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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #11

Below are my notes for the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Violent Women in Contemporary Cinema by Janice Loreck.

INTRODUCTION

  • Although a man’s violence might be represented as heroic or villainous, rarely is his capacity for physical aggression depicted as problematic in and of itself. When a woman commits an act of violence, her behaviour – indeed, her very existence – causes profound unease and questioning. 
  • The past century has seen a range of violent women appear on cinema screens, such as the femmes fatales of 1930s and 1940s film noir, the female freaks and monsters of 1950s horror films, the vigilante heroines of 1970s blaxploitation, and the beautiful warriors of late 1990s and early 2000s action cinema. Popular cinema of the past decade has showcased dozens of such character types. Athletic protagonists feature in Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014) and Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011); violent girls appear in Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010) and Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder, 2011); female avengers populate Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003; 2004) and The Brave One (Neil Jordan, 2007); and psychotic murderesses star in Excision (Richard Bates, Jr, 2012) and Nurse 3D (Doug Aarniokoski, 2013). 
  • These texts indicate that the violent woman’s transgressive subjectivity is under negotiation within multiple milieus of film culture. 
  • they also initiate a discussion about female violence, an act that signals their consequence in the broader culture’s exploration of gendered identities. 
  • In History of Animals, Aristotle describes females as ‘more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears . . . more shrinking, more difficult to rouse to action’. Although the origins of this concept are millennia old, the idea of female non-aggression continues to manifest in all manner of contemporary discourses (even those that are seen as ideologically opposed to one another). As Laura Sjoberg and Caron E. Gentry write, ‘A conservative interpretation [of gender] sees women as peaceful and apolitical, a liberal view understands women as a pacifying influence on politics, and feminists who study global politics often critique the masculine violence of interstate relations’     
  • At the same time, however, madwomen, female monsters and killers are ubiquitous in global narrative traditions in ways that suggest that women have an innate capacity for vindictive cruelty; that they are, so to speak, ‘more deadly than the male’. 
  • ‘Women’s violence falls outside of . . . ideal-typical understanding of what it means to be a woman’ because ‘women are not supposed to be violent’ (2007: 2) (original emphasis). Moreover, as observed by Hilary Neroni, the violent woman is a disruptive figure who overturns ‘the ideological structures (most especially those involving gender) that regulate our experiences’ (2005: x). Whether they are depicted as heroines, villainesses or morally ambiguous characters, women who harm other people are challenging, ‘difficult’ subjects who undermine some of the most entrenched gender norms of Western culture. 

Violent Women in Cinema

  • observe that ‘a rich and diverse literature’ surrounds women who commit acts of violence onscreen 
  • ‘film-as-cultural-symptom’ hypothesis – sees the violent woman as a product of changing cultural attitudes about gender. Researchers such as Frank Krutnik have linked the femmes fatales of the original film noir cycle to the upheavals in the workforce and family during the 1940s post-war period (1991: 63); Stephane Dunn and Yvonne D. Sims associate blaxploitation vigilantes with second- wave feminism and the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s (Dunn 2008: 126; Sims 2006: 26); Lisa Coulthard and Rebecca Stringer connect popular action heroines to the post-feminist and neoliberalist eras of the 1990s (Coulthard 2007: 154–5; Stringer 2011: 269). Such research conceptualises the violent woman as a textual manifestation of an anxiety, trauma or ambivalence about gender that is characteristic of a particular historical moment. 
  • The other most common critical means of assessing the violent woman in popular cinema has been to investigate her as a trope of a specific genre, such as horror, film noir, action, slasher film, rape- revenge or exploitation.  
  • more recent work by Sherrie A. Inness (2004) and Marc O’Day (2004) on the action cin- emas of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, Jacinda Read (2000) and Barbara Creed (1993) on the rape-revenge cycle, and Dunn (2008) and Sims (2006) on 1970s blaxploitation. In most cases, these studies’ primary goal is to give an account of how the violent woman integrates with the tropes, pleasures or functioning of a chosen genre. For instance, the work of O’Day, Inness and Dunn singles out narra- tive agency and display of corporeal utility as key traits of the violent woman in action and blaxploitation; such traits are essential to ensur- ing the forward momentum of these genres’ plots. Similarly, according to Creed’s analysis of horror cinema, the female monster complements the genre’s raison d’être: that is, she horrifies audiences with her abjec- tion (1993: 7). Another example is Mary Ann Doane’s analysis of the femme fatale, in which she states that the fatal woman’s deviousness integrates with the investigative, ‘hermeneutic drive’ of the hard-boiled noir film 
  • These scholars conceptualise women’s violence as indicative of a mode of existence that arises from living as a woman in a phallocentric, patriarchal society. Violence has a metaphoric function, gesturing towards the specificity of women’s experience in a culture that elides female subjectivity. 

