As an advanced representation system the cinema possesses questions of the ways the unconscious structure ways of seeing and pleasure in looking - Modern Voyeurism introduction. Feminists have been using Freud’s psychoanalytical theory as a political weapon in order to deconstruct popular Hollywood cinema and how it stimulates the patriarchal culture. Even though we are more conscious about these structures nowadays, Hollywood cinema still uses the Male Gaze in order to control the identification processes of the spectator. A recent example is the thriller Disturbia (2007) by D. J. Caruso, seen as a modern interpretation of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. It’s a movie about a grounded teenager who starts spying on his neighbours out of boredom. After making a brief comparison between these two movies, I will mainly focus on the Male Gaze; how the protagonist, Kale Brecht, spends his days spying his new neighbour Ashley, a girl who just moved in the neighbourhood and becomes the object of desire of Kale. Voyeurism is the main theme in Rear Window as well as in Disturbia, the spectator looks at the male protagonists looking at their neighbours.
They are both bounded to their own house because of a limitation in their legs; Jeff’s leg is broken where Kale has an ankle monitor. Both characters get hooked on looking at the daily happenings of their neighbourhood and end up discovering a murderer that lives among them. Further they also have two sidekicks who help them investigate, going where the protagonists can’t go. While the object of desire usually is a helpless woman, subjected to the male protagonists, in these movies Lisa and Ashley are empowered women who choose to help Jeff and Kale, going further then they can and therefore have a certain power, dominance.
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Hitchcock skilfully makes use of identification processes with a subjective camera from the point of view of the male protagonist. Drawing the spectator deeply into his position, making him share his uneasy gaze. The audience is absorbed into a voyeuristic situation within the screen scene. In Disturbia Caruso uses the same techniques. Maybe Kale is not an idealised image of a man, but he is sympathetic and funny, which makes it easy for the spectator to like him and identify with him. On top of that Kale eventually saves the day with his spying; discovering a murderer and saving his mother.
Precisely because he is not idealised, he is accessible for the audience; a normal teenager who turns out to be a hero, it suggests that everyone could be a hero. Further there is not a single moment where he is presented as a sexual object. The narrative supports Kales role as the active one of forwarding the story, controlling the films fantasy. Looking from that perspective; he is the powerful ego, conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror and therefore desirable for identification. The presence of a woman as sexualized object is an indispensable element of the narrative.
Her visual presence tends to work against the development of the storyline, to freeze the flow or action in movements of erotic contemplation. In Disturbia are many examples of close-ups on Ashley’s (often half-naked) body, which has no contribution to the storyline at all (see annex 1). These shots are solely used in order to emphasise the dominance of the male gaze. The first time they meet is striking for the power-balance between the two protagonists. Kale forces this situation by seeming helpless at first, forcing her to help him and becoming powerful because of that.
The conversation seems unimportant but Kale is dominant over Ashley since he is standing higher than her, which gives an unconscious message (see annex 2). At first she is isolated and therefore glamorous and sexualized. Nevertheless, as soon as Ashley gets involved with Kale and his voyeurism she becomes his property. He influences her actions. A great example is when Ashley decides to throw a party, which makes Kale jealous and decides to ruin her party so she has to come to his house to stop him. Instead of doing so, they kiss and continue spying the neighbour, exactly as Kale wanted.
By means of identification with Kale, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too. Another notable fact about the dominance over Ashley is the fact that she is framed a lot of times within the screenshots, making her limited (see annex 2). This refers to Freud’s psychoanalytical theory; females are limited because of the fact they are ‘incomplete’, missing a phallus. The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world.
Therefore it’s necessary to emphasize this fact in the movie. Disturbia is a great adaptation of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. By using the same techniques as Hitchcock the director creates a tremendous suspense. Even though women are more empowered nowadays, he still knows how to force the Male Gaze upon our unconsciousness. Nevertheless, thanks to Mulvey’s essay we are able to deconstruct these patriarchal codes. Annexes 1. Male Gaze shots: sexualizing Ashley as an object of desire for Kale as well as the spectator. These shots have no contribution to the storyline and thus slow it down.
2. By making Ashley help him, Kale already has a certain power over her at the first time they meet. The camera makes smart use of its angles; the spectator looks up to Kale in a strong position and looks down to Ashley in an innocent position. These simple shots already make up the power balance for the rest of the movie. 3. Here you see that Ashley is framed most of the time during the movie. May it be by objects, lines or male characters. In the right, middle image it’s also notable that Ashley is caught in the objects in front of her while Kale isn’t (quite ironical since in the movie he is the one who is actually limited).