#DirectedByWomen Mulvey and Scopophilia in Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (2022)

September 14, 2016 0

#DirectedByWomen Mulvey and Scopophilia in Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (1)

Teetering on the brink of young girlhood and adulthood, Mia in Andrea Arnold’s film, “Fish Tank,” displays the melancholy, angst, and sexual desire that looms over her in the shabby and broken down social and economic makeup of small town Britain. Growing up with a careless mother, smoking and drinking at a young age, and without girlfriends her own age, Mia feels suppressed by the suburban backdrop she is confined in. Mia is the fish that is trapped in the merky waters, unable to escape her dreary reality. When she meets her mother’s boyfriend, Conor, she is engulfed by intense curiosity. Their relationship is a back and forth game of desire, gaze, pleasure, and objectification. In Laura Mulvey’s article, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Mulvey discusses the act of scopophilia in film. She structures filmic pleasure into three different components, one is of the camera as it records the cinematic experience, two is of the audience as they view the spectacle, and three is of the characters looking at each other on screen. Yet, “[t]he conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third” (843). This is true of Arnold’s “Fish Tank,” which does not come as a surprise considering that the film may be a direct portrayal of Mulvey’s article. Arnold challenges the traditional form of scopophilia of the “woman as image, man as bearer of look” (837). Through the use of the camera, which creates a detachment within the audience, and the character interactions, this paper will discuss how Arnold’s “Fish Tank” strays away from the issues of traditional film conventions that Mulvey discusses in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”

Mulvey claims that without the absence of “the material existence of the recording process” “fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness, and truth” (843). “Fish Tank” achieves this successfully. The cinematography of “Fish Tank” is fairly simple. There is no complicated editing, montage, ellipsis, filter, or soundtrack. All of the music and sound that is in the film is also present in the diegetic world and the timing is always in the present as well, never flashing back or forward, but simply keeping in time. The only noticeable addition to the world being filmed is the use of lights. The scene where Conor undresses Mia before she goes to bed is drenched in a saturated red. When Mia comes home after spending the day with Billy, the living room is an electric cool blue, and when Mia dances for Conor, the scene’s mood is heightened by the saturated yellow and green hues. However other than some of those slightly exaggerated lights, the colors are reminiscent of the natural world. In other words, the film almost falls under the realm of documentary, the only difference being that the narrative is fictional. This sense of verisimilitude is heightened by the camera’s action of following the characters’ movements. Through the use of a hand held, the camera dances with Mia when she loses herself in the world of hip hop and it runs and shakes when she sprints away from her worries and fears.

Despite the made-up storyline, the audience does not feel as if they are viewing a constructed world, but rather a slice of life. The camera work creates a sense of detachment with the spectators. They no longer become a part of the spectacle, simply viewing to enjoy but they become observers. As Mulvey wrote, “[t]here is no doubt that this destroys the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege of the ‘invisible guest’” (844). The presentation of the cinematography of “Fish Tank” lacks the traditional filmic setup in which the viewer is aware that they are watching a product made for the purpose of voyeuristic pleasure. This lack of pleasure brings to light the issue of the male gaze in traditional films.

The final “blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions” (844), is executed through the roles of Mia and Conor. A traditional film usually holds a male character as the protagonist who advances the narrative plot, making him the bearer of the gaze, and the female character as the passive image. However, to an extent, “Fish Tank” does just the opposite. Mia, a young and vulnerable teenage girl is the protagonist as well as the active on-looker. Although she is the main subject of the film, many of the scenes are filmed with her back turned towards the lens, in the foreground and out of focus. Many of these shots are eye level to her as well. This gives Mia the power and the control because she holds the gaze, and the viewers see the world as she does. In most of the shots where Mia’s back is in the foreground, Conor is in the background, the object of Mia’s gaze.

From the very beginning when Conor first appears, Mia holds an interest in his appearance. She timidly stands by the wall and watches Conor. However instead of including a lot of space around the man as seen in traditional films, the shots are close ups of his torso and his low jeans as he makes tea and walks up the stairs. When he leaves, she watches him through the window, as he gets into his car and drives away. It immediately becomes apparent that Mia is the controller of the gaze, and the one that advances the narrative. Later in the film, before Joanne’s party, there is a shot of Tyler and her friend watching and commenting on the figures displayed on the TV screen and one of a hamster fumbling inside a glass case. Both the hamster and the TV hold the to-be-looked-at quality. Following this scene is a shot of Mia looking out her window and watching Conor as he nears her house. In the article, Mulvey writes that in traditional films, the man cannot become a sexual object, yet that is exactly what Conor becomes in the scene where Mia films him as he undresses. Conor does not object and even plays the part of the subject as he puts on a mini performance by flashing a grin and looking directly at the video recorder. Later on in bed, Mia rewatches the footage. This act diminishes Conor into an object, for she can watch him whenever and however she desires. Directly following this scene, Mia watches her mother and Conor have sex. Her gaze follows Freud’s example of “the voyeuristic activities of children” (835). Mia is curious, but here she is not curious about sex in general, but more so of sex that involves Conor. As she peers at the sexual act through the door crack, Joanne is completely not visible. Again the camera mimics Mia’s gaze and only Conor is shown.

