Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis

This analysis will be on the film Double Indemnity. I tend to use this film quite a bit. That is because it is awesome. In this particular post, however, I will be concentrating on the female gaze. I think if ever there was a female gaze – and I may be exaggerating – it came from Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson. Any time there was a close up of her, of which there were quite a few, it was such an extremely cool, collected gaze. Almost like an overconfidence of sorts. As a matter of fact, you’d probably be able to garner a hefty portion of the plot simply from one of her close ups. For example, looking at her gaze, you can tell she’s done whatever she’s doing right now, once before. At least.

Laura Mulvey argues in her essay that the male gaze is an active one and the female gaze is passive. In most cases I would agree with this argument regarding the films I have seen. In Double Indemnity however, it is a bit different. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is flip flopped; I would say that both the male gaze and the female gaze are just about on the same level. Fred Macmurray seems just as confident in his own perspective as Barbara Stanwyck does in hers. Even in the instance of the female being “punished” so to speak, I think that both the female and male are still on the same level. Just as Mrs. Dietrichson is killed at the end of this film, so is Walter Neff. They both seem to “get what they deserve”.

If I were to narrow it down to one scene in particular, which this analysis conveniently requests, I would have to go with an early scene where Walter Neff and Mrs. Dietrichson first meet. When the camera switches to a POV shot from Mr. Neff’s perspective and we see Mrs. Dietrichson coming out of the shower with just her towel on, she has a look of such confidence that it is difficult to determine who holds the dominant gaze in this scene. I can see how the argument of the woman being sexualized plays in here. It’s a tad obvious, what with this beautiful woman wearing only a towel, how can that be disputed? However I don’t believe that that is the only factor coming into play here. This is not Stanwyck’s only contribution to the film, it is merely a part of her character, albeit an important one.

The feeling I get from Mulvey’s article is that the females in these films are merely mediums through which parts of the story move through. If I am analyzing that correctly, I completely disagree with it, in this film. It happens to be one of the reasons I chose to do this film. Simply to disprove at least a part of this article.

Getting back to the scene, I feel like the gaze from Mrs. Dietrichson, from the balcony, coming down the stairs, and in the living room is made up of a few different components. For example, I feel as though the “gaze” in this particular instance is not only the way she looks/stares, but made up of the way that she walks and talks. Everything about her is so smooth and confident; I really do feel as though she is the dominant character for the majority of this movie. She has everything. She has the gaze, the sexuality, and the “to-be-looked-at-ness”.

Once again, Double Indemnity is my go-to movie for everything. And for this particular analysis, Barbara Stanwyck is an excpetional example of the female gaze and in my opinion, a prime suspect to help me to disprove Mulvey’s theory of the dominance of the male gaze in cinema.

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One thought on “Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis

  1. BRAVO!!!!! I’ve read several very solid analyses of this scene, but yours takes a truly original approach. Interestingly, it seems in line with some of the comments I’ve read about Stanwyck in The Lady Eve. In the comedy film, she can comfortably take control of the gaze and we empathize with her. Here, she’s manipulating male desire in a far darker way. What I like best is the way you acknowledge the direct ways in which she is objectified to see her RETURNING the gaze, not only literally, but through her gestures, dialogue, and her ultimate direction of all the events that follow. Fantastic work!

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