366mc: Research: Laura Mulvey: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema; the representation of women in horror.
From reading Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ I have become more aware of typical representations of women in film. Mulvey discusses how in film women are passive characters that are to be seen not heard. This representation is hugely damaging because women are seen as objects rather than human beings with valid opinions. In the films I have analysed it has become apparent that antagonists in films begin as very passive, shy and awkward – this is evident in ‘Carrie'(1976), ‘The Loved Ones'(2009), ‘Ju-On – The Grudge'(2002), and ‘Cinderella'(2006).
In ‘Carrie’ (1976) Carrie White is introverted, walks with her head down and does not interact with those around her, this sets her apart from her peers making her an outcast. Kris (the school bully) is sexually confident, aggressive and very self aware – she is painted as the villain in the film up until the infamous prom scene. Kris is very assertive and manipulative, but as in many horror films her promiscuity is punished, as her death is the most graphic and violent. In Western horror films the promiscuous and confident women often die and extremely gruesome death (‘Scream’, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II’, ‘The Final Destination’ to name a few). Carrie is very submissive and shy through the whole film up until she defies her mother and goes to her school prom, she breaks the rules and suffers the consequences. She becomes a villain when she is pushed to her limits, like in many horror films – the outcast is pushed to their limits and becomes a killer.
Ju-On: The Grudge
In Ju-On: The Grudge, the plot focuses on a curse caused by the death of Kayako Saeki, a woman who was murdered by her husband. After her death Kayako becomes an Onryo (a vengeful spirit) who leaves behind a curse in the house she was murdered in, anyone who enters the house is then pursued by and eventually killed by Kayako. The film show a scene where Kayako is being beaten to death by her husband, the viewers are able to witness the attack through Kayoko’s eyes. It is quite strange to believe that this kind of scene is watched for entertainment. The purpose of the scene being shot through a point-of-view angle is so a viewer can understand Kayako’s pain and the traumatic experience she went through, however the shot makes a viewer feel powerless. As observers we are put in the characters position, which I believe communicates the idea of Kayako being helpless and vulnerable as a woman, she only gains strength once she is dead.
The Loved Ones
In ‘The Loved Ones’ Lola Stone is introduced as a passive female, she is shy and adoring of Brent, the object of her infatuation. However once Brent rejects Lola she is seemingly unable to cope and takes matters into her own hands. Lola is not a passive female, through a large part in the film she is control and she speaks most of the films dialogue. Lola’s representation in the film goes against Mulvey’s theory that women in film are observed but they do not act. Lola is able to manipulate a situation through being assertive and intimidating her father. Although Lola’s representation goes against the idea of women in film being submissive, the other female characters do not reflect this. Brent’s mother is quiet and struggles to communicate with him after the death of her husband. Even when her son is missing she does very little to help, she is seen sitting at home crying and even when Brent returns she does not speak. Brent’s girlfriend Holly and Mia (a character in the film’s subplot) support what Mulvey discusses about women playing passive roles with the purpose of providing pleasure to the viewer (commonly male). Both characters fit in with modern beauty ideals and the way that they are framed is completely different to Lola. When Mia is introduced we see her through the admiring eyes of two male students, the camera focuses on her body and her lips. Mia is introduced with dramatic music, drawing a viewer’s attention to her, when Lola is introduced there is complete silence and she is shown from a distance and when she speaks we only see the back of her head, giving the impression that she, unlike Mia, goes by unnoticed because she does not fit into societies beauty ideals. The film’s narrative is interesting because Lola objectifies Brent, she sees him as nothing other than an item, which she can control. However the scenes featuring Mia and Holly seem to be catered to a male audience, they are there to be admired but they do not really have an active role in the storyline.
In the Korean film Cinderella (2006) the cast is predominantly female, the plot focuses on the lives of protagonist Hyon-su and her friends. All of the women in the film, although it appears clear that their purpose is not for the male gaze, are stereotypically female. Hyon-su and her friends are extremely self-obsessed, all of them are constantly criticising each other’s appearance and to them plastic surgery at a young age is a norm. The girls are stalked by a ghost who, causes them to mutilate their faces. Although the ghost is anonymous it is later revealed that she is Hyon-su’s adopted sister. The ghost wants her face back because she was illegally adopted by Hyon-su’s mother whose only intension was to surgically remove the orphan girls face and give it to her then disfigured daughter. The women in this film are portrayed as narcissistic and selfish, however the film does deliver the message that one should be grateful for what they have. Getting plastic surgery at a young age is very common in Korea so the films message is very important. The women in the film are competing with one another, it is not suggested that they are getting surgery to please men. Unlike ‘The Loved Ones’ and ‘Carrie’ there is no clear distinction between the female characters, they are all framed from similar angles and viewers are not made to focus on their physical appearance. Although the characters act as stereotypical image obsessed women, the film relates little to Mulvey’s theory as most of the female characters play very active and crucial roles.
Mulvey, L. (2009) Visual And Other Pleasures. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire [England]: Palgrave Macmillan