Categories
Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #12

Below are my notes for Chapters 2 and 3 of Violent Women in Contemporary Cinema by Janice Loreck.

CHAPTER 2: Science, sensation and the Female Monster: Trouble Every Day

  • Animal-women, bestial aliens and wild human-hybrids are among the most enduring types of violent women in cinema. 
  • people affected by a mysterious illness that compels them to viciously attack their sexual partners, resulting in several gruesome scenes that the film shows in intimate detail 
  • Their stories centre on scientific voyeurism: in Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009), for example, the animal-woman is an experiment in genetic engineering; in Species, she is an alien-human hybrid raised in a lab; in Cat People, she is treated as a neurotic and hypochondriac; in Captive Wild Woman, she is once again a scientific experiment, this time in the human endocrine system. 

The monster as ‘curiosity’

  • She is therefore a feminine object of a masculine scientific drive for knowledge. 
  • However, whereas the Woman regularly describes and reflects upon her own experiences during therapy (and therefore has agency in her own treatment) Coré’s affliction renders her virtually mute and helpless. 
  • Coré is an object to be ‘aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered’ by the investigators in the story, and, by extension, the spectator 
  • This figure is a female monster, either artificially created or naturally occurring, whose anoma- lousness positions her as both a terrifying antagonist and an epistemo- logically arousing object of enquiry.  
  •  The scientist typically has two responsibilities that are in direct conflict with one another. 
    • Firstly, his own desire for knowledge compels him to study the female curiosity. Usually, the woman possesses physical attributes that make her a tantalising object of enquiry.  
    • Secondly, the scientist must also contain the woman, a task that is usually incompatible with his desire to unlock her secrets. 
  • Her very subjectivity is antagonistic; in her unknowability, she challenges the scientist’s persona as a possessor of knowledge. 
  • On one hand, the female monster’s death and the destruction of her body can be interpreted as an ideological manoeuvre. By removing the threat that she poses to masculine scientific knowledge, the film reinstates patriarchal authority. 

Vision and Sensation

  • the film seems to intrude on the personal space of the spectator 
  • earlier representations of female ‘freaks’ and oddities by reversing the way that subjectivity and monstrousness are engendered by more distanced, voyeuristic modes of spectatorship 
  • Mise-en-scène and narrative invite an epistemophilic mode of looking in relation to the female monster as a curiosity, either by literally objec- tifying the woman in the diegesis or by positioning the onlooker in terms of his or her remoteness to the female specimen. 
  • These scientific horror films also enforce distance between the monster and the scientist (and spectator) through the use of props and sets. 
    • Sometimes the female monster will quite literally be kept in a cage or vessel within a labora- tory, surrounded by the paraphernalia of remote scientific observation such as microscopes and computer monitors. 
  • In her study of the monstrous-feminine in cinema, Barbara Creed argues that cuts to a black screen like this one represent an abyss: ‘the cannibalizing black hole from which all life comes and to which all life returns’ (1993: 25). 
    • These brief moments where the films’ aesthetic conveys the collapsing of distance between the female monster and her victim tend to be a catastrophic consequence of the scientists’ failure to control the violent female; 
    • however, they tend to be fleeting moments, with the film quickly restoring a distanced, monocular perspective
  • aesthetic of abjection 
    • Defined literally as that which is ‘cast off’, abjection involves an experience of the pre-Symbolic: the things that have been culturally and psy- chically rejected in order to accede to subjectivity. 
    • According to Creed, the ‘images of abjection’ that are frequently found in horror cinema include blood and viscera, corpses, saliva, sweat and tears (1993: 10); substances that exemplify the abject or ‘not me’
  • “work of abjection” or “abjection at work”’ 
    • Representations of the abject onscreen can inspire a sense of defilement in the spectator; to illustrate this, Creed cites the colloquial expressions for a particularly frightening horror film such as ‘it “made me sick” or “scared the shit out of me” 
  • This tactile, abject visuality influences the film’s inscription of violent female subjectivity at the same time as it breaks with generic expectations of it as a ‘restrained’ art film.  
  • The film positions the spectator into an experience of ontological encounter with the transgressive woman. 
  • Rather than differentiation, this produces an equivalence between the subject and the Other that is facilitated through the processes of spectatorship initiated in the film. 

