Articles Worth Reading: “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” by Laura Mulvey

In this essay, Laura Mulvey discusses how popular films and film makers, like Hitchcock and von Sternberg, have perpetuated patriarchal ideologies in their own films. Taking a Freudian approach to her examination of American cinema, Mulvey finds that films are specifically made with a male audience in mind. The function of the female character in film, as Mulvey notes, is two fold. First, the woman symbolizes the real threat of castration to the male character because of her missing genitalia. Second, the lack of a penis makes women raise their own children into the symbolic culture that they live in already, the patriarchal structured society of America. This part of her argument I found difficult to follow. Just because a women is ‘lacking’ means that she raises her children to have the same ‘lacking’ mind set, especially her daughters, or does Mulvey mean that this happens just in the dramatic world of cinematography?

One of the most interesting arguments I found in Mulvey’s essay was about children beginning to recognize themselves in the mirror and how she related it to her overall argument about films. Mulvey notes that a critical point in child development is the recognition of self in a mirror. As she explains, this is the real moment when all children begin to develop their own ego. But the problem I had with this part of her discussion was when she began discussing how the child interprets the mirror image as more ‘perfect’ that the actual self. Children at that age do not unerstand the concept of perfection and imperfection, so personally, I find that the mirror is not a misrecognition. It is only until children begin to learn cultural knowledge of perfection and imperfection that they start to see the mirrors reflection as more perfect that themselves. I think Mulvey does make a valid point when she recognizes the fact that this moment of recognition ‘predates language’.

To connect this whole argument about children and mirrors to her larger hypothesis, Mulvey explains that the male character (protagonist) in films becomes this same mirror image for men watching the films. The male audience makes a connection of self-recognition – but what about the female audience? How are they meant to perceive both male and female characters within a film? This is where I feel Mulvey’s argument is weakest. She spends so much time discussing the phallocentric nature of cinema and what it means for a male audience but neglects to address the ‘other’ members watching the same films. Overall, the essay is extremely interesting but does lack the female aspect/perspective/issue of viewing when she centers the majority of her discussion on the image of female as ‘other’ to a male audience in American cinema.


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