Film Short Answer

Film Short Answer

FTV 4 Handout: “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975) – Laura Mulvey Main concepts/claims overview:

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• Using psychoanalytic theory, Mulvey attempts to illustrate how the patriarchal structure of our society has constructed (mainstream) cinema as a further tool of domination over women (and images of women), reinforcing the dominant patriarchal order.

• Emphasis is placed on spectatorship, identification, and the pleasures of viewing. • Mulvey proposes an alternative cinema, which challenges accepted modes of

making as well as looking at film, and which provokes a kind of resistance to subject identification as well as voyeurism in the moving image.


• Psychoanalysis – (here derived from Freudian theory) a system of psychological theory and therapy dealing with the study of the unconscious mind

• Phallocentrism – a doctrine or belief in the ‘phallus’ as central or superior • Castration fear/anxiety – fear of emasculation (again derived from Freud’s theories) • Scopophilia – deriving pleasure from looking; in this context, a pleasure in

exercising a controlling gaze (through cinematic spectatorship) over the female image

• Recognition vs. Misrecognition (mirror-moment) – dealing with the (male) spectator’s own identification with the masculine image on screen, recognition is a “visible presence” of that image, while misrecognition is the perception of the spectator that his own image is reflected as superior, an “ideal ego” (derived from Lacan’s idea of the “mirror phase”)

• Passionate detachment – the way in which Mulvey argues cinema should be experienced (a detached spectatorship), promoting criticality, and transforming the “look of the audience” as well as that of the camera.

I. Introduction

A. A Political Use of Psychoanalysis

“Psychoanalytic theory is thus appropriated here as a political weapon, demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.” (6)

• Woman in patriarchal culture viewed as signifier of the male “other” • Phallocentrism depends on the image of castrated woman

B. Destruction of Pleasure as a Radical Weapon

• The role of mise-en-scene in mainstream Hollywood film = reinforcing

“psychical obsessions” of society (read patriarchal dominance)



“The alternative cinema provides a space for a cinema to be born which is radical in both a political and an aesthetic sense and challenges the basic assumptions of the mainstream film.” (7)

II. Pleasure in Looking/Fascination with the Human Form

A. Scopophilia – arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of

sexual stimulation; a controlling gaze B. Pleasurable looking and narcissistic scopophilia

(Recognition/Misrecognition) – the ways in which identification with the image on screen occurs (derived from Lacan’s “mirror phase”)

C. Paradox of pleasurable and threatening viewing experience – woman as representation/image crystallizes this paradox

III. Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look

A. Pleasure in looking – active/male vs. passive/female “The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly.” (9) • The notion of the to-be-looked-at-ness – woman displayed as sexual

object • Woman perceived as – 1. An erotic object for the characters within the

diegesis; 2. An erotic object for the spectator • The fragmented female body on screen

B. The burden of sexual objectification – the male figure “cannot bear it”, it has

been assigned to the female figure “Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man’s role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen.” (10)

• Woman as icon • Man given 3-D space – “he is a figure in a landscape”

C. 1. The Different Looks

a. The look of the “spectator in direct scopophilic contact with the

female form displayed for his enjoyment” b. The look of the “spectator fascinated with the image of his likeness

set in an illusion of natural space” i. The threat of castration, as perceived in the image of

“woman as icon”, has two outlets 1. Devaluation, punishment, or saving the guilty object

(woman) 2. Fetishization of the image of woman, so as to make

it reassuring rather than dangerous



D. 2. Filmmakers who exemplify Mulvey’s theory (in different ways)

a. Sternberg – the ultimate fetish b. Hitchcock – voyeurism and the perversion of morality

IV. Summary

• The scopophilic instinct and ego libido as mechanisms in cinema • The image of woman as passive (material) and man as active (gaze) • How the patriarchal order figures in the structure of representation • The root of the argument: “woman as representation signifies castration,

inducing voyeuristic or fetishistic mechanisms to circumvent her threat.”(14) • Cinema has incredible power in the way the image of woman is

constructed, as well as the way that image is perceived/viewed for pleasure. • Three different looks associated with cinema:

1. That of the camera 2. That of the audience 3. That of the characters at each other within the screen

§ The first two are subordinated to the third. • A call for freeing the look of the camera, a call for “passionate detachment”

and an alternative cinema.