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A Textual Analysis Of A Scene From Now Voyager And Its Effects On Male And Female Spectators

2433 words - 10 pages

As Laura Mulvey states in her article "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema", the cinema operates as an "advanced representation system" that offers pleasure in the act of looking, what she classifies as scopophilia or voyeurism (Mulvey 484). Through the cinematic experience, one may sit in a dark theatre and derive pleasure from looking without being seen. As E. Ann Kaplan describes in the introduction to her book Women and Film, within this act of gazing there are three looks: "(i) within the film text itself, men gaze at women, who become objects of the gaze; (ii) the spectator, in turn is made to identify with this male gaze, and to objectify the women on screen; and (iii) the camera's original 'gaze' comes into play in the very act of filming" (Kaplan 15). The gaze is associated with subjectivity and control and as Kaplan later suggests in the chapter "Is the Gaze Male?", "to own and activate the gaze...is to be in the masculine position" (Kaplan 30). Therefore the visual pleasure in cinema is mainly geared towards a male spectator who maintains subjectivity and a sense of voyeurism, while his female counterpart must be both subject and object, she must see herself being seen.

At first glance, women's films or family melodramas such as Now Voyager seem to reverse such spectator roles as one is made to identify with a female protagonist. Yet as E. Ann Kaplan suggests, by using psychoanalysis one can deconstruct these films in order to show how they only work to reinstate the dominant patriarchal order of man as subject and woman as object. She suggests that "the family melodrama, as a genre geared specifically to women, functions both to expose the constraints and limitations that the capitalist nuclear family imposes on women and, at the same time, to 'educate' women to accept those constraints as 'natural', inevitable - as 'given' (Kaplan 25). The female spectator identifies with the ideal mirror image of the self on screen, one who acknowledges the pleasures and concerns of a woman living under the capitalist nuclear family while remaining desirable and maintaining the dominant order.

In the 1942 film Now Voyager, one sees these roles being played out. Yet the film does something quite different in its beginning and calls into question some problems with the pleasures of viewing. What happens when the object on screen is neither desirable for the male spectator, nor the ideal mirror image of the female self? What happens when there is nothing to 'fetishize' and the object of the gaze returns the gaze? The result is that of a suggested disturbing cinema where the male gaze is threatened, suggesting that pleasure has been denied for both male and (seemingly) female spectators. The early part of Now Voyager suggests how a cinematic world that disrupts scopophilia is coded as disturbing, one where the characters are deemed ill. Although the film temporarily disrupts this pleasure, the film ultimately maintains the notion that...

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