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The Portrayal Of Women In Film Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1317 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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I have chosen the following question. “To what extent do you agree with the statement that the female in film is on display, passive and purely there because of her to be looked-at-ness?

Women in my opinion have been the subject of “eye candy” in films and are not that often respected. Yes, there are a number of films about the power that woman can show along with the control to be on a par with men. But, they still show them as voyeuristic and sexual items. Most of Hollywood’s films have men in control and makes use of the “male gaze” (that is, the audience sees what they see about the female). Women are characteristically on the receiving end of that gaze.

According to Mulvey: “In a world of sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on the female figure which is styled accordingly”.

In my paper and my assessment of females on display I will be looking mainly at Tomb Raider (Simon West, US, 2001) about the adventures of Lara Croft. The character is played by and stars Angeline Jolie. I will also take a look at another film also starring Angelina Jolie Mr and Mrs Smith (Doug Liman, USA, 2005).

Firstly Tomb Raider. This film follows the success of a popular video game where as an adventurer you are taken through many seemingly impossible swashbuckling events to win the game. Like other characters, she must save the world. But when interviewed about her movie and her part in it she even talks about her to-be-looked at character. Angelina Jolie states “C’mon, I’m not so flat chested to begin with,” she said. “So it wasn’t like we had to completely change me. You know, we just had to enhance me a little. I’m a 36C. Lara, she’s a 36D. And in the game, she’s a double D, so we took her down some. But we did give her a bit of padding there. For me, it was simply one size, so it was like having a padded bra.”

So we are looking here at an almost virtual body that can satisfy desires and highlights her enthusiasm to play a real human but at the same time to invest erotically in a fictional character. Can we see anything else at times other than her being on display?

We are also looking at Tomb Raider as a voyeuristic gaze. Although Lara Croft is a woman she is giving us the female version of “Indiana Jones” but she lacks the fully realized three-dimensional qualities male counterparts usually show, as she is seen as Incredibly hot-n-juicy, and although playing probably the best action heroine the quality of the story dictates that she alone is probably the reason to see this movie.

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It appears that despite the move towards a masculine role as a woman the effort to mould her into a positive figure is difficult in a society because she is a woman. In an influential academic paper in 2002, Helen W. Kennedy said the question surrounding Lara Croft was simple – is she a “positive role model for young girls or just that perfect combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys?”.

It appears that (West) the producer wanted to set the film in a marketable form potentially appealing to both male and female audiences. Particularly to at the time “girlpower” and the emerging “ladette culture”. This as Helen Kennedy says “centres around playing “lads” at their own game but still seen primarily addressing a male audience”.

Lets look at the first five minutes of Tomb Raider’ it gives an appropriate insite into what is to be seen in the rest of the film. The opening sequences spend a lot of time focussing on Lara’s body. To begin with the shot of her face is from a particularly low angle, perhaps to express her dominance over the impending scene, but is more likely for the audience to see empathised breasts. It goes on to show several gratuitous shots of Lara’s crotch and thighs.

What is also interesting is that the sound has been exaggerated and the moans and screams while Lara is fighting the robot have clearly been digitised louder, thus supporting “Mulveys” theory of voyeurism.

Take a look at the photo below of Lara Croft. Notice she looks directly at you as a person and could be construed as a gesture of her awareness of herself as the object of the male gaze.

(2001) Tomb Raider [online image] http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/LetsCutTheBS/news/?a=7733

(Accessed 30th April 2010)

Another film with Angelina Jolie that represents a completely different type of format is Mr and Mrs Smith (Doug Liman, USA, 2005). This time the film is about a bored married couple who are surprised to learn that they are both assassins hired by competing agencies to kill each other. Whereas Lara Croft was shown very much eye candy, in this film the attempt is to show empowerment of woman to do the same role as a man. Uunfortunately Hollywood still insist on showing the female character as a tasteful, soft-core fantasy. Jolie (Janet Smith in the film) is depicted as a fiery, professional assassin. Just where the point in the film of her wearing a PVC corset with a little matching micro-skirt thing, bears no relationship at all to the genre the film is trying to depicts.

This time looking at a still from the film which is themed as a nonstop action movie like the Bourne identity series (Doug Liman, USA, 2002) Angelina Jolie is still shown in parts of the film as a voyeuristic woman on display.

(2005) Mr and Mrs Smith [online image] http://www.aceshowbiz.com/images/still/mr_mrs_smith07.jpg

(accessed 4th May 2010)


Of course I appreciate these are my personal opinions and how I see woman’s role in the film industry. One question comes to mind-why can’t women be portrayed as strong, intelligent and empowered as well as being sexually attractive?

I am not trying to say that women have to be either stupid, pretty, ugly or clever. I am not saying that beautiful women can’t be empowered and vice versa, what it is merely questioning is why the film makers feel the need to spend more time focussing on the body, appearance and sexuality of the female characters than they do the male characters. There needs greater focus on the character’s intelligence or ability and more focus on the aesthetic than on the plot itself. Which, really, is the reason most people go to watch a film in the first place.


Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) – Laura Mulvey

Originally Published – Screen 16.3 Autumn 1975 pp. 6-18


Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo?- Helen W Kennedy Originally Published-School of Cultural Studies, University of the West of England. pp. 4-5 http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/kennedy/

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Mr and Mrs Smith (2005) Copyright © The 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved. pp. 5 http://www.aceshowbiz.com/images/still/mr_mrs_smith07.jpg

Movie minutiae Lara Croft Tomb Raider 2001 Originally published by Vivien Cuttle, 15th February 2008. pp.1 http://blogs.abc.net.au/articulate/2008/02/movie-minutia-1.html

Back to the future for Lara Croft Originally published by the BBC on 10th May 2007. pp. 1 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6641833.stm


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