by Patricia Erens
Cut, no. 32, April 1987, pp. 53-55, 52
For the past seven years, the Slasher Film (alternatively called the "Woman in Danger Film) has performed extremely well at the box office. [open notes in new window] In a 1981 news article, Variety claimed that 30% of all the new movies involved horror or violent themes. Most prominent in this group have been WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), SILENT SCREAM (1980), HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE (1980), PROM NIGHT (1980), FINAL EXAM (1981), HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981), MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981), STUDENT BODIES (1981), PSYCHO II (1983), BODY DOUBLE (1984), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), and CAREFUL, HE CAN HEAR YOU (1984), as well as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1980), a special case which I will mention later. This, of course, represents only a partial list. Sequels and spin-offs abound, as well as other films which incorporate violence against women but which do not posit this theme as the central action.
What is relevant about these films is, first, their popularity — an indication that they have touched something in the popular consciousness; second, the degree to which these works reflect certain conventions previously associated with pornography; and third, the way in which these films are responsive to contradictory societal attitudes about sexuality, sex roles, and women (both about male attitudes towards women and women's attitudes towards themselves), and how these works move toward a synthesis or reconciliation, however tenuous.
I would like to approach the Slasher Film using THE SEDUCTION (1981), directed by David Schmoeller and starring Morgan Fairchild, Michael Sarrazin and Andrew Stevens, as an aspect of mass culture which produces shifting meanings. The film can be interpreted as an open text which allows for multiple readings, dependent upon viewers' interaction and gender identification. Although the high gloss production values and the romantic elements associated with Hollywood Melodrama and Television Soap Opera seem to set this film apart from those mentioned above, it is my contention that the film's structure, iconography, thematic material, and underlying ideology differ little from the more blatantly exploitative works. In treating the Slasher Film, my approach is similar to readings of Hollywood Melodrama, Television Soap Operas and Romantic Fiction which have been offered by Screen magazine, Tania Mod leski and Ellen Seiter, and Janice Radway, each of whom demonstrate how the production of popular culture simultaneously reinforces patriarchal values while at the same time subverting them.
First, some general observations about the Slasher Films. The majority of these works focus on a female protagonist, which sets them apart from the traditional Horror Film, which centers on a male protagonist. Thus the presence of the female body dominates the screen as in pornography or the men's magazines. In most films the central character (and sole survivor) is sexually innocent (for example, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, and PROM NIGHT). As a foil to this character, other female characters are more sexually active. The threat in these films comes from an unknown, frequently unseen, assailant who victimizes the innocent heroine in a variety of ways. Often we share the assailant's perspective through subjective tracking, point of view shots. This sets the Slasher Films apart from older Horror Films where audiences, through camera angles and editing, tend to identify with the victims. By placing us in the position of the attacker, frequently aided by the sounds of breathing, we become accomplices to the crime. As most of the assailants are male (the exceptions tend to be previously victimized women), the films seem to be constructed to capitalize on male anger toward women and to allow for an easy identification of the male viewer with the assailant. It is my assumption, however, that female viewers react with terror, and this assumption is similar to Peter Michelson's interpretation of the double reading of The Story of O. Michelson writes:
Finally, and most typically in the Slasher Film, the sexually aggressive females suffer a fatal stabbing — a phallically generated, symbolic rape. (Note that the Latin root for "vagina" is scabbard or sheath.) In some of the spin-offs, more kinky deaths and tortures occur.
Woman as vulnerable victim is a convention of the Horror genre, dating back to the Gothic novel, and the onus on female sexuality is a feature of U.S. cinema dating back to the silent period. What separates Slasher Films from previous works are
In his essay on DRESSED TO KILL, Royal S. Brown summed up these recent tendencies:
The question arises: Where does misogyny, which finds expression in pornography, derive from, and why has it become so pervasive at this time? In trying to come to terms with this phenomenon of misogyny, writers have drawn upon the works of Freud and his later interpreters. For example, a concise psychoanalytic explanation is offered by Susan Lurie in "Pornography and the Dread of Women: The Male Sexual Dilemma":
More specifically, the infant who is almost always nurtured from birth by a female body has almost all of his/ her needs met and feels at one with the source of this gratification which at first has no sexual identify but is thought of as an "it." Eventually the infant finds him/herself, subject to the will of another, which does not always correlate with his/her own. As Dorothy Dinnerstein explains in The Mermaid and the Minotaur,
Thus the child develops an anger against the mother and a fear of her power, which sometimes results in a fear of being possessed. The child also comes to recognize that the source of his/ her sustenance lies outside of him/ herself. This source, women, comes to embody the power of life and death. For the female child, however, this source is not an "Other."