Despite Mia being the protagonist and the controller of the gaze, she is also subject to Conor’s voyeuristic pleasure. At first view, some may argue that the film is not feminist, for Mia is sexually objectified by a man much older and she falls prey to the male gaze. However, this is far from the truth. “Fish Tank” is a feminist film because not only are the roles reversed from the traditional filmic conventions, but Mia is a young female who is unapologetic of her gaze, actions and desires. In the beginning scene when Mia realizes that Conor was watching her dance in the kitchen, she abruptly stops as Conor says, “don’t mind me girl, I was enjoying it.” Instead of ignoring the situation, Mia mocks him and says, “as if” and calls him out when he says that she dances like a black. In the scenes where she does become a part of Conor’s gaze, she is not passive, but rather is passively active. For example, when Conor carries Mia to her room and undresses her before she goes to bed, Mia is aware of his actions. She pretends to be asleep, while in fact she watches his every move. The shots are half blurry, just as how Mia sees Conor with her eyes half closed. Again he is not a figure in a setting, but rather the shots are close ups of his certain body parts including his arms and hands. Lastly, when Mia dances for Conor before they have sex, Conor is clearly enjoying the spectacle. Yet instead of the camera shots being from Conor’s perspective, most of the shots are from the back of Mia, and shows Conor watching up at her from the couch. Therefore although Mia is being looked at by Conor, she allows it, and even enjoys his gaze, “[t]here are sources in which looking itsef is a source of pleasure, just as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at” (835).

Fish Tank” pushes away the traditional filmic qualities, and transforms the use of the gaze to a powerful and new change from the conventional roles of female and male characters in films. Arnold achieves this by acknowledging Mulvey’s theory of the three gazes correlated with cinema. First she diminishes the presence of the camera, detaches the audience from the spectacle, and reverses the traditional roles of the character interactions. Perhaps if Mulvey viewed Arnold’s “Fish Tank,” then she would see some hope in the deterioration of the traditional cinematic form where the images of women have been forever appropriated and used for voyeuristic pleasure (844).

By Sala Johnson

Sala is a Sophomore at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an emphasis in photography. She is also interested in writing and film.

Categories: Feminist Criticism, Women Film-makers

Tagged as: andrea arnold, Feminist Criticism, fish tank, laura mulvey, sala johnson, women filmmakers

FAQs

How does Laura Mulvey define the male gaze? ›

The Male Gaze is a term coined by Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” The male gaze can be defined as the power to look, which is traditionally held by the dominant gender. In other words, men are typically given more freedom to visually explore their surroundings than women. What is this?

What does Laura Mulvey believe in? ›

Mulvey believes that women are in fact “the bearer of meaning and not the maker of meaning,” which suggests that women are not placed in a role where they can take control of a scene, instead they are simply put there to be observed from an objectified point of view.

Why is Laura Mulvey important? ›

Mulvey diagnosed how Hollywood cinema reinforced pre-existing patriarchal social codes, and in doing so, cast men in dynamic roles, women in passive ones. She critiqued traditional cinema's inherent voyeurism, yet also sought a way to see anew the Hollywood films that she had loved in the 1960s.

Who Theorised the male gaze? ›

Filmmaker and theorist Laura Mulvey first coined the term “the male gaze” in her seminal 1973 paper Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.

What are the two aspects of Laura Mulvey's theory of pleasure? ›

In the final section of Part 2, Mulvey points out that the first aspect of scopophilia involves objectifying the other for erotic pleasure, while the second entails identifying with the other to secure one's ideal ego. These two aspects register a tension between objectivity and subjectivity.

What are the three different looks associated with cinema according to Mulvey? ›

As Mulvey explains: There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion.

What is the gaze theory? ›

In critical theory, sociology, and psychoanalysis, the gaze (French le regard), in the philosophical and figurative sense, is an individual's (or a group's) awareness and perception of other individuals, other groups, or oneself.

What is the thesis of the oppositional gaze? ›

The oppositional gaze serves as "a gesture of resistance" to not only the male gaze but also toward the oppression of minorities through cinema by the all-inclusive gendering of woman. This gaze criticizes the doubling effect of objectification by "turning away [as] one way to protest, to reject negation".