Women’s violence and filmic taste-categories

  • A survey of the violent woman in cinema shows that she appears prolifically in ‘low’ cultural forms such as exploitation cinema 
  • all of the films considered in this book present the violent woman as a complicated individual, making her available for scrutiny and contemplation. 

The violent woman as an enigma

  • observe that female murderers are ‘othered’ as a means of dealing with the challenge they make to gender norms. 
  • contemporary cultural discourses ‘have fully othered the vio- lent woman’ by constructing them as biological or psychological oddi- ties: such women ‘are not women at all, but singular mistakes and freak accidents’ (2007: 13). In her examination of legal discourses, Morrissey argues that prosecutors do not allow for the possibility of female violence, instead characterising women who kill as victims of circumstance rather than possessing a capacity for aggression. For Morrissey, this reveals ‘the exclusionary operation of discursive identity formation’ which cannot conceive of women as anything other than passive victims of violence (2003: 3). In such conceptions, the notions of the ‘subject’ and the ‘Other’ that these scholars use refer to personhood as an effect of structure; that is to say, the subject (and by implication the violent woman) is not an essential being but is produced by the systems and actions of language known as discourse. Such systems and actions, for Sjoberg, Gentry and Morrissey, disallow female violence, framing it as an unnatural phenomenon. 
  • Such reports represent the violent woman as an inscrutable or shape-shifting figure who is defined by mystery and elusiveness. 
  • the paradigmatic expression of this in film culture is the figure of the duplicitous femme fatale, a female character who is unpredictable and ‘never what she appears to be’ 
  • Julie Grossman notes that the conceptualisation of the femme fatale as unknowable overlooks the oft-complex representations of women in the genre: ‘the opaque powerful woman persists in objectifying female experience,’ she writes, because ‘the “femme fatale” is a symbol of fears about absolute female power, not a representation of complex female experience . . . which is often present in connection with film noir’s women’ (2009: 5). In addition, violent men are also occasionally presented as enigmatic or Other. 
  • That said, the association between femininity and mystery is culturally pervasive to the point where it becomes a dominant framework or reference point for women’s violence. Indeed, while Grossman criticises the insistent figuring of the femme fatale as an enigma, the fact that this has been a historically prevalent way of thinking about women in film noir indicates that the enigma has a powerful cultural existence as a concept. 
  • A key issue at stake in films that depict the homicidal woman is therefore how they respond to her construction as ‘an epistemological trauma’ or mystery. The characterisation of the violent woman as a problem in need of resolution meshes with the expectation that art and ‘quality’ cinema will explore the intricacies of human personhood for the spectator’s pleasure. 
  • This book therefore examines how each film attempts to make women’s violent personhood intelligible or, at the very least, interrogate how her mystery has been formed. 

Violent women in contemporary cinema

  • As Neroni writes, present-day culture is marked by an inabil- ity ‘to comprehend the complexities of femininity as an identity that includes violence’ (2005: 161). I argue that the films examined in this book not only encourage the spectator to consciously engage with such complexities; they also present this engagement as a central viewing pleasure for the spectator. 

CHAPTER 1: Horror, Hysteria and Female Malaise: Antichrist

  • The depiction of a violent, psychologically disturbed woman in Antichrist recalls the diagnosis of hysteria, a pre- dominantly feminine disease of both the mind and body 
  • The term originates from the Greek ‘hystera’ meaning ‘uterus’, and one of the earliest accounts of a hysteria-like illness is found in Plato’s Timaeus, in which he describes the disorder as the consequence of a distressed, ‘unfruitful’ uterus that moves around the body, obstructing respiration (2014: 132). Antichrist similarly links the female protago- nist’s aggression to her reproductive capacity insofar as her symptoms arise after the death of her only child. 
  • violent woman’s cultural construction as an enigma. Filmic narratives frequently betray a specifically epistemological anxiety about the violent woman’s subjectivity, positioning her as a ‘problem’ that must be solved: by foregrounding the Woman’s debilitating grief and anxiety, Antichrist certainly constructs a scenario that positions her as a mysterious entity

