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Cinematic gazes on screen plays a crucial role in the act of adopting power and superiority, not only between the fictitious characters, but also by the viewers. There is a constant hierarchical dynamic in the film watching experience – whether it is the narcissistic gaze where viewers identify with actors as an aspirational figure, the fetishistic gaze in male characters exerting their control over the image of a female character, or the scopophilic and voyeuristic gaze where female figures are reduced to a symbol for pleasure with a lack of dimension in personality. Such power struggles are often evident in the romantic genre, more utilised in traditional and older films, whereas more recent texts may propose a contradiction towards the effects of the cinematic gazes proposed by Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze, Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Complex, etc. Such theories will be translated into the in-depth study of ‘Anomalisa’, which will be contrasted with analyses of ‘Pretty Woman’ to show a difference in the social context of when a film was produced. Anomalisa demonstrates that the power gazes occurs between the protagonist and his surroundings rather than between viewers and the film. His contempt towards the female characters also occurs equally to everyone in his world, in which eliminates the concept that gazes of cinema has to include gender roles. Therefore, modern cinema may share similar notions of cinematic gazes as any other film, but also rejects the restricted boundaries of these theories.
Initially in Anomalisa, Michael, the protagonist demonstrates that his view towards women are indeed from the position of superiority, which fits to Mulvey’s ideas. Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze was introduced in her essay The Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema in 1975, and is one of the dominant cinematic gazes in romantic films due to their main element of love. It is a collective belief that the subject of enamouration is romanticised and idealised. Mulvey suggests this to be “an active male gaze and a passive female image”. Anomalisa shows this through Michael’s first ‘meet cute’ with Lisa where long continuous shots of her moving towards the centre of the frame as a non-diegetic instrumental melody makes the scene picturesque. One of her first dialogues addressed at Michael was “I can’t believe you’re in our room!”, in which are words of adoration that automatically makes Michael a more dominant character. It is also clear in this point of the film that every character is animated to have the same face besides Michael and now Lisa, who has a large scar by her right eye. There is a significance in Michael meeting someone that stands out as he exclaims “someone else!” – therefore making Lisa more glorified. Similarly in a classic romantic film such as Pretty Woman, Vivian, the female protagonist is introduced in close-ups of fragmented parts of her bare body. Barbara Creed suggests this as fetishising the body “by over-valuing a part of her body”.
In both the older film and the recent film, the female protagonists are introduced through forms of scopophilia and voyeurism, meaning “looking itself is a source of pleasure”. In Anomalisa, Michael asks Lisa, “May I kiss you there?” in reference to her facial scar which shows how his main attraction towards her is a physical feature. There is also a hint of perversion in Michael’s character for his sexual attraction towards something traumatic to Lisa. In Pretty Woman, Vivian’s character is a prostitute, which makes her constantly characterised by her attractive features and overt sexuality. Mulvey’s different gazes partially originates from the psychoanalytical approaches of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan who encouraged the integration of the Oedipus Complex when it came to comprehending sexual dynamics. This consists of the notion that the male “fears the father will punish him, possibly even castrate him”. Mulvey suggests a “sexual imbalance” where the “man controlled the look”. This claim for authority comes from the fear that allowing any female to be in equal positions as the male will make her a threat to punish him the same way his father is able to. Furthermore, both female protagonists are not only sexualised, they are diminished of reciprocal respect. Both Lisa and Vivian are younger and more naive girls who are introduced to a greater excitement, which is an older and more successful man. This puts them in an automatic inferior position. In the aspect of Mulvey’s Male Gaze, both films from different eras has proven to still follow its effect of “aligning spectorial pleasure with a hierarchical system of sexual narrative”.