Sound, space and monstrous encounters

  • troubles the spectator’s orientation by generating a sense of bodily invasion. 
  • This contrasts with the way that the classic horror discovery plot engenders monstrous female Otherness; instead of enabling a unified and separate voyeuristic gaze, tactile sound in Trouble Every Day enacts contact between the spectator and the violent woman. 
  • sounds evoke a sense of contact
    • This haptic sound positions the listener in terms of his or her proximity to the monster herself, as well as a sympathetic experi- ence of the onscreen events. 
  • Sound here suggests an encounter – a collapsing of clinical observation – that positions the listener not as a discrete, masterful subjectivity but in terms of his or her fluid proximity to Coré. 
  • horror films frequently use cinematographic techniques, such as zooms and tracking shots, to implicate the spectator’s body in encounters with the monster onscreen
  • Some films figure the monster as literally repulsive – their victims flinch, look away or shield themselves upon encountering the terrifying creature – whereas other horror films convey the monster’s attraction or pull.  
  • smooth space is immersive and undifferentiated, whereas striated space is ‘in principle infinite, open, and unlimited in every direction; it has neither top nor bottom nor cen- tre; it does not assign fixed and mobile elements but rather distributes a continuous variation’ 
  • This abyss, she writes, represents the archaic mother figure that is explicitly associated with the maternal body
  • ‘boundaries, designed to keep the abject at bay, threaten to disintegrate, collapse’, explains Creed (1993: 29),
    •  whereas Marks suggests that smooth space ‘does something to dissolve the boundaries between the beholder and the thing beheld’ (2004: 80). 
    • For Marks, smooth space is also evocative of haptic sensation; because smooth space is immersive, it is ‘felt’ on the spectator’s body. 
  • The film’s depiction of smooth space positions the spectator into a contaminating closeness with Coré as the violent female monster. 
  • As Marks explains, this embodied immersion in space dismantles the rigid construction of distance between the self and other that is called into place by the scopic regimes of classical narrative cinema, producing a sensation of being closer to the object, even ‘the possibility of one becoming the other’ 
  • Trouble Every Day enacts an encounter with the violent female Other, insisting that she is not an entity to be quarantined and controlled by patriarchal power, but an otherness that can trouble the very metaphysical foundations upon which masculine subjectivity is conceptualised as a discrete and sovereign wholeness. 

Conclusion

  • Both are wary of the kind of scientific, hierarchical, masculine knowledge that erects divisions between subjects and simultaneously creates the female enigma.  
  • Whereas von Trier’s film engenders the violent woman by manipulating spectators’ expectations of the film’s art cinema genericity, Denis’s text interrogates the categories of human personhood by provoking an embodied, sensory horror reaction in the spectator. 
  • As such, the world of Trouble Every Day is one where violent men and aggressive women possess an ontological contiguity. 
    • To express this, the film creates a viewing experience that promotes closeness and, at least for the film’s running time, breaks down barriers between the violent woman and the onlooker. 
  • Trouble Every Day is therefore best described as a filmic thought- experiment that queries the nature of selfhood, mobilising the violent woman to destabilise gender, humanity, violence and monstrosity.
  • Trouble Every Day answers the desire to know the violent woman by challenging fixed notions of subjectivity and otherness altogether. 