As the male child is weaned and grows, he models himself on the father figure and learns of the privileges of being male, which include the possession of the penis. In part, this is a compensation for the loss of the pleasures of union with the mother. However, the penis is a vulnerable organ, first because of its placement outside the body, and second because of its responsiveness to stimuli which the male cannot always control.
As the male matures, the issues of control become dominant — control of his body, control of his emotions, and especially control of women. One avenue is through masturbation and fantasy in which the child can create a world totally to his liking, better than the real world. Such auto-erotic fantasies are used to repair the separation from mother and set patterns for adult sexual responses. A useful analysis of the differences between male and female sexual development can be und in the writings of Ethel Spector Person, and in film theory, Laura Mulvey's important essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," sheds light on the relation between voyeurism and sadism.
Another way to gain control is to reverse the process of female power and to gain control over women. One means is to dominate women socially, politically and economically, which men have done. Another is to control female sexuality, which during intercourse remind a man of his former vulnerability and also of present loss of strength after ejaculation. Further, the man can feel a desire to castrate, based on what Norman O. Brown calls the child's fantasy that this is what mother wishes or could do. Mutilating women thus can become a means of protecting self and reversing the threat. John Updike has put it very succinctly: "We want to fuck what we fear." But as Robert May points out in a recent book entitled Sex and Fantasy, "To try to do so, however, lands him on a treadmill of endless repetition" (a feature of most pornographic texts).
Dinnerstein describes men's need to control and its origins as follows:
As most pornography is created by men to be consumed by men, it necessarily calls upon male fantasy structures. In its depiction of sexuality, it reproduces the sexual world as men would have it. And it gives full play to their fears and desires, especially since the genre has minimal character or narrative development. Thus we find willing female sex partners with little subjectivity of their own, often objectified as the infant objectified the mother or females in his early auto-erotic fantasies.
I would like now to turn to one film, THE SEDUCTION, in order to point out the ways in which this work partakes of the elements of both pornography and the Slasher Films and makes transparent the roots of the misogyny which generate both genres. Most specifically, I would like to demonstrate how the depiction and treatment of women derives in part from the tradition of pornography and in part from the realities of a post-women's liberation era. Finally, I will offer some comments on how these conflicting tendencies and contradictions evolve within the text and how the film as a whole offers a position for both male and female viewers.
Like the majority of pornographic works and the new Slasher Films, the central character is a female, in this case Jamie Douglas. As is typical of females in many of the Slasher Films, Jamie is an independent woman (note the typically male first name). She holds an important job as a California anchor, earns a high salary, lives alone in a luxurious house on a hill with an indoor swimming pool, and is not married. She seems highly attractive, combining the most sought-after features of the American beauty: blond hair, long legs, and a thin body. She asserts, "I have everything in life I really want," a narrative invitation of "hubris."
Yet despite her seeming independence, she immediately reveals her need for male admiration. As she says to her boyfriend Brandon (Michael Sarrazin), "I liked being looked at." This comment both pronounces her vulnerability — which later becomes the source of her suffering and punishment — and at the same time provides a raison d'etre for Derrick (Andrew Stevens), the future Peeping Tom attacker.
The film opens with sensual shots of a nude woman sliding through blue water, which billows like clouds. The accompanying soundtrack features the seductive voice of a woman's singing. This shot is followed by a long, slow track up the shaft of a telescope, making clear the phallic nature of Derrick's instruments. This shot ends as Derrick's hand snaps the shutter, thus encasing Jamie's image in the circle of his viewfinder. It is important to note that nowhere in the film is Jamie openly seductive to the film's antagonist, Derrick, except in the finale where, ironically, seductiveness saves her life. Like the Eve whom Adam holds responsible for his actions, Jamie becomes the seductress as the result of her position as the object of erotic desire. (For more on this subject see, J.A. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea, New York: Harper and Row, 1984.)
