A Sequence from “Funny Games” in the Light of Laura Mulvey
“The magic of the Hollywood style at its best […] arose, not exclusively, but in one important aspect, from its skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure” (838). One of Laura Mulvey’s arguments in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is related to the Hollywood system, where women are used in order to provide a satisfying visual experience for men. The film’s narrative structures its gaze as masculine. “Women are always considered as the pleasurable objects of the gaze, not the bearer of it”.Why? Because women stand in a patriarchal-unconscious society which has structured film in a certain way. In fact, Mulvey examines the Hollywood system in the light of the psychoanalysis theory, which is for her a “political weapon” (837). According to Mulvey, films are organized along lines that are peculiar to cultural system itself. A system that is shaped on preexisting social patterns: those elements reinforced “the fascinated subjects” aka the women, with the result of the big popularity of the Hollywood cinema. It seems clear that the system itself is related to a commercial interest: films are products for an audience which need to be fulfilled with “visual pleasure”. Mulvey’s critique is exactly on this idea of visual pleasure strictly related to the female identity and the way in which it is labeled by the “cinematic apparatus”.
What I found interesting in the article is the analysis of the “look” over the years. In the summary, she examines the three looks that are connected in a film. In fact, as she claims “It is the place of the look that defines cinema” (847): (i) the look of the camera which films everthing that happens in front of it; (ii) the look of the spectator that observes the events on the screen and finally, (iii) the look of the characters, who look at each other while performing within the fictive world. The narrative of film is emphasized especially on the view of characters because they make the camera seem to be absent. Hence, the trickery of the absence of the “apparatus”, offers to the spectator the illusion that there is no real space between him and the world ideated by the cinema. In fact, if the audience does not perceive the camera as an instrument, the audience subconsciously experiences what is happening on the screen.
In a time of rapid technological progress, new techniques of the camera have changed the “look”: there is no specific “visual pleasure” to be concentrated on. In thinking about an illustration of this article, I kept returning to Haneke’s “Funny Games”. In my opinion, the scene which we have seen, has an overtly destructive perspective of the “visual pleasure”. In fact, the use of the camera is clearly visible, and the “violent/funny” scene where the guy uses the remote control to go backwards changing his reality “appears directly – without mediation – to the spectator” (847). According to Mulvey’s analysis, it may be that Paul is destroying “the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege of the invisible guest” (847).
In this scene, the idea of the manipulation of visual pleasure as described by Mulvey, is clearly well-constructed: the visual pleasure becomes “visual displeasure” and the relation between the character and the spectator is suddenly clarified through the use of the remote control. In fact, the voyeuristic experience that Mulvey also associated to the contrast between the “darkness […] and the brilliance on the screen” (839) is disturbed when Paul (aka the director?) changes the game: the result is the slingshotting of the spectator from the world of illusion to the reality. At this point, even the voyeuristic element changes. According to Mulvey “the illusion of voyeuristic separation” (840), needs to be supported by another illusion, which is related to the screen, that creates the separation between reality and fiction. It seems to me that in Haneke’s scene, quoting Mulvey, the woman/character “performs, within the narrative, the gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined” (842) for breaking the “narrative verisimilitude”. Can we deduce that the scene twists the line between fiction and reality, especially highlighting the act of observation?
Another perplexity comes to my mind: in the scene, Haneke seems constructing Paul as a dominant male figure that creates and controls his surroundings–and yet the filmmaker is pleased to keep audiences in their seats as spectators. He knows exactly what could be their reaction. In fact, he seems to have two strategies: one is to shift the illusion to the reality and the other is to show that the filmmaker, as an artist but also as a man, is still there. The remote control is still used by the male character. He changes the rule, the women are still victims, objects. Is the camera still male? Do basic gender distinctions so permeate art that we really cannot view without considering the gender of the author? Is, in this specific case, the “visual displeasure” still dominated by the male gaze and that female viewers learn to see through “male” eyes?