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the male gaze in Wild Things February 18, 2007

Posted by Wasik in "the gaze", wild things.
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On Thursday, we discussed how Wild Things is a ‘gazefest’, and very consciously plays with Mulvey’s idea that film, and specifically the actual camera, reinforces patriarchal societal structures by placing the viewer in the male gaze. Mulvey says that the viewer watches the movie both for scopophilia (the pleasure of looking at another person as a sexual object), and because he or she identifies in some way with the protagonist(s). Wild Things intentionally addresses Mulvey’s explanation from the very beginning by guiding the viewer to identify first with Lombardo, and then Kevin Bacon’s character. At the end, however, this traditional identification with the male characters (and objectification of women, mainly Denise Richards) is turned completely on its head when we find out that Neve Campbell is the mastermind behind the murder.

In class, someone mentioned that although the intent of the ending was to subvert this traditional idea that the camera reflected the male gaze, it ultimately failed because the film’s structure did not effectively manage to reflect this subversion. However, I disagree and would like to argue that the attempt was successful. It is true that the camera is never directly equivalent to Neve Campbell (as it is in the beginning with Lombardo, or in the lesbian pool scene with Kevin Bacon). But I consider the last image of Neve, controlling the sailboat and sailing to victory in her one-piece, as a viable display of female power. We can wish that she were not dressed in a bathing suit at all, but something less sexy– but such conservatism would only be pandering to the idea that every time a woman wears skimpy clothing she becomes a sexual object (which I guess is up for debate…) The moment of power reversal in the film is meant to be abrupt, and the explanation is an afterthought given in between end credits on purpose, because the Neve’s power is meant to shock the viewer, leave him/her in disbelief, and rethink the plot. I think the ending succeeds because its suddenness forces us to think about point of view within film; asking it to do more, and change structurally to reflect or better explain its message, is overly demanding. I think the ending is meant to raise an issue, and not really do much about it– which is fine. I guess pointedly making an entire film situating the viewer in the female gaze would be the next step…

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