Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Here's another extract from the essay, this bit's about 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'.

The 2008 romantic comedy ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ has also used sympathy with a pathetic protagonist to drive its narrative, however interestingly in this case the protagonist is male. In a reversal of the normal active male/ passive female construction of Hollywood Laura Mulvey responds to in ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Film’, the story's hero Peter is dumped by his actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall, who’s career ambitions and success outstrip his, emasculating him. However while Sayuri of ‘Memoirs of Geisha’ is only permitted to find happiness in being the chosen mistress of a married man, the character of Peter replaces Sarah Marshall by choosing another, more likeable woman; re-asserting his dominant masculinity. He consequently becomes more successful than Sarah, whose career declines, whilst Peter is rewarded for realising his artistic potential and talent with the encouragement of a new more complimentary and subservient female, thus returning the status quo.

Whilst the male gaze is less apparent on the surface: the sex scenes of 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' are more comical than voyeuristic, and the elaborate costumes and make-up of the women in 'Memoirs of a Geisha' are arguably stylised to appeal to more to western women than hot-blooded men, the gaze still shapes their narratives. These examples of Hollywood cinema respond to feminist concerns, but in a defensive, not positive way. Sarah Marshall’s career ambition is seen as hard-hearted and is ridiculed whilst Peter's transformation from victim status to his Ideal Ego is celebrated. Sayuri's passivity and subservience in 1940s Japan's oppressive patriarchy is romanticised. Both of these are modern films yet perhaps surprisingly they both re-enforce passive female characters with positive affirmations and, in the case of 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' present a case of a man oppressed by feminism in its most common example: the career woman.


Mal said...

That's a really clever point about Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Something I've noticed, although it's pretty obvious, is that with action films, the male protagonist can be whoever really, but when they have a strong female protagonist they also have to sexualise her. But I suppose that's mostly because of the demographic that they're going after. The other thing is that the female protagonist's weakness is a lot of the time a man, who she generally falls in love with and around whom becomes tame.

What's the deeeaaal?

Also the word verification I have to type in is WOMENSTR.

Jennifer said...

haha thanks, Tim! WOMENSTR