What did Laura Mulvey do? ›

Laura Mulvey (b. 1941) is best known for the groundbreaking essay 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' (1973, published 1975) in which she coined the term 'male gaze' and tackled the asymmetry at the heart of cinema – the centrality of the male viewer and his pleasure.

How does Mulvey define Scopophilia? ›

Adopting the language of psychoanalysis, Mulvey argued that traditional Hollywood films respond to a deep-seated drive known as “scopophilia”: the sexual pleasure involved in looking. Mulvey argued that most popular movies are filmed in ways that satisfy masculine scopophilia.

Where does Laura Mulvey teach? ›

Laura Mulvey (born 1941 in Oxford) is Professor of Film and Media Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London.

What is the context in which Laura Mulvey wrote the essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? ›

“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1973)” by British film/media studies professor, Laura Mulvey was a controversial essay which aided in incorporating psychoanalysis and feminism within the context of film theory analysis.

What is the difference between male and female gaze? ›

The male gaze refers to how women are depicted in the world—specifically media—from a heterosexual male's point-of-view. This depiction is generally hypersexualized and treats female characters as objects for the male protagonists to use.

What does the male gaze look like? ›

Many male gaze shots come in medium close-up shots of women from over a man's shoulder, shots that pan across and over while fixating on a woman's body, and close-ups on various body parts which show a man actively observing a passive woman.

What are the three components of the Bechdel test? ›

Definition of Bechdel Test

Note: The usual criteria of the Bechdel Test are (1) that at least two women are featured, (2) that these women talk to each other, and (3) that they discuss something other than a man.

What is scopophilia according to Freud? ›

However, Sigmund Freud first introduced the concept in 1905 in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Scopophilia refers to the pleasure of looking as well as the pleasure of being looked at. It therefore has both voyeuristic and exhibitionistic, as well as narcissistic, overtones.

What are the two contradictory aspects of the pleasurable structures of looking? ›

Two contradictory aspects of pleasure of looking in film: 1) scopophilia, 2) identification. 1) Scopophilia: scopophilic instinct: pleasure in looking at another as sexual object.

What is meant by the male gaze? ›

The male gaze describes a way of portraying and looking at women that empowers men while sexualizing and diminishing women.

What is meant by semiotics and cinema? ›

Film semiotics is the study of sign process (semiosis), or any form of activity, conduct, or any process that involves signs, including the production of meaning, as these signs pertain to moving pictures. Every artform has some hidden symbols in it which are left to the audience to make meanings through it.

What is the apparatus theory in film? ›

Apparatus theory maintains that cinema is by nature ideological because its mechanics of representation are ideological, and because the films are created to represent reality. Its mechanics of representation include the camera and editing.

What is mulveys basic argument about Narrative Cinema? ›

Mulvey argues that within film, males are the active viewer and females become the passive subjects, meant to represent male desire. She justifies this theory through various examples, explaining that in classic Hollywood cinema, the woman interrupts the flow of the narrative film.

How many types of gazes are there? ›

There are three basic types of gazing: Social Gazing, Intimate Gazing and Power Gazing.

What is the power of the gaze? ›

Gaze is a powerful element of social interaction. It reveals where a person is focusing their attention, and, when directed at us, it can have a strong emotional effect. Gaze can play a role in social organization, with a direct gaze demonstrating social dominance and gaze aversion indicating passivity.

Why is bell hooks name lowercase? ›

Hooks assumed her pseudonym, the name of her great-grandmother, to honour female legacies; she preferred to spell it in all lowercase letters to focus attention on her message rather than herself.

What is black spectatorship? ›

The manner in which black spectators may circumvent identification and resist the persuasive elements of Hollywood narrative and spectacle informs both a challenge to certain theories of specta- torship and the aesthetics of Afro-American independent cinema.

What is queer gaze? ›

A direct response to the oft unspoken of yet ever-present “straight gaze,” the queer gaze recognizes how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people create and view art.

How does the male gaze affect society? ›

Through this male gaze, Hollywood cinema reproduces and upholds a patriarchal society and renders women passive and men active. Cinema is dependent on this binary of active men and passive women as they are the devices around which a story is structured. Cinema is a voyeuristic experience for men.

Who created feminist film theory? ›

Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa de Lauretis, Barbara Creed.

What is female gaze in film? ›

The female gaze is a feminist theory term referring to the gaze of the female spectator, character or director of an artistic work, but more than the gender it is an issue of representing women as subjects having agency. As such all genders can create films with a female gaze.

What is the male gaze in literature? ›

In 1975, film critic Laura Mulvey coined the term 'the male gaze'. It refers to the presentation of women in visual arts and literature from a male, heterosexual perspective where women are depicted as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

What are the three looks available to viewers of film? ›

There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion.

