Mulvey, 1975). The young male, Chris Smith, is hardly phased by his step mothers exposed vagina in his face because it is insinuated that he has either seen it before, seen many others like it before, or that she is so disgusting to him that her crotch means nothing to him sexually or even in regards as a human being. Chris is allowed to expose himself while...
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