A mutual misunderstanding

  • As she arches her body, her chest rises and falls rapidly, mimicking the ‘hysterical seizure’ or ‘grande hystérie’, a full-body episode that supposedly resembles both childbirth and orgasm 
  • Antichrist in fact engages in a critique of the subjectify- ing medical power that the Man wields over the Woman. Although the film rearticulates a ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ cultural narrative of female violence – a formulation that imagines women’s aggression as a product of either her intrinsic evil or insanity (Morrissey 2003: 33) – it is also highly concerned with problematising masculine authority.  
  • Confused and enraged, the Man strangles the Woman to death, thereby perma- nently eliminating the threat she poses to his life and his authority as an analyst. 
  • Antichrist uses the figure of the feminine hysteric to foreground the oppressiveness, and limits, of masculine knowledge (rather than, for example, femininity’s horror). 
  • In ending so violently and with few conclusions about the ‘true’ cause of the woman’s illness, Antichrist could be accused of ulti- mately representing the violent, hysterical woman as an unsolvable enigma – an unresolved conundrum with which to undermine mas- culine authority. 
  • stripped of their individuality, these women seem to symbolise a supernatural or possibly even malevolent force of femininity, just as the Woman claimed. However, the image of the Man standing mystified as the women swarm around him foregrounds his ignorance. Male mis- understanding, rather than the horror of femininity, is the point that concludes Antichrist. 

Horror, drama, and generic provocation

  • Antichrist also undertakes several formal manoeuvres that position violent femininity as an expressive tool for critiquing male power. 
  • this boils down to the film’s evasive uncertainty about whether to represent [the female protagonist] as a case of psychological trauma or an incarnation of mythic evil. 
  • After Nic falls to his death, the Woman’s deep depres- sion becomes a plot event that requires resolution; it is the puzzle that organises the narrative. The spectacle and narrative fact of her grief encourage spectators to scrutinise her symptoms for clues regarding the nature of her malaise and to participate in her diagnosis, casting the Woman in the role of hysteric and the onlooker as analyst. A series of intense physical spectacles in the early parts of Antichrist reinforce this positioning: the Woman suffers panic attacks, hyperventilates, and, in one scene, beats her head against the edge of a porcelain toilet bowl. The Woman – her emotions and her subjectivity – becomes the enigma that initiates the narrative and positions the viewers in a state of non- knowledge about the woman onscreen. Moreover, the dialogue in these scenes invokes the discourse of psychology as a basis for understanding her behaviour. The Man insists that the Woman’s grief is ‘not a disease’ but ‘a natural, healthy reaction’ and encourages her to explore her emotions. The Man is clearly overconfident in his approach; he super- ciliously brandishes his wife’s medication and insists that she return home from hospital. 
  • Rather than maintaining a characterisation of the Woman’s violence as having its aetiology solely in psychological distress, the plot events of Antichrist pose a second possibility: that her behaviour is attributable to her inherent and supernatural feminine evil. The mysterious events that occur midway through Antichrist enact a generic shift away from psychological realism towards a regime of verisimilitude more appropriate to horror cinema. 
  • In its transformation from a meditation on the effects of grief on a woman’s mental state to a fatal spousal conflict with supernatural overtones, Antichrist can be understood as a psychodramatic art film that becomes a horror film 
  • This shift sees the film dispense with a clear psychological rationale for the Woman’s hysteria and instead insinuate that her behaviour is attribut- able to intrinsic evil. The tacit suggestion that supernatural entities are implicated in her actions is consistent with the popular horror genre’s regimes of verisimilitude: witches, demons and evil entities surface repeatedly in horror films 
  • In its depiction of a disordered doctor-patient relationship, the film instead entertains an extremely provocative (and, for many, ideologically unacceptable) explanation for the Woman’s violence: namely, that it stems from her inherent feminine evil. This deliberate generic frustration amounts to a formal subversion of the spectator’s gaze; the film invites, and then denies, the spectator’s drive to reveal, uncover and unmask the woman. 
  • the plot particulars of Antichrist also characterise the drive for knowledge as an explicitly masculine mode of looking. In the context of the film, psychology is a male discourse that superciliously acts upon the Woman via her husband. By char- acterising femininity as mysterious and possibly even evil, Antichrist allows its female protagonist to evade the Man’s – and the spectator’s – subjectifying desire to account for her illness. 
  • Critiquing the spectator by invoking an extremely misogynistic (not to mention archaic) rationale for female violence is undoubtedly a problematic manoeuvre that con- tributed to the audience’s outrage after the film’s premiere at Cannes. 

