The representation of the female body/embodiment in selected mainstream American films
Jensen, Amy Alexandra
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In her article “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema” (1975) Laura Mulvey explains how film portrays the female characters as passive sexualised objects, on display for the male (erotic) gaze. Although, Mulvey did make amendments to the original article after it was criticised, her original article is still influential and referenced in academic writing on film. This dissertation investigates how the three selected mainstream American films, namely, Alice in Wonderland, Monster and Transamerica, have female protagonists who deviate from Mulvey’s initial standpoint and enact a new dynamic, whereby the female characters possess active bodies. In order to explain this new dynamic, the dissertation provides an overview of relevant theory in order to establish the necessary analytical tools to investigate the representation of the female body. These tools are taken from feminist notions of the body, most importantly Mulvey’s notions, in order to establish what constitutes an active female body that subverts the male gaze. This subversion is most notable when examining the iconography of the active female body. The dissertation also draws from the overview the importance of place and space, the embodiment of the characters’ inner workings in specific locations, and their relationship with the locations in which they are depicted. Since all three films include a physical journey on which the respective protagonists embark the examination of borders and border crossings is included. The dissertation shows that journeys bring with them the opportunity for the body to be active, as each female protagonist is on a journey to self-discovery. The changing settings in which the protagonists find themselves are an embodiment of their inner workings. Topographical borders mark the entering of new locations. However, concomitant symbolic and epistemological borders are also crossed. The female protagonists need to make choices concerning their lives and as a consequence alter the representations to reflect bodies that subvert the male gaze. These female bodies are active. However, they are active in different ways. Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, delves into her psyche to emerge a changed and independent Victorian woman. Bree, from Transamerica, heals the relationships with her family and is able to have her gender reconstructive surgery to become a physical woman. These two female protagonists have positive representations of the active female body. The protagonist from Monster, Aileen, is represented in a constant state of abjection and her active body is portrayed in a negative light. Whether represented in a positive or egative light, these chosen films all portray an active female body that does subvert the male gaze, and hence represent a new dynamic different from the one Mulvey described.
- Humanities