A Gaze of Cruelty, Deferred: Actualizing the Female Gaze in Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Natasha Chuk
School of Visual Arts
New York, NY, USA
nchuk@sva.edu

Abstract

Australian director Cate Shortland’s dramatic thriller Berlin Syndrome (2017) follows the conventions of the genre involving a psychologically unstable male perpetrator and his female victim, thus could hinge on patriarchal control. Instead, based on a close reading of feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey’s theoretical definition of the former, Shortland’s cinematic apparatus can be read as an inverse of the male gaze, a type of systematic ‘female gaze’. This observation both warrants clarification of the term and concept behind the female gaze and suggests a pressing need to re-evaluate the language of cinema and its habitually damaging depictions of women. In doing so, it may encourage a counter cinema in which such cinematic language is more readily accessible and asserted from a non-male perspective. This essay addresses the question of the female gaze, a term that refers, in fuzzy terms, to the subversion of the male gaze in cinema and elsewhere. To do this, key points in Laura Mulvey’s argument are unpacked in reference to other examples of male-on-female on-screen violence — a kind of accepted and frequently employed gaze of cruelty extending Antonin Artaud’s celebration of the theater of cruelty. All of this is in support of the argument and demonstration of how Shortland upends key cinematic and genre conventions throughout Berlin Syndrome to effectively enact what the female gaze purportedly entails. 

Keywords: Laura Mulvey, male gaze, female gaze, film studies, theater of cruelty 

Author Bio

Natasha Chuk researches and writes about the affordances and limitations of creative technologies as language systems at the intersection of formality, expression, and perception. She wrote the book Vanishing Points: Articulations of Death, Fragmentation, and the Unexperienced Experience of Created Objects (Intellect, 2015), which examines the relationship between presence, absence, and perceptual experience across a variety of artworks, including film, photography, and video games. She teaches courses in film studies, digital culture, and media theory at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. 

Suggested Reference Citation

APA
Chuk, N. (2020). A gaze of cruelty, deferred: Actualizing the female gaze in Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome (2017). Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(1). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-1/a-gaze-of-cruelty-deferred-actualizing-the-female-gaze-in-cate-shortlands-berlin-syndrome-2017/. 

MLA
Chuk, Natasha. “A Gaze of Cruelty, Deferred: Actualizing the Female Gaze in Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome (2017)”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 1, 2020, http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-1/a-gaze-of-cruelty-deferred-actualizing-the-female-gaze-in-cate-shortlands-berlin-syndrome-2017/.

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