What is the Bechdel test movies? ›

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl) is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women be named is sometimes added.

What is the thesis of visual pleasure and narrative cinema? ›

The psychoanalytic interpretation of the position of women viewers gets back to the famous essay by Laura Mulvey “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, the original thesis of which was that the film form is structured by the unconscious of the patriarchal society and that woman as a spectator is always imposed the ...

Which theory focuses on how a film is received by an audience? ›

Reception theory provides a means of understanding media texts by understanding how these texts are read by audiences. Theorists who analyze media through reception studies are concerned with the experience of cinema and television viewing for spectators, and how meaning is created through that experience.

What is the male gaze in film? ›

The male gaze refers to those audiovisual narratives that portray women from the point of view of a heterosexual white man, promoting stereotypes that objectify and sexualize them.

What is the context in which Laura Mulvey wrote the essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? ›

“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1973)” by British film/media studies professor, Laura Mulvey was a controversial essay which aided in incorporating psychoanalysis and feminism within the context of film theory analysis.

What is the male gaze in art? ›

In 1975, film critic Laura Mulvey coined the term 'the male gaze'. It refers to the presentation of women in visual arts and literature from a male, heterosexual perspective where women are depicted as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

What is Van Zoonen theory? ›

What is the theory? Van Zoonen believes the media portray images of stereotypical women and this behaviour reinforces societal views. The media does this because they believe it reflects dominant social values (what people believe in) and male producers are influenced by this.

What is female gaze theory? ›

The female gaze is a feminist theory term referring to the gaze of the female spectator, character or director of an artistic work, but more than the gender it is an issue of representing women as subjects having agency. As such all genders can create films with a female gaze.

What movies have the female gaze? ›

The Female Gaze
  • Lore (2012) Not Rated | 109 min | Drama, Romance, War. ...
  • Chocolat (1988) PG-13 | 105 min | Drama. ...
  • Beau travail (1999) Unrated | 92 min | Drama, War. ...
  • It Felt Like Love (2013) Unrated | 82 min | Drama. ...
  • Beach Rats (2017) R | 98 min | Drama. ...
  • Certain Women (2016) R | 107 min | Drama. ...
  • Broad City (2014–2019) ...
  • Raw (2016)

Why is the female gaze important? ›

However. The main reason why the female gaze is so powerful, especially in 2021, is because it introduces more diverse voices that are often overlooked in the entertainment field. When movies, books, and even songs have that female narrative it introduces the audiences to ideas that they usually are not exposed to.

What are Laura Mulvey's arguments in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? ›

In the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey structures her argument around two crucial ideas, titled “Pleasure in Looking/Fascination with the Human Form,” and “Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look.” In these sections, she demonstrates how psychoanalysis can be utilized in film theory, ...

What is the thesis of Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? ›

The psychoanalytic interpretation of the position of women viewers gets back to the famous essay by Laura Mulvey “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, the original thesis of which was that the film form is structured by the unconscious of the patriarchal society and that woman as a spectator is always imposed the ...

What is the paradox of Phallocentrism What are the two contradictory aspects of the pleasurable structures of looking? ›

The paradox of phallocentrism is in that it depends on woman (as lack) to provide meaning and order, to give symbolic meaning to the phallus (the yin needs its yang) – phallus also signifies threat of castration (woman's supposed desire to “make good the lack”).

What is the difference between male and female gaze? ›

The male gaze refers to how women are depicted in the world—specifically media—from a heterosexual male's point-of-view. This depiction is generally hypersexualized and treats female characters as objects for the male protagonists to use.

How do you use male gaze in a sentence? ›

Seen in the light of the x-ray, the female body became of particular interest on the doctor's table with the male gaze penetrating a previously hidden interior world. Sometimes a male character appears, usually to approve of or admire the gorgeous hair the product had created, but often the male gaze is implied.

How do you subvert the male gaze? ›

The first and most obvious way to subvert the male gaze is by simply reversing the gender roles. This can be done by inverting the gaze of the camera so that its focus is on male objects of female desire.

What is Bell Hooks theory called? ›

She is most well known for her feminist theory that recognizes that social classifications (e.g., race, gender, sexual identity, class, etc.) are interconnected, and that ignoring their intersection creates oppression towards women and change the experience of living as a woman in society.

What type of feminist is Van Zoonen? ›

Socialist feminist perspective? Van Zoonen argues that gender is constructed and that its meaning varies dependent on cultural and historical context. She suggests that masculinity as well as femininity is constructed – and that the codes used to construct men 'as a spectacle' are different.

What does Judith Butler say about gender? ›

Gender, according to Butler, “is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results.” She stressed, however, that individuals do not exist prior to or independently of the genders they “perform”: “gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist ...

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