This paper was originally written for Roger Beebe’s film studies course at the University of Florida. The paper explores the treatment of female characters in Lars von Trier’s 2003 film, Dogville using film theorist Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” as a critical backdrop for analysis.
Laura Mulvey outlines the ways in which narrative cinema objectifies women in her essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” She describes a phallocentric dominant social order in which women symbolize a threat of castration and represent the masculine Other by their lack of a phallus. She points out the representation of woman as a passive spectacle in narrative film; the object of “the gaze,” or the object of “fetishistic scopophilia.” Lars von Trier’s 2003 film, Dogville, seems to be structured along the boundaries Mulvey has set for women in cinema, all the while working, as Mulvey wishes, toward breaking down those boundaries by turning the expectations of spectators (socialized in a patriarchal, phallocentric world to come to expect the sort of representations of women Mulvey describes) inside out. I intend to explore the film’s self-aware adherence and subsequent betrayal to those cinematic norms regarding the representation of women as outlined in Mulvey’s aforementioned essay. I will use Mulvey’s theses as a basis for exploring the cultural work performed by von Trier’s film. By looking at the ways Dogville does and does not conform to her theses, we can see the progressive work being performed by the film and further illuminate the gender terrain Mulvey is concerned with. I will analyze Dogville as a work in very self-aware accordance with Mulvey’s gender models that can, through its self-awareness, serve to illustrate and criticize the treatment of the male Other (woman) as the passive object of the scopophilic “gaze.”