The Images of Women in Film Essay
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The two films being evaluated in this essay are Now, Voyager and Pretty Woman. Both movies tackle the stories of one lead character, a woman and her transformation from one type of personality – usually the underdog — into another which is more successful. This common formulaic plot of an “ugly duckling” evolving to become a beautiful swan has often been used as a storyboard for romantic films since viewers usually identify with the character who at first seems like the loser, but in the end becomes the victor.
The image of Charlotte Vale at the beginning of the film is that of a typical old maid — in conservative clothes, flat shoes, without make-up, with glasses, and without any social life. Her appearance is clean and neat but very much old school. From her entry at the initial part of the film, she is portrayed as shy, reserved, unhappy, overweight, unattractive and insecure. She is often ignored by everyone, and even mocked by some of her relatives. She also hates her mother so much but she is helpless and afraid and feels that she has nowhere to go.
As the movie unfolds, Charlotte’s character is transformed into a more sophisticated, elegant, modern and glamorous personality, whom everyone adores and likes. Now, she has a well-coiffed hair, wears more revealing outfits, walks comfortably in high-heeled shoes, puts on make-up and smiles more frequently. She becomes cheerful, endearing, sweet and charming, and she loses her previous timidity and stiffness. With her transformation, Charlotte gains confidence in her self, and becomes more capable of facing other people, thus gaining more friends.
When reprimanded by her mother for her new looks, she was no longer afraid to answer her back, which even she was surprised to learn. She already knows what direction she wants to take and the good thing is, she already knew how to get there. It is notable that at first, a lot of people were surprised with Charlotte’s transformation but because the change was a positive one which suited Charlotte, the makeover was delightfully accepted by almost everyone but Charlotte’s mother. At first, Charlotte’s mother insisted that she should go back into her old clothes and drab image.
However, since Charlotte stood her ground and never relented to her mother’s dictates – that is, after her therapy and cruise — Charlotte’s mother gradually learned to accept what Charlotte liked, denoting that she earned the respect of the one person she despised the most. On the contrary, the image of Vivian as portrayed by Julia Roberts is that of a regular hooker or prostitute – flashy colors, thigh high boots, a lot of exposed flesh, heavy make-up, a wig, and chewing gum while talking.
The first impression upon seeing her is that she is really part of the flesh trade because of her loud attire which is also sexy, seductive and attention-grabbing all at the same time. Vivian’s character cannot afford to be shy because she has to offer her wares to her clients, and she has to show some skin and have the ability to bargain with her clients so that she can arrive at a good price for her services. Her image is far from conservative because of this film’s setting (1990) and the nature of her occupation.
With Edward’s help, Vivian later on becomes more learned as he exposes her to the more acceptable social mores of the upper classes of society. Vivian evolves to become a better character where she becomes chic, classy, refined and graceful – a change which further endears her to Edward. The modification is also well-liked by the people around her as Edward somehow manages to bring out more of Vivian’s natural beauty which further enhances her amiable character.
From Edward, to the hotel manager, to the elevator boy, to the hotel staff — every one of them was glad to see the way Vivian was revolutionized from a cheaply dressed hooker to a charming, elegant and respectable lady. She now wears hats, matching shoes and bags, well-coordinated outfits, matching color combinations and just sufficient make-up. She also begins to converse more politely, and in a soft and calm manner. With the outward personality of Vivian getting altered, Vivian also acquires more confidence in herself and the way she mingles with people.
It is also interesting to note that Vivian readily accepted the change initiated by Edward because the manner with which he approached her on the subject was very encouraging, being very gentle and soft-spoken. Towards the end of the story, the character of Vivian also decides to give up her previous job for a more decent alternative since she feels that she has become a different person and that at this point, she cannot turn back.
As regards the body parts focused on by these two films, in Now Voyager, the legs and hands of Charlotte were focused in the first part of the film when she was still being introduced into the sequence. The specific scenes showed her hands putting out a cigarette on a small platter then throwing away the butts in a garbage can, then carving on her ivory treasure boxes, and then later on, fidgeting as her condition was being relayed to the psychiatrist.
Her legs and feet were also focused on in the same sequences as she went down the stairs, and then stops at the lowest step, then hesitates because she hears something unfavorable being said about her. The character of Charlotte were in some way depicted in these sequences because it brought to mind a confused and insecure character who tried to rebel by smoking cigarettes, escaping reality by carving, but is insecure and uncertain of her actions as shown by her fidgeting and unsure steps.
Similarly, the body parts focused on in the film Pretty Woman in the introductory part of the film is 4 hands which look like they are playing a game. It turns out to be a magic trick using coins, and the camera is slowly panned up to the face of the woman on the right, who looks amazed at the man who performed the magic trick. The next scene showing body parts is again focused on the hands – one white hand giving a packet with some white substance, presumably drugs, to the two hands of a black man.
And then, the body part of Vivian that is first shown is the back side of her hips with lace underwear, where the woman turns from her left side to her right side while lying on a bed. Next, her chest is focused as she fixes her blouse, then her arms and hands as she puts on her bangles, while she is dressing up to get ready for work. Her hands are again shown while she colors the faded parts of her boots with a black marker, then her boots and her right hand as she zips up the boot on her left leg.
Her left eye is focused with her right hand holding the mascara. By the time Vivian gets to meet Edward for the first time, focus is made on her backside at the waist portion as she turns her back on Edward while standing outside the car. All these body parts scenes in one way or another sets the tone for the movie since it tackles business as represented by the coins, drugs as related to the illegal businesses on Hollywood boulevard and the subject of sex as depicted by Vivian’s sensual attire in a nocturnal red-light district setting.