The visible and the knowable

  • Since Laura Mulvey’s treatise on visual pleasure provided a foundational account of the way that cinema positions women in relation to the psychic needs of the masculine spectator, the role of vision in the production of female subjectivity has been of interest to feminist scholars. Yet such regimes can also be described as driven by pleasure in knowledge. 
  • Film representation must therefore establish a direct correlation between the observable and truth. 
  • Niche cinema forms place exclusionary requirements upon their audience, demand- ing high levels of cultural competency in order to foster a pleasure in interpretation or reading 
  • ‘the visible’ does indeed equal ‘the knowable’. The early scenes of the film establish two cinematographic styles that visually signify the Woman’s objective and subjective experience, thereby suggesting the possibility of interpreting the Woman’s malaise and providing a kind of pleasure in knowledge associated with art cinema modes of spectatorship.  
  • hand-held style to signify diegetic reality and high-speed footage to represent subjective reality, with the hand-held camera showing events occurring in real time and space and the high-speed camera depicting the Woman’s fantasies or imaginings 
  • the hand-held camera gives the spectator a powerful omniscience, allowing her or him to see the Woman’s private, anguished moments 
  • In contrast, the high-speed sequences represent events occurring in the characters’ imaginations. These images are steady, vividly colourised and extremely still. 
  • Both of these camera styles make the Woman available for the spectator’s scrutiny: the hand-held enables an unfettered access, whereas the visualisation sequences render the Woman’s psyche ‘observable’, thus empowering the spectator to inspect her mind as well as her body. Precisely because of their dreamlike, fantastical qual- ity, these images reaffirm vision’s positivist value. 

Examining the patient

  • figuration of female subjectivity through the representation of the face. Faces are a key point of feminist interest 
  • As Doane remarks, the face is figured as ‘the instance of subjectivity’ and ‘the mark of individuality’ 
  • faces are a focal point for the epistemophilic gaze – the face is ‘the most readable space of the body’, the most immediate signifier of emotion and unique identity, as well as a site that requires special interpretation on the part of the onlooker 
  • In keeping with Doane’s descriptions, the intense focus on the face in the early scenes of Antichrist elevates the Woman – particularly her emotions – to the status of a narrative enigma to be solved. 
  • The intense focus on the face in the early scenes of Antichrist is part of the film’s elevation of the Woman and her subjectivity to the status of a narrative enigma to be solved. Faces in close-up function as surfaces where emotion, character psychology and motivation manifest. 
  • If, as David Bordwell suggests, characters in art cinema search for the aetiologies of their emotions (1979: 58), spec- tators at the start of Antichrist are implicated in a process of connecting the expressions that manifest on the Woman’s face with her interior psychic state. Although the face is a surface, it has also been described as having a special profundity linked to the subject’s essential personhood; for instance, being described as ‘a mirror of the soul’ 
  • The visual representation of the Woman’s face in Antichrist sug- gests that it possesses a profundity of meaning – a subjectivity – avail- able only to those who can decipher it.  
  • (Veiling) This intensifies the hermeneutic drive of the gaze by aesthetically representing the face as a mystery. 
  • By becoming a surface that shows only the lack of an interior, the Woman’s face is unavailable to be read or scrutinised. Instead, the face becomes what I call a visage: an objectified likeness that indicates the terrifying absence of the soul rather than a hidden profundity. 
  • By morphing the face to represent the horrifying lack of an interior rather than a profound per- sonhood, the film inhibits the spectator’s ability to decode the Woman. 
  • all see a female heroine paradoxically evade patriarchal power precisely through her victimisation and, in some cases, violent death 

