‘There is an obvious interest in this analysis for feminists, a beauty in its exact rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order. It gets us nearer to the roots of our oppression, it brings an articulation of the problem closer, it faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language (formed critically at the moment of arrival of language) while still caught within the language of the patriarchy. There is no way in which we can produce an alternative out of the blue, but we can begin to make a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides, of which psychoanalysis is not the only but an important one. We are still separated by a great gap from important issues for the female unconscious which are scarcely relevant to psychoanalytic theory: the sexing of the female infant and her relationship to the symbolic, the sexually mature woman as non-mother, maternity outside the signification of the phallus, the vagina…. But, at this point, psychoanalytic theory as it now stands can at least advance our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught.’ – Laura Mulvey
I just happened to watch a film called La Pianiste, 2 days before I started reading Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. The quote above has stripped and revealed the patriarchal culture beneath the film performance. The film is about Erika Kohut, a highly respected music professor who lives from one extreme to the other in her daily life. She appears to be strict and dominating to her fellow students but also longing for her sexual desire to be fulfilled through oppression. Erika’s obsession with power in her career, which also makes her vulnerable and self destructive deep inside is an emphasis on Mulvey’s statement about frustration experienced under phallocentric order. Consequently, Walter Klemmer gets more attracted to her and, thus fulfilled her desire through violence in order to satisfy his own sexual desire. This shows how a woman can still be made powerless by a man regardless of her power in the male dominant career.
‘My guess is that, if the film does arrive in the Anglophone world, it will be greeted as either a brilliant comment on the violence patriarchal culture does to women, or as a disturbingly familiar attempt to blame women for their own oppression.’ – John Champagne
In fact, I experienced a mixed feeling for this film as an audience. The anger I felt towards Erika for disrespecting her life was as much as the disgust I felt towards Walter for finally giving in to violence to pursue his long-awaited satisfaction. I personally think that women these days are able release themselves from the patriarchal order if they see themselves as individuals with maximum potentials to be realised just like any other men and women. Many have done it and the society has started to accept this as a norm.