Essay on Death Of Venice By Luchino Visconti

Essay on Death Of Venice By Luchino Visconti

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In Luchino Visconti’s film, Death in Venice (1971), Gustav von Aschenbach, an older
man, becomes infatuated with a young Polish boy named Tadzio during a trip to Venice . This
same sex attraction ties into several major themes in the film, particularly notions of voyeurism,
illness, infatuation and disguise. Death in Venice received negative attention at the time of its
release due to its homosexual connotations. Historically, homosexuality has been at times
considered to be linked with mental illness. Similarly, present and past treatment of pedophilia
has been highly medicalized. It becomes apparent the ways in which homosexuality and
pedophilia are linked within the film, both in their taboo nature and the way in which the two have been perceived as illness, another evident theme within the film which arises. Using Thomas Waugh’s “The Third Body”, this essay attempts to examine elements of the film that are reliant on the same-sex relationship within the film. Death in Venice is not only a thinly veiled critique of class levels in Italy, but also serves as a commentary on responses to homosexuality at the time. Essentially, the films themes of illness and pedophilia reinforce and underscore the stigmatization of homosexuality in the time of the film’s release.
Thomas Waugh describes the ephebe character in “The Third Body” as an object of homoerotic gaze who addresses the opposite “he-man” as an older, stronger and more powerful phallic spectator (Waugh 432). Luchino’s young male character, Tadzio, identifies as the ideal ephebe character. The viewer is constantly reminded of his ephebe qualities as youthful strong and sculptural in nature, with scenes of him depicted in a bathing suit often wrestling, swimming, and str...


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Through the themes discussed above, it is evident that there is a strong correlation between the same-sex gaze and major negative motifs in the film that denigrate and stigmatize homosexuality. There are several questions that need to addressed when examining the attraction found in Death in Venice. Would the situation be less taboo if the lusted after character was a woman? Would Aschenbach have acted upon his feelings had Tadzio been an she? The film would have had very different connotations and themes had the male character been replaced with a female. Through the film’s beautiful portrayal of the struggle between life and death, youth and age and purity and impurity, the major negative themes of illness, disguise, infatuation, excess and even pedophilia all emphasize the stigmatization of homosexuality and the struggle of both a gay male figure and an artist.

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