Spectacles of Violence

  • Popular and academic discourses often imply that film violence should have an identifiable meaning or utility; for instance, as a function of artistic expression or social comment  
  • On one hand, the film’s representation of violence recalls the real and continuing acts of misogyny perpetrated against women in the historical world. 
  • Antichrist largely withholds the means to make sense of the Woman’s violence as rooted in a psychological malaise or demonic monstrosity. The image of her self-mutilation may show, as Linda Badley suggests, that the Woman has ‘internalized’ misogynistic violence, or it may simply be misogy- nistic discourse articulated in visual form (2010: 149). Like the Woman herself, violence in Antichrist is an inscrutable symptom: a spectacle with ambivalent meaning. 

Conclusion

  • Antichrist frustrates the aggressive impulse to unmask the woman that appears in cultural narratives about women’s violence.    
  • the film refuses to fully explain the origins of the woman’s murderous behaviour, offering incomplete or risible explanations designed to pro- duce frustration in the onlooker 
  • Antichrist is therefore best described as a sympathetic retelling of the ‘woman as enigma’ narrative insofar as it characterises the Woman as a misunderstood figure rather than a threatening entity. Although she brutally injures the Man, the Woman is positioned at all times as a victim of her husband’s corrosive attentions, and she pays for his therapeutic failures with her life. This strategy notably departs from earlier representations of hysterical women in horror and thriller texts 
  • Certainly, the Woman of Antichrist meets the same deadly fate as these other violent women. Instead of straightforwardly portraying femininity as frightening and mysterious, however, Antichrist condemns male misunderstanding of femininity. 
  • While Antichrist is critical of masculine power, it is important to note that this does not necessarily entail it engaging in feminist film practice
  • some reviewers who comment on the film’s gender politics take the opposing view, arguing that Antichrist disseminates a misogynistic representation of the female protagonist under the guise of an artistic right to provocation 
  • When the Man asks his wife if she wants to kill him, she replies: ‘not yet.’ Her response indicates that, like the horror film villainesses that precede her, the Woman threatens the male protagonist’s survival and is thus ‘responsible’ for her fate.
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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #4

ANALYSIS: Minsan lang kitang iibigin (1994)

Minsan lang kitang iibigin is a 1994 film directed by Chito S. Roño and written by Ricky Lee. It stars Maricel Soriano as Terry, who is a jealous wife to Dave, played by Gabby Concepcion. She is envious of her friend, Monique, played by ZsaZsa Padilla, because she and her husband seem to have everything they could ever possibly want in life. The plot thickens when Monique’s husband is murdered, and Dave begins to fall for Monique behind Terry’s back.

In examining the feminist aspects of the film, I would like to highlight the following that are evident in the film’s portrayal of the violent female:

  • Women’s innate capacity for violence

From the beginning of the film, Terry was shown as already scheming and overly envious. She hates her husband because he is unable to meet her expectations in terms of career. She is very close friends with Monique, but she secretly hates that Monique always bests her in terms of luck. She hates that Monique’s husband is always one step ahead of her own husband, and she torments Dave because of this. There was not a single moment wherein she does not reprimand Dave for not being more ambitious in his career. She also refuses to give him any children because, according to her, he is not advanced enough in his career to give her and their future children luxurious lives. She also tries to advance her career through her connections with his boss without Dave knowing. This makes Dave all the more insecure because he knows that any favor he will be receiving is because of connections and not because of his talent at his job.

A form of violence not usually talked about is psychological violence. Terry psychologically manipulates her husband into feeling guilty and incompetent everyday. She makes sure to let him know that he is never enough. This does not, however, justify any form of infidelity from Dave, but it greatly contributed to Dave falling out of love with Terry and seeking comfort and love from Monique, who has always been kind to their family and is recently vulnerable because of the death of her husband. The film showed Terry as a psychologically abusive wife without reason apart from the fact that it is in her nature to be jealous and manipulative.

  • Femininity associated with mystery is the root of women’s violence

The film kept its audience in the dark regarding the root of Terry’s behavior and attitude towards life. It simply showed her nature as a mystery that may or may not be unravelled later on in the plot. The only clue it gave about Terry was a scar she had on her thighs, which Monique accidentally saw. Other than that, the film never talked about why she was troubled or envious in the first place.