However, the film text and the title reinforce our perception of Jamie as seductress, especially as the two most erotic scenes are constructed so that we view her through subjective point of view shots, which wed our look to Derrick's. In the pre-credit sequence, when she swims nude in her indoor pool, we watch her through Derrick's telescopic lens from his house across the street. Again, when Jamie bathes nude, in the seeming privacy of her bathroom, Derrick watches, hidden from sight behind a closet door. The transference and projection of Derrick's desire onto Jamie seem related to auto-erotic fantasies.
Both nude scenes reaffirm the erotic, seductive power of women, which create desires that must be satisfied either freely or through control and submission. If the man cannot have fulfillment, then women must be punished. Working out this assumption constitutes the remainder of the plot.
A second element introduced early in the film is the theme of violence, especially the intertwining of love and death. As a news commentator, Jamie reports on "the sweetheart murders." A red heart is found on the murdered bodies of each woman. Derrick is present during the police investigations, introducing the suspicion that he is the killer. Further, the unsolved crimes create a sense of threat, first toward all potential female victims, and second toward Jamie.
A third element in this work, foregrounded briefly and then dropped, is the source of Jamie's sexual power and of Derrick's problems, namely, "mother." Derrick has his room papered with images of Jamie, huge faces and bodies which look down on him like a primal earth mother. In an early scene Derrick, who earns his living as a photographer, is trying to photograph a young boy (at this point some will recognize the film's indebtedness to Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM, although there the problem was "father," not "mother"). On hand is a meddlesome, dominating mother. Though Derrick and his female assistant try to elicit some emotion from the child, as one character notes, "How can anyone smile with a mother like that?" Mother as the source of male hatred toward women surfaces in several "Slasher" films, most horrifyingly in DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE. The relation between early attitudes toward mother and later sexual responses has already been mentioned.
As the film progresses, Derrick becomes increasingly aggressive in his attempts to contact Jamie and to win her love and affection. Conversely, Jamie becomes increasingly frightened as Derrick's attempts become more hostile. Having begun as an independent working woman, she is reduced finally to hysteria and a semi-catatonic state. On two occasions her boyfriend, Brandon, saves her from a violent attack. Eventually she decides to move in with Brandon, an arrangement she had previously rejected on the theory that it was the first step toward letting a man control one's life. By film's end, a passing stranger is needed to save her from rape and murder. In addition, early scenes are constructed so as to create suspense even when no danger exists. For example, when Jamie visits a nearby neighbor, darkness, jungle-like trees, subjective tracking shots, tense music, nervous glances and the sudden appearance of an unexpected character all serve to establish suspense in a manner typical of Horror Films.
The growing intimidation of Jamie in the narrative is echoed in the visual style. The frequent tracking shots which move in on her at key moments serve to fix her in space. In contrast, the tracking shots of Derrick move back in space, granting him the privilege of greater spatial freedom. In addition, early scenes present Jamie as pure and unsoiled, wearing white clothing. Later she appears in pink. By the end of the film she is clad in black, a color associated with death and defilement.
Derrick begins his assault on the telephone; later he breaks into Jamie's house to photograph her. As we have come to understand through the study of the gaze, he who controls the look exerts a power over the object. And men have traditionally controlled the look. John Berger wrote: "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." Further, male control of the gaze and voyeurism can often be a prelude to later violent action as in Hitchcock's MARNIE and PSYCHO and Powell's PEEPING TOM. From ogling to visual undressing, men use their eyes to initiate and press their attentions on women. With the substitution of the camera, man makes permanent the capture and possession of the female image, not to mention the introduction of the phallic object. Woman as the object of the male gaze is the most normative feature of pornography. Women posing, women on display, and male voyeurism occur in various forms.
In a sense, Derrick has created his own pornography from the stolen images of Jamie. These line the walls of his laboratory where he can possess them in the privacy of his own dark and secret place, the site of auto-erotic desire.
The film raises the question of the consumption of female images. A very strong parallel exists between the way Derrick frames Jamie in his telescope and the way in which she is framed both by the television cameras within the fiction and by the film frame within the movie, all metaphors for her eventual entrapment in the narrative. At times it is difficult to separate the many Chinese boxes. When the camera circles her as she presents the evening news, reconstructing her as an object, is this the work of the fictional television crew or the hand of the film's cinematographer?
