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Laura Mulvey's Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

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Reading Paper: "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

30th. Oct. 2018

Reading Paper: "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

30th. Oct. 2018


This paper will investigate the work of Laura Mulvey by first capturing its intention and context, followed by a thorough critique of her arguments. In short, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” delivers a sophisticated overview of classic Hollywood narratives from feminist viewpoint.

Through "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", Laura Mulvey employs the theory of psychoanalysis to illustrate how the patriarchic subconscious of society influences cinema and its audience in regards to gender. She argues the cinematic text in modern day has long been organized in ways that corresponds to the cultural subconscious that are essentially patriarchic, which has established the fame of Hollywood films today, only capable of being established on such set of solid gender schemes. She analyzes films through the frames of desire structures and the formation of subjectivity in light of theories by Freud and Lacan. In the end, Mulvey concludes that Hollywood films reinforce the ideas and values of patriarchy, oppressing women by male gaze. Within such narratives of misogyny, women could only exist as erotic objects viewed through male-to-female gaze to fulfill pleasures of scopophilia and voyeurism for men.

Mulvey's central claim begins by pointing out that Hollywood film narratives utilize women as tools of providing pleasurable visual experience for males, putting woman as not the subject but the object of gaze. Women can only be associated with her lack of Phallus-Freudian term of penis envy-, thus “she first symbolizes the castration threat by her real absence of a penis and, second, thereby raises her child into the symbolic” (833) Because film is such an advanced medium of representation, the structure of mainstream films reflects and reinforces the prevailing patriarchy which is structured by the desires of man.  Mulvey therefore reiterates the need for feminism to display films that destroy dominantly patriarchic societal structure.

In specific, Mulvey identifies two manners in which Hollywood cinema produces pleasure: the objectification and identification of image. While both mechanisms are male centered mental desires, the former is associated to Freudian term of scopophilia, pleasure derived from subjecting someone to one's gaze, as when the second form of pleasure stems from a narcissist overlap of self-like image to the identified image from the film.

In the end, Mulvey claims the inherent paradox of female cinematic figure lies in women being portrayed as “jealous” and “void” of castration at the same time. The male subconscious has two ways of escaping his fear of castration: by dismantling her mysteries through male salvation or punishment to female and by escaping fear of castration. Films, according to Mulvey, attempt to resolve the tension between being attracted to the woman and fearing her, and therefore they provide for the needs of the masculine form of desire.

        The paper is highly ideological in its message, not to mention her use of “us” women throughout the text, with its emphasis on analyzing Hollywood narratives from a particular viewpoint. As she proposed in the beginning of her text, Mulvey’s central argument roots from theories of feminism, employing “psychoanalysis to discover where and how the fascination of film is reinforced by pre-existing patterns of fascination already at work within the individual subject and the social formations that have molded him.” (833) Feminism is one of the most renowned standpoints of critical theories, schools of thoughts that have attempted to debunk mainstream theories in academia, such as but not limited to Marxism and Constructivism. Indeed, feminism in this context provides the holistic theoretical framework that establish the problem stated throughout this paper: films made in patriarch society contains misogynic narratives that objectify women as means of pleasure for male audience. Mulvey also presumes the Freudian desire structure to characterize functions of male and female. Overall, her text has effectively illustrated how male oriented narratives in films crystallize patriarchy in films and the society, with examples drawn from literatures such as Sternberg and Hitchcock. Such acute depiction strongly appeals to the political statement that status of female rights ought to be reconsidered in the film industry.



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