When Terry found out about Dave and Monique’s affair, she fell into darkness as she paid Monique a visit. The film’s iconic line rests in Monique and Terry’s encounter when Monique tried to get her to calm down and Terry said,

“Huwag mo ‘kong ma-Terry-Terry! Iyong tanong ko ang sagutin mo! Are you fucking my husband?”

Monique admitted to the affair and also disclosed that she is pregnant with Dave’s child. Upon hearing this, Terry grabbed a knife and stabbed Monique multiple times until she bled on the floor. After the attempted murder, she dragged Monique’s bleeding body and hid it. Afterwards, she cleaned up all evidence of blood. However, since there were witnesses to her visit, Terry was arrested. She told Dave that she only did what she had done because she loved him. Monique, guilty after she survived, denied that Terry stabbed her and, instead, claimed it was a thief. She, however, cut Terry out of her life. 

Up until this point, and nearing the end of the film, the filmmakers kept the cause of Terry’s violence a mystery. It was only when Terry was released from prison and Dave tried to leave her that the film decided to finally address Terry’s nature. The writer chose to frame Terry’s possessiveness and jealousy to codependency. Terry uttered the line “Wala akong ibang mapupuntahan. Si Dave nalang ang lahat-lahat sa akin.” Here, she establishes that she was completely dependent on him for her survival and sanity, which is why she clung on to him so hard and tried to manipulate his life, because his life, she felt, was also hers. As to the reason for this codependency, it turns out that Terry was raped and physically abused as a teen.

This is where the film crosses the line. It chose to dive into such a sensitive issue, only to handle it recklessly. This past of Terry’s was not explored deeply at all. It was only mentioned in one or two scenes, thereby making her mental illness as a convenient excuse for the film to have any sort of “depth”. Therefore, the character of the violent female was not explored, rather, it was only used as a plot motivator.

  • The “femme fatale” as a symbol of fears about absolute female power, not a representation of complex female experience

According to the film, Dave cheated because Terry was possessive and manipulative. This is partly true, but the reason for the infidelity mostly lies in the fact that the woman in the relationship held the most power as compared to the male. Terry had all the power over Dave, and Dave felt like a weakling. As previously mentioned, the majority of the scenes showed Terry as the absolute female power. The film chose to keep highlighting this power so as to conveniently make it the tipping point of Dave’s character, who is driven to extreme insecurity. When he confesses and makes out with Monique, it was at the time wherein she was extremely devastated and lonely because of her husband’s murder. Dave hit her at her weakest moment, because that is how low of a character he is. In this case, the male, rendered absolutely powerless, and afraid of the dominance of the female, tried to exert any power he could to another female at her weakest. This guarantees that the female cannot fight back because she is more likely to allow herself to be dominated. This is as true with Monique as it is with Terry because after Terry committed the crime, she allowed herself to fall into Dave’s arms, desperately asking for his love and forgiveness and even offering to give him children and do anything for him. The male, striking with the little power he had left, chose to hurt the powerful female, and the film chooses to let the female fall into her stereotype of submissiveness instead of being constant with the strength of her character. To put a metaphor into the picture, it is extremely hard to accept that a lioness is easily brought down by the bite of a cub.

  • The violent female as a critique of male power

The film narrative also only highlights Terry’s dependency, but never tackles the faults of Dave, who is easily the most gullible and weakest character in the film. Dave is a much more sensitive person, and he recognizes all his conflicts, but he never addresses them. He just keeps all these inner emotions until he eventually lets himself break loose by cheating with the easiest and most vulnerable character at that moment. Dave was never held accountable for his actions, most especially for his infidelity. Being the main male character, he was victimized by the film, instead of also tackling why his character triggers Terry’s character to act the way she does. The film further avoids tackling the weakness of the male by attempting to humanize those involved in the infidelity. This happens at the scene wherein he supposedly “feels responsible” for Terry towards the end of the film. Here, the male was, once again, the protagonist, because he rose above all the torments thrown at him and chose to go back to his abusive wife because he feels that it is the right thing to do. Being humanized and atoned for his sins, the film absolved the male from any form of accountability and even puts him back on the pedestal of righteousness.