CHAPTER 3: Sex and Self-Expression: Fatal Women in Baise-moi

  • One of the most enduring images of female violence in the Western cultural tradition is that of the dangerous seductress. 
  • This continuing association between female eroticism and malicious intent has led Alice Myers and Sarah Wight to declare that all women’s violence is framed in terms of gender difference and sexuality: 
    • ‘[W]hen a woman commits an act of criminal violence,’ they write, ‘her sex is the lens through which all of her actions are seen and understood’ (1996: xi). 
    • Laura Sjoberg and Caron E. Gentry go further, arguing that ‘a woman’s violence is a sexual event’ (2007: 46) (original emphasis).  
  • A cursory survey of cinematic representation since the 1940s shows that films frame a woman’s aggression as contiguous with her sexuality in a variety of different ways. 
    • Some films represent women’s allure as both a means of obfuscating her nature and as a weapon to be wielded against men.
    • Other films equate feminine sexuality with a more ontological danger; for example, the abject female monsters of Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) horrify because they expose ‘the fragility’ of the symbolic order that governs masculine subjectivity (Creed 1986: 48). 
    • Other films position a violent woman’s sexuality as evidence of her all-encompassing corruption 
  • women’s violence see these murder- esses as ‘motivated by their overwhelming perversion 

Reframing sex in Baise-moi

  • Sexually explicit sex acts are once again appearing in esthetically ambitious films depicting complex and explicit sexual relations that are neither the whole point of the film (as in pornography) nor tacked on gratuitously (as in soft-core ‘exploitation’). 
  • Instead, sex has an expressive function in Baise-moi insofar as it shows Nadine and Manu’s subjectivity as marginalised women. 
    • Put another way: whereas a woman’s sexuality is often used as a point of occlusion – or, conversely, of visual objectification – Baise-moi is an exploration of Nadine and Manu’s experiences as subjects of a particular milieu.  
  • the film is about ‘wounded women, abused by and used by men, by women, by the world’ and is therefore an ‘exploration of two women of the underclass’. 
  • Hetero-erotic spectacle in Baise-moi therefore operates as an expressive strategy that represents Nadine and Manu’s experience – their boredom, their social and cultural milieu, and their identities as violent women. 
  • Critics link the film’s hetero-erotic spectacle with a filmic milieu that possesses particular creative goals: specifically, the representation of human experience. 

Visual Culture and Identity

  • the film itself also frames its sex scenes as expressions of the protagonists’ identity 
  • Baise-moi shows Nadine and Manu’s sexual encounters using an aesthetic that Linda Williams calls ‘maximum visibility’: the defining characteristic of mainstream pornography. Williams observes that the principle of maximum visibility can manifest in a variety of different stylistic regimes; however, its enduring goal is to make the sex act as visible as possible. Common aesthetics include ‘close-ups of body parts’, the lighting of ‘easily obscured genitals’, the use of ‘sexual positions that show the most of bodies and organs’ and, very importantly, the image of ejaculation 
  • Rather than adding these scenes to sate an objectifying male gaze, Baise-moi uses maximum visibility to communicate the classed and gendered conditions of the protagonists’ experience. Specifically, the aesthetic produces them as women whose lives are shaped by the sex industry and saturated with pornographic imagery; where sex is frank, utilitarian and brief. 
  • Maximum visibility becomes a way of conveying Nadine and Manu’s position as subjects of a particular marginalised economic, sexual and cultural milieu. 
  • ‘framed by various realist modalities . . . to reveal the emotional, experiential and social realities of sex and sexuality’ (2006: 43).
    • The way that Baise-moi establishes this sense of authenticity contrasts with one of the classical femme fatale’s deadliest characteristics: her ability to falsify sexual interest.
  • Sex scenes in pornography therefore attempt to ‘force’ women into similarly observable displays of sexual pleasure. 
    • This explains the prevalence of coercive sex in pornography where a woman is ‘made’ to experience pleasure through forced intercourse.  
  • Williams argues that the logic of maximum visibility cannot represent female pleasure, partly because women’s orgasms are an internal physiological response that have no parallel with the male ‘standard of evidence’ (1989: 49–50). 
    • The logic of maximum visibility therefore coerces female sexuality into phallocentric schema of meaning. 
  • Baise-moi frames these scenes as an expression of Nadine and Manu’s sexual experience and enjoyment, comprising the very aesthetic that pervades the protagonists’ world. 