It makes Derrick angry that Jamie is willing to go before thousands of viewers to be on public display but resists his capturing her private image. He thinks that women who appear in public should be available to him because their presence arouses their desirability in his mind. He suppresses the fact that women have wills of their own.
Derrick faces a further complication, since Jamie's lover, Brandon, stands in the way of Derrick's access to the desired object. Obviously he must eliminate this competitor. It is like the eternal triangle of Freud's family romances.
The film elaborates all of this further as Derrick tries to win Jamie's affection by buying her a coveted music box. She rejects the gift, and him as well. This rejection sets into motion the events which will conclude the sexual thriller. The viewers gain advance knowledge of these events from the resident female television shrink, who explains Derrick's psychosis (shades of PEEPING TOM). She warns, "God forbid that he is rejected. He could be dangerous." The message is clear. Society pays a penalty for thwarting male desire; that is, in fact, a basic premise of pornography. As Susan Griffin has noted,
Not only does the psychologist accept the uncontrollability of male sexual impulses, so do the police and other institutions of authority and order. In a reactionary, rightwing approach, appropriate for the Reagan era, the police advise the woman to "buy a gun." Putting aside the question of gun control, "buying a gun" at first seemingly speaks to female strength and independence and the right to protect oneself. That would be a seeming contradiction in the film, for there'd be no need for a man or for the police. The remainder of the film, however, works to undercut this message.
At this point in the film's development, the scripting, performance, camera work and editing all work together to build sympathy for Derrick, despite the fact that he is a potential killer. He has boyish looks and idealizes Jamie in an adolescent way, which help make us feel his rejection. In the scene where he hides in her bathroom, watching her sensually stroke her breasts and legs (shown in close-ups), the narrative emphasis shifts audience attention away from considering his right to be there to focusing on how he struggles to control his erotic impulses. The cinematic presentation is diverted from an emphasis on female victimization to a presentation of female sexual potency — the film now seems to emphasize what she does to him.
In the next key scene, as Brandon and Jamie make love in her hot tub, Derrick enters the house with a knife and watches. As Jamie has an orgasm, Derrick tosses a knife into Brandon's back, instantly destroying his competitor for the forbidden woman and also interrupting female sexual pleasure. That the murder takes place at the moment of climax is not coincidental, for Slasher Films conventionally present death shortly after lovemaking. (And here death occurs in a hot tub that is like a womb.) In general, in Slasher Films, sexual knowledge is punishable by death. Further, in this film, Brandon's death leaves Jamie vulnerable to Derrick's attack, rape, and possibly murder.
Derrick leaves to bury the body. Jamie calls the police, only to receive a recorded message to leave her number. Again the narrative emphasizes female dependence. Jamie is now alone and helpless. And she is not in the usual location of danger — a jungle, the woods, the city streets — but rather in the supposed security of her own home. Such a depiction of a woman sexually helpless at home plays upon women's fears, producing terror, while at the same time it creates excitement for some male viewers. Pornography frequently depicts a helpless woman, and as Angela Carter has pointed out in Sadeian Woman, the more helpless the woman is, the more titillation she creates; the more she begs, the more demeaned she becomes. Jamie lapses into shock, traumatized by her inability to find help. But not for long.
Taking the early advice of her one female friend, she decides to "fight back." Recovered, Jamie calls Derrick and whispers just what he has been waiting to hear, "I need you." She undresses and climbs into bed, awaiting his arrival. When Derrick arrives, Jamie takes the gun she has purchased and shoots, although she succeeds only in wounding him. Unwilling to let this settle the score, she smiles triumphantly and picks up the telephone again, thus reversing the previous procedure of attack and seduction. She waits his return and stands before her mirror applying make-up. Now female sexuality has become a weapon of self-defense rather than a means of alluring.
But the roles are reversed again. Derrick returns with a knife. Overcoming her with his strength, he lies on top of her and prepares to rape her. We see a close-up as he unbuckles his belt, a visual style certainly familiar to viewers of hardcore pornography. However, the tables are turned once again as Jamie becomes sexually aggressive and goes for his crotch, shouting, "This is what you wanted. Fuck me." At knife point, Derrick panics and cannot perform. Once again the film depicts dread of women and a message that women's sexuality makes men impotent; women seemingly must be controlled and demeaned and made to submit to male desire on male terms. Jamie goes too far. When Derrick whimpers, she vents her rage, calling him a "son of a bitch … You're not a man." Humiliated, he jumps her, and the film lets the power struggle be resumed.