Conclusion

Overall, the film recklessly portrayed a violent female without diving into the root of her violence. She was used as a plot motivator, and even an element of the film’s thriller genre. The only attempt to humanize her was to briefly mention her trauma from a past sexual abuse. Other than that, all throughout the film, she was a monstrous feminine filled with a terrorizing absolute power that threatened the existence of the male. Even though she was as much a victim as she was an oppressor, the film never victimized her. Instead, she was held accountable for her past, her present, and even the lives of those who hurt her. According to the film, she was driven into darkness because of her innate violent nature, and it is her fault that she is unable to recover from her “insanity”. At the end of the day, her salvation only came in the arms of the same man who triggered her violence because he willingly chose to be with her to “help her” change for the better. The monstrous female was, once again, shown as hopeless in her misery and evil amidst everything, except at the face of a man—the only being who can make her “human” again.

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Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #3

The next few research updates are my analyses and reflections on some of the Philippine films I have watched so far involving the violent female. Currently, I am subscribed to the ABS-CBN film restoration efforts, and I have signed up to watch some digitally restored Ricky Lee Films. I have also shortlisted some other films from other platforms such as Netflix, iFlix, and iWant TFC that I will be watching in the next few weeks.

  • Corazon, ang unang aswang
  • Minsan lang kitang iibigin
  • Maria
  • Nasaan ka man
  • Patayin sa sindak si Barbara
  • Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita

ANALYSIS: Corazon, Ang Unang Aswang

Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang is a 2012 thriller film directed by Richard Somes, starring Erich Gonzales and Derek Ramsay. Rather than complying to typical horror/thriller stereotypes, the film focused on the love story of Corazon (Gonzales) and her husband, Daniel (Ramsay), and complemented this with elements of folklore, mob mentality, and remnants of war.

Corazon and female objectification

  • Corazon was a village beauty, and her beauty surpassed those of all the women in the village. She was also married to Daniel, the village “alpha”, who is the strongest and most leader-like among all the men.
  • Instead of highlighting her beauty and physicality through the male gaze, the film made her an object of ridicule and jealousy by the other women’s gazes. Orphaned by her mother at a young age, the village women considered her as impure because they gossiped that her mother used to “sell her body” to the Japanese soldiers during the war.
  • The village women, in their insecurities, also attacked her pride and looked down on her because in the five years of her marriage to Daniel, she was unable to bear him a child. The film highlighted the traditional burden of childbearing imposed on a woman, most especially in the old Filipino culture. Corazon’s body might not have been fetishizingly objectified, but it was nonetheless objectified as a vessel of a child.

The female and religion as mystical elements

  • Unable to bear a child, Corazon was “referred” by her manghihilot to a “mysterious” woman named Herminia, who is sought out for her miracles.
  • Herminia was a typical albularyo. She also mentioned that she was a religious person, who had devotions to saints and the Virgin Mary. However, the film presented her religious practices as that of “black magic”. She was portrayed as an element of evil, even though the only help she gave Corazon was to lend her a statue of San Gerardo and instruct her to start a devotion to the patron saint of pregnant women.
  • The typical religious practices, once done by women, was presented as mystical and of dark nature. They were shown as unconventional and even as opposed to the good brought about by the Catholic faith.
  • Here, the tone of the film showed both Herminia and Corazon as believers of unknown rituals that are supposedly far from what the church teaches.
  • Corazon travelled to the hill and practiced her devotion to San Gerardo in isolation for weeks. She was shown suffering intensely in her devotion, while Daniel was frustratedly waiting for her to return.
  • Corazon’s sacrifice was given as much importance as Daniel’s, even though Daniel technically did nothing but wait. 
  • The unnecessary intensity of the devotion also highlighted how much suffering and commitment a woman must be able to give in order to fulfill her purpose of bearing a child. Without a child, her life is meaningless.
  • This is in line with Laura Mulvey’s point that a woman is “nothing but a signifier of the male “other” in a patriarchal culture, where her role is to fulfill his desires, obsessions and fantasies.”