Maximum Visibility and Emotion

  • exposing the inner emotional experience of its two protagonists 
  • ‘the wobbling flesh is all too tragically human’ 
  • ‘There’s a joyousness and abandon here that hints at another, more pleasurable world . . . beyond the brutality’ (2001: n.p.). 
    • Instead of arguing that the erotic sequences are base and emotionless, these critics suggest that such moments contribute to the personal expressivity of Baise-moi. 
  • Bainbridge suggests that cinema can therefore represent sub- jectivity by externalising the subject’s internal life, with emotions acting as both evidence and an affirmation of personal experience  

Returning the Gaze

  • I have argued that hetero-erotic spectacle takes up a special role in Baise-moi, wherein it operates to signify the violent woman’s subjectivity. However, I have not countered the argument, made by several researchers, that cinema objectifies the violent woman. 
  • Christine Holmlund argues that beautiful, violent heroines ‘are not nec- essarily a cause for feminist jubilation’ because their subversiveness is limited by their eroticised presentation. 
    • They are almost always ‘white, lithe and lovely’ and do not necessarily represent the far less glamorous personas of real women who kill  
  • classical cinema produces women in terms of their ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’, indicating that a structuring, scopophilic masculinity engenders their representation. 
  • O’Day posits that the action heroine’s beauty ‘allays’ the transgression that her violence makes to normative gender categories 
  • Whereas ‘traditional’ spectatorship theory (or, more specifically, the psychoanalytic model that hypothesises the possibility of voyeuristic pleasure) presumes a unidirectional gaze between the spectator and the screen, the filmic strategy of ‘looking back’ brings the spectator into an awareness of his or her subjectivity in relation to the depictions onscreen. 
  • Maximum visibility and other forms of erotic spectacle can change how subject positions are inscribed in the cinematic apparatus. 
    • This mode of spectatorship has implications for how the woman is represented, chiefly because it inscribes her as another subject rather than an objectified Other to a masculine gaze. 
  • Baise-moi uses maximum visibility to ‘look back’ at the spectator. Whereas most films introduce their ‘fatal women’ or ‘babe heroines’ in ways that quickly establish their ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’, maximally vis- ible scenes in Baise-moi acknowledge the spectator in ways that disrupt voyeuristic visual pleasure. 
  • Instead of titillating the onlooker, however, the combination of sexual violence and maximum visibility in the rape scene ‘looks back’ at spectators 
  • However, the rapists’ aggression haunts the scene as a potential point of identification for the spectator. Viewers can imagine a sadistic response to the sequence (even if they, themselves, do not expe- rience such a reaction) and may strongly wish not to identify with the attackers. 
  • The possibility of pleasure in the men’s violence thus exists as a hypothetical response to the rape scene. It operates as a fantasy, a negative way of relating to the film, in the mind of the spectator. 
  • Triadic identification occurs when a spectator momentarily identifies with an imagined (and usually policing) societal gaze: a ‘third’ look that intervenes in the relationship between text and spectator. 
    • In particular, when a spectator suddenly becomes aware that he or she is watching material that the broader society might deem inappropriate, he or she may experience intense feelings of shame and self-awareness. 
    • As Laine explains, this occurs because spectators internalise societal norms that operate as an imag- ined look – ‘the “panoptic” look of the larger social structures’ 
  • the voyeur can only feel shame once he or she conceptualises the Other as a subject and identifies with the Other’s gaze. With the realisation that oneself exists as an object for the Other, the Other therefore becomes a subject, an individual, in the mind of the voyeur. 