The partial focusing on body parts gradually introduced the main character of Vivian, in much the same way that Charlotte was initiated into the first sequences of the earlier film. Relating the aspects of characterization to each film, the width of the character of Charlotte had to be rich in order for her to be able to adopt Tina into her family and be able to cope with not having Jerry in her life. Charlotte also had to be strong like her mother to be able to manage their businesses and their household without any emotional crutch to support her or push her up.
As regards the depth of her character, Charlotte has the traits of creativity as shown in the way she creates carvings on her ivory boxes. She is also a deeply emotional person, who is terribly passionate when it comes to love, although she knows how to repress it if need be. This was highly evident during the time when she knew she already felt something for Jerry, but was in self-denial because she did not want to get into a complicated situation. This, however, was changed eventually when he admitted her feelings for Jerry, and allowed her feelings for him to flow freely.
Another depth of character seen in Charlotte is her compassion for children, especially for those whom she knows are undergoing situations which she had already gone through. This Charlotte presents in the way which she cared for Tina at the mental institution, and during the time she gave a party for her at her house. Regarding characterization length, as mentioned earlier, Charlotte is given the chance to reinvent herself as if she were a different individual. At first, she is hesitant to leave her comfort zone and feels insecure about the changes taking place in her life.
However, as she notices the affirmative reception of people pertaining to her transformation, she is encouraged to continue with what she has set out to do. With this, she improves her personality and grows further as an individual. The film’s mise-en-scene contributed in large part to emphasizing the three aspects of characterization. The width of Charlotte’s character is shown in the clothes she wears. Charlotte’s clothes or the character’s costumes are customary of the rich people, the settings are also typical of high class social backgrounds as shown by the large house, the cruise ship, the theater and parties among others.
Depth of character is illustrated by the emotions carried by Bette Davis in her character portrayal, which made the story even more realistic. Length of character is exhibited by the change in the way Charlotte carries herself – which is amply supported by the clothes and again by the acting prowess of the lead character. Some foreshadowing is used to show the influences of Charlotte’s mom on her character. Since the film is still in black and white, emphasis on the lighting was not much utilized in this type of movie.
The background music was amply exploited to elicit empathy for the main character especially in highly dramatic scenes between Charlotte and her lover. Conversely, the width of Vivian’s character required for her to be poor so that she could effectively portray her desperation to earn a living. Vivian had to be street-smart yet appealing at the same time since it was her body that she had to sell. She also had to be alone or without a family, in order to develop a rationale for her character’s focus on having an income as a hooker because she had no other choice and not because she liked the job.
Likewise, Vivian’s depth of character is effectively portrayed as one who can easily psyche up people. In a brief encounter with Edward’s ‘friends’, Vivian gets to assess the type of people Edward socializes with and comes out with the conclusion that Edward needed to have her in his life because they (his friends) were shallow. “No wonder you came looking for me,” Vivian deduces of the situation. Much like Charlotte, Vivian also had a lot of passion inside her for her love interest although much of it was also repressed at first.
Later on, she manifests this and makes this known to Edward, but still she knew how to temper her emotions since she recognized from the start that she and Edward were really poles apart. And then with regards to character length, the journey taken by Vivian is her adaptation to the ways of the elite, as prescribed by her love interest in the film. Vivian initially decides to take this on as part of her work, but later on she imbibes the more wholesome character which she assumes, and eventually gives up on the old character that she was.
Vivian grows as a person because she welcomes the change and becomes a renewed person since as the film ends, she decides to leave behind her previous profession and start making a new path for herself. The mise-en-scene in Pretty Woman was likewise extensively manipulated in the film. The change in the character is immediately apparent as Vivian becomes accustomed to her new surroundings and much of the plot deals with how she gradually blends in to what is acceptable to that social group.
The disparity in the setting of Hollywood boulevard compared to the areas where Edward frequents is accentuated to point out the gap between the two characters – Vivian the hooker and Edward the rich billionaire. Much of the character’s depth and length is carried by Julia Roberts who gives an excellent portrayal in this film. The lighting was good, there were no extremely dim or very bright scenes. It is interesting to note that most of the dim scenes were only found in the initial part when Vivian was still a hooker, and during the time she was still part of Hollywood boulevard.
Later on, the dim scenes were mostly the love scenes between Edward and Vivian. The background music was also appropriate with the sentimental scenes having soft soothing and sentimental tunes, while those wherein Vivian made some achievements had more spirited and lively songs. In terms of aesthetics, the two films can be labeled as reflective of the image of the woman in the specified period when the films were made. Women in general had to dress up more conservatively in the olden times and a liberated stance was only introduced later on. As regards film artistry, Now Voyager!
has a deeper and more disturbing plot because it deals with issues like family relationships, possible mental illness and forbidden love among others. On the other hand, Pretty Woman’s plot is simpler but is more engaging because it capitalizes on the elements of love and sex which was not much emphasized in the earlier film. Perhaps this is due to the highly conservative values predominant during the earlier times, hence, the most tender love scenes which could be shown between the main characters in the earlier film was limited to kissing.
In comparing the two films, women are given more freedom of choice in the later film, unlike the earlier one when parents had the right to dictate the direction of their children’s lives. In both films, the theme of love still tugs at the heart and is timeless. Viewers in the present can identify with the main character in one way or another especially when it comes to the context of love and the relationship between two people.
As a whole, the two films illustrate how the character of the woman has evolved from the conservative one of yesteryears to the smarter and more liberated woman that she is now. Still, the one thing that is universal and eternally holds true is the theme of love and the woman who has the boundless capability to wield this passion. References Wallis, H. B. & Rapper, I. 1942. Now Voyager. United States: Warren Bros. Ziskin, L. & Marshall, G. 1990. Pretty Woman. United States: Touchstone Pictures.