The beginnings of a violent female

  • After her devotion, Corazon became pregnant, only to eventually give birth to a stillborn child. The midwife, who delivered the child, looked at it as if it were a monster. She shook and refused to show Corazon her baby, even as Corazon insisted. The midwife also showed fear in front of Corazon, as if she were also a monster because she gave birth to a monster. Corazon held her dead baby lovingly, at the disgust of the midwife.
  • The film showed Corazon further as a woman unable to accept her grief. She paraded her dead baby in the village, hurting anyone who dared to mock or “hurt” her child. She also cursed Christianity, the religion who she said gave her false hope.
  • One villager said “Agawan mo ng bata ang babae, magiging demonyo siya”. This marks the beginning of the film’s attempt to demonize a childless woman.
  • In a cry of despair and grief, Corazon ate her own child after cursing everyone and everything that wronged her. The film explained through a parallelism with a dog that the mother dog ate its dead puppy in an attempt to bring it back to her body. This is a cruel and sickening act done by an animal and, later on Corazon. This puts Corazon as an image of a new animal, in her newfound monstrosity.
  • Corazon also began stealing, killing, and eating some of the village children as an act of war and revenge. Here, the picture of a violent female is rooted in her inability to bear a child—her supposedly main purpose in life.
  • Laura Mulvey mentions in her essay that a woman’s purpose, once fulfilled, puts her meaning into an end. She is now meaningless and is left only as a memory in the world. Corazon bore a child, but the child was dead. So Corazon, meaningless in the first place, is further left with a life of meaninglessness, as she is purposeless.

Male response to the violent female

  • The male villagers eventually began hunting down Corazon because they speculated that she did not disappear because she was dead. They intended to kill her, the monstrous feminine who is now fully demonic.
  • As Mulvey said, when the male is reminded of the castration anxiety by the woman, he escapes by:
    • Investigating and trying to demystify the woman, and devaluating and punishing her
      • The women in the village devalued Corazon and ridiculed her for her inability to bear a child.
      • The men also mocked Corazon and talked about her barrenness.
    • He forces a change in her, in a battle of strength and sanity,  ultimately trying to defeat and destroy her
      • The men, unable to demystify Corazon, labelled her as a monster and tried to destroy her by means of force.
      • They searched the forests, high and low, with their knives, guns, and torches.
      • Daniel, Corazon’s husband, on the other hand, searched for her because he longed to be with her because he was “in love with her”.
    • If unsuccessful, he substitutes her for another object of his fetish, or turns her into a fetish so that she becomes an object of lust, and not anxiety.
      • When Daniel finally found Corazon, Corazon said that she was beyond saving. Daniel responds by saying that he will love her and choose to be with her despite everything.
      • At this point, the male failed to contain the female, so he chose to convert her, in all of her monstrosity, into his fetish. Her violence becomes part of what he loves, because he chose to commit to her out of his “love” for her.

Conclusion

  • Throughout the film, Corazon was never the subject. The film was all about Daniel’s love for her and how good of a husband he supposedly is.
  • The female was shown at the peak of her violence, but the film refused to dwell on and tackle her grief. She was highlighted as her downfall to darkness, instead of being portrayed as a grieving mother.
  • The film used all the characters harming her from the beginning to burden her to the point of insanity, which she willingly embraced. She was shown as weak in the face of anger, because she is unable to handle the sorrow brought about by her inability to fulfill her “purpose”, which is childbearing.

The film ended with the quote from one of the village men saying,

“Marahil ay mas payapa at maligaya silang namumuhay sa piling ng isa’t isa, malayo sa mapagpula at mapanghusgang isipan at dila. Malayang nagmamahalan ng walang humahadlang o nakikialam. ‘Marahil ang digmaan ang sumira sa aming paniniwala sa tao bilang tao, o marahil ang takot sa aming puso ang nagbigay daan upang magkaroon ng halimaw.”

The film, here confessed that the true demons were the people. They were the ones who created monsters among themselves and they caused a monster to be born in Corazon. However, contrary to this ending statement, the film failed to show this “moral lesson” because it pointed and channeled all the monstrosity at Corazon. It was a story, focused on the love of a man to his wife. She, in her purposeless female body, embraced violence and insanity upon being unable to contain all the people’s torturing gazes and words. The people were the real monsters, but how come it is the female who was portrayed so? How come the people were victimized but the female was shown to be the predator? And how come, in all her suffering and pain, the female’s salvation came to her only when her man chose to be with her? Why is this story released without question for the audience to consume? 

Deeper analysis on female portrayals must really be practiced in order to produce more films that explore femininity rather than condemn it.