“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is an essay by British film theorist Laura Mulvey (1941) originally published in Screen magazine (1975) in which she analyses from a psychoanalytic perspective how under the formal and narrative structures of classical cinema – as opposed to more radical proposals – the dominant mechanisms and roles of a patriarchal society are perpetuated, where “the pleasure of looking has split between active/masculine and passive/feminine”. Although the conclusion is similar to that proposed by John Berger in the 1972 “Ways of Seeing” series, Mulvey’s argument relies on the concepts of voyeurism and fetishism developed by psychoanalysis and focuses on film production as the preferred expression of androcentric ideology.
In this sense, two interesting functions that the author attributes to cinematographic narration are: on the one hand, to satisfy the scopophilic instinct (pleasure of looking) in the image of the woman (passive raw material) and, on the other, to provide a feeding mechanism for the libido of the ego in the figure of the male protagonist (active). Thus, for example, Mulvey gives the man an active role in the development of the plot within the cinematographic narrative, while the female figure, although an indispensable element of the spectacle, tends to operate against the development of the plot thread by freezing the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation. Lacan’s mirror theory serves to argue the spectator’s identification with the ideal self projected onto the screen:
“When the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he is projecting his gaze on that of his fellow, his substitute on the screen, so that the power of the male protagonist who controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic gaze, both producing a satisfactory sensation of omnipotence.
This process of identification is evident in Hitchcock’s “The Indiscrete Window” (1954), where the protagonist occupies a position similar to that of the spectator in relation to the development of the action: seated and observing the events that are “projected” before him – in some scenes, the spectator will also do so through the camera viewer that Jeffrey uses to spy on his neighbours – although with an unquestionable capacity to direct the course of the story from his wheelchair and to influence the behaviour of the rest of the characters. Lisa’s role is defined in relation to the protagonist, not only as a subrogated agent of the action and in charge of taking the investigation beyond the apartment window, but also exhibiting an elegant way of life that is banal in comparison with the enumeration of sacrifices and efforts of the photojournalist’s work. Lisa’s description of “perfection” is commented on before she enters the scene, and her appearance seems to confirm this “freezing of the narrative flow” to the benefit of erotic contemplation. The final scene seems to confirm the moral superiority of the photographer’s life model, which Lisa will ultimately “adopt”, substituting high heels for low shoes while continuing to browse a copy of Harper’s Bazaar.