The film ends as Derrick's former girlfriend and assistant enters the house, takes Jamie's gun and pulls the trigger. This ending reflects present-day ambivalence about women's autonomy. For male viewers, the film deals with the threat of women's independence, power, and sexual assertiveness. Female viewers have the experience of seeing a woman, initially threatened and unaided by a male accomplice, protect her own life and also take revenge on her attacker (here with the aid of another woman). A similar event occurs in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, a film which drew enormous outrage from male critics, at least in the Chicago area. However, was it the exploitiveness of the rape scenes or the female revenge which disturbed critics so?
THE SEDUCTION works to provide a double reading. First it titillates male viewers as it allows for the display of male power; second, it provides a vehicle for female anger. Like Melodrama, it both reinforces and subverts patriarchal culture. On the one hand, it depends on male fears of castration and women's revenge. And the revenge is conceived of in terms of a projection of what men think women would like to do (although women seldom have done this) and what men in actuality have done to women.
In a more positive sense, the film contains within it a rupturing of patriarchal ideology. It reveals the disturbance in the male psyche, perhaps as a result of a new awareness on the part of men of both individual misogyny and social sexism. Whichever reading one prefers, however, the ending is downbeat — unlike the exhilaration of revenge in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. If the film shows revenge, it is only an empty triumph. The film closes with a pan across Derrick's mutilated photographs of Jamie. Jamie's life remains in shambles; all she possesses now is her sadistically captured image. In addition, the film's last shot is a freeze of her face, symbolically fixing her in her place. Whereas the film opened with the seductive strains of a female voice, it ends merely with an instrumental soundtrack. Woman's voice has once again been silenced.
I am well aware that the film could also be approached critically in terms of female masochism. Young women are viewing these works in great numbers and many find them sexually arousing. However, a woman viewer's masochistic" response does not erase male misogyny. Rather, that response provides a sad comment on what patriarchal culture has done to women. For that response implies that the experience of viewing sexually active women with whom female viewers could identify must be followed by a sense of guilt that will be alleviated by the heroine's punishment. Indeed, such masochism is reinforced in society.
The rise in the availability of pornographic materials and the pervasiveness of the pornographic impulse in many areas of the popular culture is obviously tied to the challenge presented to men in the last fifteen years. The demands being made by women as part of their struggle for equality have created a sense of threat for men and potential loss. This threat that men feel, coupled with the asymmetrical factors of male and female sexual development, has resulted in a backlash and extreme hostility toward women. Culturally we see this in the promulgation of films which overtly depict violence against women. Such depictions are extremely common in film and television and represent a "punishment" that should intimidate those who seek sexual parity. The latent cultural message is clear: Women, beware. It is the dissemination of these impulses which we see in THE SEDUCTION and other Slasher Films.
1. All listed films except for SILENT SCREAM made the Big Rental Films list for their individual year, and five films, plus HALLOWEEN II and FRIDAY THE 13th, PART 2, are on Variety's All-Time Rental Champs chart.
2. Roger Ebert, "Eyes of a Stranger," Chicago Sun-Times, June 24, 1981.
3. This is a good place to establish a working definition of pornography. There is much disagreement on this term, but let me propose several possibilities. The word "pornography" derives from Greek roots, meaning the writings about prostitutes (porne = whores; graphos = writing). Such is not the case for contemporary pornography, although what becomes clear when one reads pornographic works or views pornographic films is that in the end, all women are seen as whores, even if they were not initially presented as such. A common convention is the deflowering of a virgin, who then becomes consumed with lust and carnality and thus may be designated a whore. Typical of such films are THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES and INSATIABLE.
Let me briefly offer some contemporary definitions. H. Montgomery Hyde wrote in A History of Pornography (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965, p. 1): "It is generally agreed that the essential characteristic of pornography is its sexuality. In order to come within the category of pornography, material must have the power to excite sexual passions." Steven Marcus in The Other Victorians (New York: Basic Books, 1964, p. 286), stated that pornography is "nothing more than a representation of the fantasies of infantile sexual life." Peter Michelson in The Aesthetics of Pornography (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971, pp. 23, 25), defined it differently. He called pornography "the mythos of animality," "the expression of the obscene," and "the imaginative record of man's sexual will."
