Dec 09

Analysis #2

Question 1

The theory of “male gaze” which is credited to Laura Mulvey, basically argues that film is made for a male audience and women are seen as objects to be looked at by males.  I agree with Mulvey’s theory.  We have seen many different instances in films this semester such as “Written in the Wind” and “Psycho” that illustrate her theory.  But a movie that truly illustrates Mulvey’s theory is “Double Indemnity” (directed by Billy Wilder).

“Double Indemnity” is about Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck) who seduces Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) and convinces him to kill her husband so she could collect his accident insurance.  They murder her husband with seemingly no problems.  However, things take a turn for the worse when they have to separate so that no one would suspect them.  Eventually they start to turn on each other and everything spirals out of control thereafter.

In “Double Indemnity” there is a scene with two distinct shots that reinforces Mulvey’s theory. One scene begins off with Walter Neff entering the Dietrichson house looking for Mr. Dietrichson.  Neff wants to discuss the Dietrichson auto insurance.  Mr. Dietrichson is not home at the time, but his wife Phyllis is home.  This is the first time the audience sees Phyllis Dietrichson and immediately we see the “male gaze”.

During this instance when we see the “male gaze” the camera shows Phyllis at the top of the staircase, naked except for a towel she has on.   The camera is almost exculsively focusing on Phyllis. The camera briefly gazes back to Neff when he is introducing himself.  However, the camera returns to give us a close-up of Phyllis in her towel and we don’t see Neff for a few seconds.  Phyllis offers her assistance because her husband his not home, even though she admitted she is unaware of the insurance and most things her husband does.  This lack of knowledge demonstrates either that her husband really does not trust her with important issues or that she is not concerned with such matters.  She would probably rather go back to sunbathing outside which she was doing before Neff got there.

Throughout this encounter Neff is a little flustered and overly excited to be conversing with Phyllis.  Even after Phyllis left to put on clothes, Neff just stood there staring at the empty place where she stood.  Additionally, throughout the conversation we do not see the housekeeper who opened the door for Neff when the scene started, and we only see her when Phyllis addresses her and when Phyllis temporarily leaves the scene.  This may be because the housekeeper is not as good looking as Phyllis so Neff’s attention is not focused on her as he was on Phyllis.

Another significant instance of the “male gaze” is when Phyllis comes back to the scene after she is finished getting dressed.  The “male gaze” is seen as Phyllis is walking down the staircase to talk to Neff.  Right before the camera shows Phyllis actually walking down the stairs.  Neff looks at the staircase in a state of amazement.  After the camera captures his expression, it gives us an extreme close up of Phyllis slowly walking down the stairs in her heels.  This shot alone proves Mulvey’s theory.  By the camera angle alone we think of Phyllis as just a sexual object and not a complete person.

These two shots are more distinctive of the ”male gaze” than any other movie we have seen thus far.  These two shots are strong examples of the “male gaze” and are very provocative in nature.  The depiction of Barbara Stanwyck is not such a far cry from the way women were portrayed during this time period.  This movie was made in 1944, which entered a new film movement, which was called femme fatale (another name is film noir).  Women were perceived differently than they ever were and this had to do with World War II.  Women tended to their homes while the men went off to fight.  Just as women’s roles were changing nationally, they were changing in film as well as seen by the femme fatale period.  This period saw women as both dangerous and hypnotic.  Wilder clearly portrays this in “Double Indemnity”.  Wilder demonstrates elements of how women can be hypnotic, in the way that Phyllis was portrayed in this scene and how Neff was amazed by everything Phyllis did.  The element of danger is present, from the very beginning of the movie in which it is clear that Phyllis wants to kill her husband for his money, which is probably why she married him.

The two shots that I have discussed prove Mulvey’s theory.  These shots portray women as nothing more than sex objects.  By having Barbara Stanwyck come down in a towel, and having her slowly walk down the stairs, with the camera focusing on her, we are forced to view Stanwyck as just an object to be gazed at, as opposed to how women really are.

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1 comment so far

  1. 1 Amy Herzog
    5:11 am - 12-15-2011

    Nice work contextualizing this scene, Jason!

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