How far does a spectators gender affect their viewing experience in contemporary cinema?
I feel that whilst a spectator’s gender does have a great influence on their viewing experience it is not as important as other factors that come into play. There are several other factors to consider such as The Mirror Stage, Psychoanalysis and oppositional gazes such as The Queer Gaze or The Female Gaze which have much larger impacts on the viewing experiences of the spectator. I will be applying these gazes and theories to the films; A Clockwork Orange, Black Swan and Magic Mike.
Firstly I will start with the mirror stage. Within film the mirror stage is the idea of trying to see a reflection of ourselves within characters through the way in which we view films. The mirror stage comes into play through the way that we as a spectator can see the film from all angles rather than just from the set angle of the protagonist or other characters. This allows us to see multiple narratives from an omniscient point of view, giving us as a spectator a sense of power and control over what is happening. Of my three texts the mirror stage is most heavily applicable to the film Black Swan and the character of Nina. Through Nina’s struggle for identity we see her take on multiple personalities and characters being unable to control them. The most evident of these are the virginal, sweet white swan and the dark, seductive black swan whom she is trying to become for the dance. A key theme throughout the film is the use of mirrors. These mirrors are placed so frequently and in such great numbers throughout the film to emphasise Nina’s struggle to find her own identity, and escape from that which has been forced upon her by her mother. During her transformation into the black swan many scenes take place in front of mirrors, such as when Nina peels back the entirety of her skin on a finger from the base of the nail to her hand. This shows through the mirror her mental state, that we as a viewer would not otherwise have been able to see. I feel that the mirror stage is a key factor that will affect a viewers experience but it may not be fully understood by most audience members making it less important than the gender of the spectator.
Despite containing content that illustrates many examples of the oppositional gazes the film can still be very clearly seen through the male gaze. The male gaze being the traditional white, western, heterosexual take on films. The male gaze uses heavily voyeuristic views of women and see’s them more as visual enjoyment rather than key characters to influence the plot. This voyeurism is obvious throughout the film due to the outfits worn in the dance scenes but most predominantly during the scene in which the character of Nina has a gay encounter with another dancer. The scene makes use of many close-ups of the two kissing, emphasising that the scene is filmed for a male audience. The casting of the characters is also important as the actresses are Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman. Two actresses who are credited as heavily desirable throughout the world. This scene however could be viewed very differently through other gazes such as the queer gaze. Due to the fact that the encounter takes place inside Nina’s head and is not real, seen through the queer gaze the scene could tell of Nina’s internal struggle with coming to terms with her sexuality. A sexuality that can only be expressed through her subconscious. The male gaze gives female viewers very little to relate to but gives male viewers much visual enjoyment and stimulation, leading me to say that gender is very important in the viewing experience of contemporary cinema.
The factor that I feel is most important in affecting the spectators viewing experience is the emotional response which spectators have to the film. This emotional response is influenced by the alignments with the characters on screen, but is also heavily dependant on the individual themselves and the experiences that they have been through in their lives. Emotional response influences how we feel towards characters in the film and what outcome we hope the film has for them. In Black Swan we as spectators are supposed to align with Nina from a first person perspective and sympathise with her throughout her struggle. We see her struggle with her mother, and undetermined sexuality and see a much deeper view of the woman that she is. In A Clockwork Orange however women are seen as nothing more than disposable objects that the character of Alex can rape and harm as he sees fit. Although gender will affect how spectators align with the characters in a clockwork orange women are given no real female characters to relate to so are forced to align with Alex regardless of gender. They will however have a different opinion on his actions to that which would be taken by men due to their mind-set and the likely difference in past experiences to that which would have happened to male viewers. This leads me to say that gender is important as it directly affects how different actions within the films are interpreted.
Another oppositional gaze is the female gaze. An idea that is made clear within the film Magic Mike. Telling the tale of a group of strippers and focusing around a man named Mike the film gives a very voyeuristic view at the male body, and everything that comes with the male stripper lifestyle. Magic Mike rejects the traditional male gaze and instead flips it around, giving voyeuristic views of males. This film will be viewed very differently by the different genders. Women will see the film as a raunchy, erotic piece and will focus on the sexualisation of the strippers whilst many men will struggle to watch the piece due to the untraditional over-exposure of the male body. The film raises questions over why it is so acceptable for both genders to witness female nudity but so shocking when solely male nudity is played onscreen. This reinforces the idea that gender is very important in the viewing of cinema as different genders would have very different interpretations of, and views about, this piece.
The final point that am going to raise is that about the idea of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is another major factor that affects how audiences view and interpret films. A key belief within psychoanalysis theories is that children are heavily influenced by and will eventually become like their parents. This is shown clearly through the character of Nina in Black Swan where she aims to please her mother and relies on her for everything. This is shown clearly during the scene in which Nina does not want to eat her birthday cake but due to her mothers angry, distraught reaction Nina forces herself to in order to please her. Psychoanalysis allows us as spectators to further see the mind-set of the characters within film and what influences their decisions. Another major idea within psychoanalysis is that girls aim to find lovers that remind them of their fathers. Nina however has no father present throughout the film so we presume that he left her at a very young age. The only male role model within the film is Nina’s dance instructor, a man who she eventually has some sexual interaction with. The lack of a male role model may explain Nina’s confusion about her sexuality as she has had no predominant male interaction within her whole life. Psychoanalysis is not greatly affected by gender as the majority of it’s ideas are taken from a male perspective and only fit within a Male gaze viewpoint.
In conclusion I feel that gender is important in affecting a spectators viewing of a film however other factors such as sexuality and emotional response are more important. I feel that personal relationships and the alignment of the spectator with the characters are most important as they influence how the entirety of the film is read by the viewer. This allows a much more personal interpretation of the film to be created, unlike that which could be created from gender which would simply be one of two viewpoints, either male or female.