A Textual Analysis of a Scene from Now Voyager and its Effects on Male and Female Spectators

A Textual Analysis of a Scene from Now Voyager and its Effects on Male and Female Spectators

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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 impose...


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...trol of the gaze as abnormal. By temporarily disrupting the spectator's sense of visual pleasure and coding this alternative as ill, as well as associating the restoration of visual pleasure with a return to the male gaze, the film successfully reinforces the male position as voyeur and female as object. The film normalizes the female spectators role of deriving pleasure from being both subject and object, proving, through the (medicalization) of the female protagonist, that to only derive pleasure in viewing as a subject or voyeur is a false pleasure, one that is abnormal. Just as Charlotte is cured in the film by denying her the gaze and constructing her into a fetish, so too is the female spectator's pleasure 'cured' or restored as she allows herself to be both object and subject, perceiving control of the gaze as an illness rather than as a tool of empowerment.

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