More recently, feminist writers have explored this subject. Focusing more on the placement of women within the text, these writers have noted other aspects. According to Kate Millett in Sexual Politics (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1969, pp. 42-45) all pornography presupposes the centrality of male domination and female subjugation. Susan Brownmiller in Against Our Will (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975, p. 394) called pornography "the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda and philosophy of rape." Susan Griffin in Pornography and Silence (New York: Harper & Row, 1981, p. 111) called pornography "sadism." In The Sadeian Woman (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978, pp. 4, 6) Angela Carter described pornography as "an abstraction of human intercourse in which the self is reduced to its formal elements," pointing out that it "derives directly from myth." Finally, Kathleen Barry in Female Sexual Slavery (New York: Avon Books, 1981, Chapter Nine) refers to pornography as "cultural sadism."
What all of these definitions have in common is (a) the description of sexual acts, (b) the incorporation of fantasy, and (c) an intended purpose of sexual arousal or masturbation. Among the feminists, all seem in agreement on the denigration of women.
In addition to definitions of pornography, it is relevant to establish the conventions, and themes of the genre. One of the most useful lists is offered by Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen in Pornography and the Law (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964). The Kronhausens list the following as common features: seduction, defloration, incest, the permissive-seductive parent figure, Blacks and Asians as sex symbols, homosexuality and flagellation. Qualifying this further, Andrea Dworkin in her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women (New York: Perigee Books, 1981, pp. 24-25) points out that "the major theme of pornography as a genre is male power," and names the "degradation of women" as a secondary theme, degradation achieved through violence.
4. See Screen, 25: 1 (Jan-Feb 1984); Tania Modleski, Loving With a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women (Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1982); Ellen Seiter, "Eco's TV Guide — The Soaps," Tabloid, No. 5 (Winter 1982), pp. 35-43; and Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).
5. For example, FRIDAY THE 13th and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE.
6. Michelson, The Aesthetics of Pornography, p. 9.
7. Royal S. Brown, "DRESSED TO KILL: Myth and Male Fantasy in the Horror/Suspense Genre," Film/Psychology Review, 4:2 (Summer-Fall, 1980).
8. Susan Lurie, "Pornography and the Dread of Women: The Male Sexual Dilemma," Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography, ed. Laura Lederer (New York: William Morrow, 1980), pp. 159-173.
9. Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), p. 33.
10. Ethel Spector Person, "Sexuality as the Mainstay of Identity: Psychoanalytic Perspectives," Signs, 5:4 (Summer 1980), pp. 605-630.
11. Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Screen, 16:3 (Autumn 1975), pp. 6-18.
12. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University, 1959).
13. John Updike, London Life," Picked-Up Pieces (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1975).
14. Robert May, Sex and Fantasy (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), p. 141.
15. Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur, p. 49.
16. In this film the mother figure tortures her son in many ingenious and horrifying ways.
17. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC & Penguin Books, 1972), p. 47.
18. Griffin, Pornography and Silence, p. 144.
19. Carter, The Sadeian Woman, Chapter Two.
20. Quite recently several feminists have propounded new theories of visual pleasure and spectatorship, theories which reject and rework ideas previously set forth by Laura Mulvey in her landmark article, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." By relying on psychological formations based on the pre-Oedipal stage rather than the Oedipal stage, they suggest that "film may be capable of forming spectatorial pleasures divorced from issues of castration, sexual difference, and feminine-lack."
In addition, by broadening the definition of the fetish to include an object or image which provides the memory of the last moment of unity with the mother (rather than an object to guard against castration anxiety), these critics provide a means for viewing women as "the powerful oral mother who appeals to both male and female spectators as a figure to possess and be possessed by." For a detailed explanation of this theory see, Gaylyn Studlar, "Visual Pleasure and the Masochistic Aesthetic," Journal of Film and Video, 37:2 (Spring 1985).
Unfortunately, I came upon this article too late to utilize it fully in my own analysis of THE SEDUCTION. However, by applying concepts of the masochistic aesthetic, one is rewarded with a more complex understanding of Derrick's idealized love for Jamie, his obsession with spying, his possession of photo images, his impatience with mother figures and the pervasive water images. Further, the notion of bisexuality, which is a central argument of this theory, opens the film to a more complex interpretation in terms of audience spectatorship than does a critical reliance on strict gender division.