The concept of men’s subconscious need to oppress the female character is concluded by Richard Allen in his Psychoanalytic Film Theory, “the first is to fetishize the image of the woman, the second is to punish the woman”. So in addition to putting the woman in a sexualised and less assertive role, there is also an underlining masochistic motivation through this fetishtic gaze. Prior to meeting Lisa, Michael’s character calls up an ex-girlfriend, Bella. They arrange to meet and she ends the conversation with “I’ve gained some weight… so you don’t look at me all freaked-out or anything”. With Lisa, she often tells herself, “Shut up Lisa!”, or is filmed with a close-up shot whilst her hair is constantly fixed to cover her scar to show a sense of discomfort. It is eventually gathered that Michael has a history of significant others with insecurities and a timidness to their demeanour. This repeated preference can be explained as a compensation for Michael’s loneliness as he is literally surrounded by a world where everyone looks and sounds the same, and in return makes his social interactions with them stale and hostile. This includes the disconnected relationship he has with his wife and children, as shown in him telling his wife, “Donna, I don’t want to…” as a hesitancy to speak with his son over the phone. With this loneliness, Mulvey describes his scopophilia as “taking other people as objects”. Edward in Pretty Woman, freshly wounded from a breakup, also reaches out to a woman most submissive to his wants and needs as she can be paid by him; he states “I will pay you to be at my beck and call” which shows his aim to find the easiest source of human intimacy. Although these male characters seek for a more compliant companion, they are also equally insecure. This raises the suspicion on whether the power gazes in romantic films helps enhance the charisma between the character and their love interest, or is it in fact that “the woman has not the slightest significance” but only what she “inspires in the hero”. The female character is merely what she represents and in turn could be interchangeable with anyone that can satisfy the male character.
In Anomalisa, Michael asks Bella “Did you change while we were together”, despite Bella’s claim that they were “special together”. This suggests that despite their remarkable connection, he has grown to feel bored. The same applies for his infatuation with Lisa in which leads to his gradual annoyance towards her more noticeable flaws the morning after they have sex. In a subtle scene, Lisa’s face and voice slowly changes into the face and voice of every other character; including Bella who used to be “special”. It is only when he goes home that Michael’s wife and son are revealed to both have the same eerie face and voice as the others as well. Despite the feminist approach insisting that cinematic gazes involves a gender role, “The man controls the film phantasy” and gazes “are gendered”. Anomalisa in fact shows that Michael’s egotistical view is not only targeted at women, but at anyone around him. This is clear in the nightmarish dream sequence where he finds himself ambushed by the entire staff team of the hotel he is staying at – where they all say they love him, the hotel manager claims, “I love you, I want what’s best for you”. Not only are the females in his life an accessory to help him fulfill his disdainful outlook, he places the same face and voice over everyone he encounters as a way to reassure that no one is important enough to stand out, besides him. This comes to show that although both films follow an “active, sadistic, and male” gaze, the modern product has left behind the influences of gender but instead focuses more on the unstable human condition of the character.
Not only is there a power difference between the characters, there is also an interaction with the audiences. Anneke Smelik describes the “narcissistic visual pleasure” as being “derived from self identification with the figure in the image”. The men watching Pretty Woman will most likely aspire to possess the classy and suave nature of Edward’s character. His character always speaks in formal manners and dressed in business suits which reinforces the image of his power and success. Edward is a figure that welcomes viewers to adore and admire him, as his “muscularity”, or in this case, the desirable factors that suggests his masculinity, are the “sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic” as Richard Dyer suggested in his work Don’t Look Now.
The various gazes proposed all provide a different form of power relationships. There are scopophilia, voyeurism, fetishism, masochism and narcissism in which are shown to be the common factor between two films produced from different eras, the 1990’s and the 2010’s, as well as a difference between two films. Although there are similarities in the dynamic of a more powerful male and a submissive as well as sexualised female – the origin of condescension originates from the place of being a patriarchal figure in the older film, yet the more recent film shows an unequal relationship due to a character’s deep rooted psychological apathy, rather than being a gender based reason.
Yet, in conclusion, a more classical Hollywood film as Pretty Woman and Anomalisa remain unaware of their misogynistic behaviour towards the female character whereas Anomalisa daringly accepts Michael as unpleasant and unredeemable. The romantic genre is often satirised due to its inability to break out of the strong prince and weak damsel formula; whereas Anomalisa directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson understands that the modern age is no longer interested in fantasies.
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