Conclusion

  • When women kill in cinema, sex very often precedes, follows or precipitates their violence. 
    • As Sjoberg and Gentry observe, ‘women’s involvement in sexual activity is somehow always closely linked to women’s violence’ 
  • Popular genres that link female violence and sex emphasise the woman’s hetero-erotic appeal in ways that betray an organising voyeuristic subjectivity inscribed in the text. 
  • Drawing on the aesthetic of maximum visibility, the film positions the onlooker in a relationship of anti-voyeurism to the text 
  • It is a film that wants to avoid the coercion – or the ‘magic trick’ – of forcing violent women to speak about their intimate sexual subjectiv- ity. Instead, Nadine and Manu unmask themselves using the very por- nographic idiom that they are familiar with (and, controversially, that objectifies them as women).  
  • Indeed, the sex scenes between the Man and Woman, which are often bitter and violent, underscore the lack of communication between the two. 
    • At one point, the Woman demands that the Man slap her across the face while the two are intimate together; later, she attacks him at a vulnerable moment during intercourse. 
  • Baise-Moi is a film about violent ‘lower class’ women, made by supposedly marginal women. The mainstream doesn’t want to hear about people with nothing, the disenfranchised, the margin- als, taking up arms and killing people for fun and money. It hap- pens, of course, but we’re not allowed to acknowledge it. 
  • As these comments suggest, Baise-moi is a film that uncompromisingly relates the violent woman’s experience to the spectator, even if this process involves exposing audiences to aspects of Nadine and Manu’s lives that they may not wish to confront. 
    • To know the violent woman in Baise-moi is to witness all parts of her experience: her hedonistic pleasures, her sexual victimisation and her brutality. 
Categories
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.
Categories
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.

Categories
Film 299 Post

F299: Research Update #2

Below are my notes in Laura Mulvey’s Essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. It is a compilation of my understanding of the major points of the essay, as well as its application in the image of the “violent female”.

Woman as bearer of meaning

  • Phallocentrism and all its manifestations depend on the image of the woman, particularly the castrated women, in order to make sense of its ideology.
    • Her desires and existence are encapsulated in her longing to transcend her castration. She has no other meaning apart from being the bearer of the bleeding wound.
    • She is nothing but a signifier of the male “other” in a patriarchal culture, where her role is to fulfill his desires, obsessions and fantasies.
  • In the patriarchal subconscious, the woman plays two main parts:
    • Her lack of a penis represents the threat of castration
    • Once she fulfills her function of bearing a child, she raises it into the symbolic by raising the child as a signifier of her desire to possess a penis.
  • Her purpose, once fulfilled, puts her meaning into an end. She is now meaningless and is left only as a memory in the world.
    • She is not a maker of meaning, but tied to her place in silence as only a bearer of it.
  • The dominant ideology dictates that any form of analysis or criticism of pleasure or beauty, destroys it.
    • A woman’s challenge is to fight the dominant ideology coursed through a structured language, while tied to the limitations of her reality under a world of patriarchy.
  • In terms of cinema,  historically, despite the strong ideological language in place, an alternative cinema was able to develop. However, it still adapted the formality of the dominant ideology.
    • A politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint.
    • With the mainstream cinema still unchallenged, it is continuously coding the language of the patriarchy.

Pleasure in Looking at the Human Form

  • Cinema provides a sense of scopophilia, meaning the love of looking, and pertaining to the predominantly male gaze encapsulated in mainstream film.
  • Looking generates pleasure as much as being looked at does. The former is stereotypically male’s, while the latter is a pleasure stereotypically assigned to females.
    • Too much looking, on the other hand, may lead to obsession and perversion, wherein sexual satisfaction can only be achieved through looking.
    • Cinema’s tendency for exhibitionism gives power to the lookers by enriching their experience of their voyeuristic fantasies through the projection of the objects of their repressed eroticism.
  • Mainstream film, above all, focuses on the human form through camera movements, space, scales, and stories.
    • There is a romantic affair between the image and self-image which found itself extremely expressed in the medium of film. This generates such overwhelming recognition from the audience.
  • In the pleasure of looking, there are some contradictory aspects:
    • First, scopophilia arises from pleasure in looking by using  another person as an object of sexual stimulation. This is a sexual instinctual function.
    • Second, innate narcissism and the ego results in identifying with what is being seen. This is an ego libido function.
    • Both aspects have to be incorporated into an ideology to gain meaning.

