American film director, Stanley Kubrick, is one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema. His films have not left viewers indifferent for many years. In this essay, I am going to discuss how the famous film director represented women in his iconic films.
In ‘Spartacus’ (1960), Kubrick used women in a way in which they portray how they were treated in 73 BC, in ancient Rome. For example, when we meet Varinia (Jean Simmons) she is literally given to Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) as a motivational pill, for sex and his pleasure. The women slaves are used by the elite for sex whether they want it or not, for example, Gracchus (Charles Laughton) who has sexual relations with multiple slaves. However, in contrast to this when we meet the rich women they are constantly sexualizing and objectifying Spartacus and Draba (Woody Strode). Which is contrasted with the way that men treat women in Kubrick’s movies. Spartacus is filled with the male gaze as women are objectified throughout but it also shows women objectifying men. For example, when Spartacus and Draba are battling in the arena they are treated like pieces of meat. This movie reflects the time that it was made by showing how women were treated as sexual objects. In contrast to this, it also challenges the conventions of the time as it shows the male protagonist to be objectified for his body and looks.
‘Lolita’ (1962) directed by Stanley Kubrick, is known for its controversial narrative regarding pedophilia, as a middle-aged man named Humbert (James Mason) becomes infatuated with a 14-year-old girl named Lolita (Sue Lyon). ‘Lolita’ (1962) is told through the narration of Humbert which gives the story a subjective point of view by completely locking Lolita outside of her own narrative. As well as this, Lolita’s diminutive name is Dolly which could imply that Lolita is referred to as a doll which is an inanimate body with which to have an animate and illicit sexual activity. Making Lolita seem like a mannequin similar to Lady Lyndon from Kubrick’s film ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975) as in some scenes she looks like a porcelain doll, ‘Killer Kiss’ (1955) with the mannequins in the fight scene, the erotic statues in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) and the mannequin-like people in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999). This all links into the idea of women being treated as objects like mannequins which are just there to model clothes and are known for having an ‘ideal figure’. In relation to the objectification of women, it is important to discuss Laura Mulvey’s (1975) theory of the male gaze, where she suggests that women on screen are subject to the desire and visual pleasure of a man. This can be seen in the scene where Humbert first meets Lolita, where she is laid on the grass sunbathing with minimal amounts of clothing, where the camera uses mid-shots and close-ups of her lips, thighs and stomach in order to sexualize her. Although the movie is in black and white, the color red is often interpretation on Lolita’s lips and nails this color symbolizes passion and lust which again is used to sexualize the young girl. Confirming the idea that Kubrick objectified this character to show the life of Humbert.
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Women in science fiction has changed throughout the years but more recently in films like ‘Alien’ (1979) females are presented as a heroic protagonist but remain similar to their gender politics by containing women in a sexualized and controlling masculine gaze. However, women in Kubrick’s movies tend to be dominated by the patriarchal world like in his science fiction movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968), where we see women working alongside men; this is shown through the stewardess characters who are portrayed as being docile in comparison to the men around them. When Kubrick was asked why there aren’t many women in the film, he stated that “women didn’t seem to have a lot to do with it” (Cocks, 2010). Kubrick then went on to say that it’s interesting to see how “the crew will deal with their sexual urges”, this implies that in Kubrick’s eyes this is the main purpose of a woman.
And the last movie that will be discussed in this essay is ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971). In this movie women are portrayed as objects and entertainment for characters such as Alex DeLarge (Malcolm Macdowell) this is shown by them being abused and raped as well as being objectified purely for pleasure. Kubrick stated that Alex “represents man the way he would be if society did not impose civilization upon him” (White, 1985: 24). This reinforces the idea that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is based around a man’s world making the women disposable throughout the movie by banal acts. When women are being raped and murdered in the film it is not seen as being as serious as when Alex is fighting with Billy’s Boys or when Alex is having a disagreement with other droogs emphasizing the worthlessness of women in the narrative. Encounters like rape, the record store, and the finale are portrayed as less erotically cathected than Alex fighting or post-Ludovico beatings (DeRosia, 2003: 64). This aspect of the film shows how women are treated as being inferior to men as when serious things are happening to them it is not as hyped up with action and music as when Alex is fighting with Billy’s Boys. Proving that women are seen as sexual objects that the men in this movie desire, this can also be seen at the beginning of the movie in the milk bar ‘Korova’, where the furniture is naked female mannequins in sexual poses as decoration similar to the rest of the women in the film.
In summary, Stanley Kubrick’s films are filled with the so-called male view of women. Women in his works are usually presented as sexual objects, as those who exist exclusively to satisfy all the passions of men. Men in films despise women, show violence to them, and by their actions emphasize the worthlessness of women. Women in Stanley Kubrick’s films are portrayed as inferior to men.