Woman as the image, Man as the bearer of look

  • What is essential and highlighted in a woman is her “to-be-looked-at-ness”. The male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female who is characterized and styled for maximum erotic and visual impact.
  • A woman’s presence is a staple in a typical narrative, but her character’s visuals tend to freeze the storyline in order to give focus to eroticism.
  • Budd Boetticher said: “What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.”
  • The woman functions both as an erotic subject for the male characters, and the male audience. The male gaze stikes her from within and outside the screen.
  • On the contrary, the male cannot bear the burden of being objectified. Thus, his role is to forward the story when the woman freezes the narrative with her visuals.
    • He commands the scene and generates all the action needed.
  • The woman’s presence cannot command the story because her imagery beyond sexual objectification is that of castration and, thus, unpleasure. Women exist mainly for sexual difference and objectification.
    • She is an icon displayed for the enjoyment of men. If this purpose is unfulfilled, she is just an image of pain and anxiety.
  • 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
    • He forces a change in her, in a battle of strength and sanity,  ultimately trying to defeat and destroy 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.
  • The woman knows that her role is to perform for the male to keep his interest. But in the process of performing for him, he attempts to break her down and expose her.

Further points:

  • Cinema has invoked scopophilic instinct in its audience, as well as the ego libido.
  • Women represent castration threats which are absorbed by voyeuristic tendencies and are fetishized so as to reduce anxiety.
  • Cinema builds how a woman should look because the focus is on her to-be-looked-at-ness
    • Cinema highlights this by controlling time through the narrative and the editing, as well as space.
    • “Cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire.”
  • Cinema encapsulates three different looks: 
    • that of the point of view of the camera as it records 
    • that of the audience as it watches the film
    • that of the characters within the illusion of the screen
  • As soon as fetishist representation of the female image breaks the illusion of the screen, and the fully erotic image is exposed to the viewer, the woman is fetishized, frozen, and emphasized to keep the spectator from looking at, thinking of, any doing anything else other than wallow in her imagery.

Realizations: Relationship to the Violent Female

It was previously stated that when the male is reminded of the castration anxiety brought about by the woman, he escapes by, first, trying to demystify her. This happens during the typical treatment of films when it comes to violent women. Men are usually depicted at the peak of their curiosity, treating the female as if she were an experiment or a scientific subject. He tries to break down the “mystery” behind her violence. This way, the violence of the woman is not the focus, but rather, it is the male ego and his perseverance in examining the subject that is highlighted. 

If the man’s ego, strength, and knowledge end up being challenged or threatened by the violence of the woman, he tries to devalue and punish her. The film typically supports the devaluation of the violent female by showing her in very vulnerable positions. She is reduced to an animal being punished, rather than a troubled human being. The male punishes, mocks, and tortures her in an attempt to change and, eventually, demystify her. If he fails to do so, he makes it his mission to destroy her. This is why most violent women in films end up dying a cruel fate. It is the female who conforms to societal stereotypes who end up surviving in the story. 

Lastly, if the man cannot destroy her, in a desperate attempt for his ego to prevail, he ends up fetishizing her. The film usually romanticizes this by making the male fall in love with the violence of the female, or embracing her nature and even sharing in her pursuits. This way, violent or not, the female is back to playing the role she was meant to play — the object of his lust and fantasies. She could not and will not be able to escape because, at the end of the day, it will always be about the male ego, the dominant ideology, and the eyes within and in front of the screen, which she is made to serve.

Possible topics for further discussion:

  • The language, practice, evolution, and analysis of the scopophilic instinct and ego libido towards the female object in Philippine Cinema 
  • The ideology of the patriarchal order in Philippine Cinema
  • Evolution of a woman’s to-be-looked-at-ness in Philippine Cinema, or in certain auteur’s works — this will be technical and will look into film form and elements, as well as psychology.

Reference:

  • Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. ScreenVolume 16(3), 6-18.