Feminism in the Film “Silent Hill”
Feminist theories play an essential role in the critical analysis of various pieces of art. From music to drawings and films, the description and analysis of any art cannot be complete without the application of the feminist theories. The most commonly applied feminist theory in the analysis of art is the psychodynamic theory (Freeland, 1996). This theory takes into consideration the stereotypical expectations of gender associations without considering the less quintessential features. One limitation that has been associated with the psychodynamic feminist theory is that it focuses on the sexuality aspect of art without considering the implications of factors such as race in the views of women and men in the art. An examination of feminist tendencies in a film, game, drawing or music videos is a multifaceted task that takes into consideration the features of the art such as characters, locations, the story itself, sound effects, the camera movements and music (Kirkland, 2005).
In a film, these aspects are used by producers and script writers to bring out certain characteristic traits of feminism. In the past, feminist theories placed immense importance on the view of women as being emotional creatures with kind heartedness. The focus of the producers in women representation was based on the perception of a gaze where the women in films were considered for their appropriateness based on their looks (Rabinovitz, 2005). This concept has been described as the look-at-ness of the women in film (Rabinovitz, 2005). On the other hand, male characters were presented as being protagonists whose main roles involved the rescue of the female characters who were seemingly in distress. The emphasis placed on the motives of the viewers in the creation of gender stereotypes made films appears more masculine than feminist (Paglia, 2010). This view has however changed over the years with females being given roles which may be considered less feminine through the psychodynamic theory perspective. The move from the sexist dependence roles to the more independent and domineering roles in the contemporary time films is clearly observed in Silent Hill.
The movie Silent Hill was written by Roger Avary and Directed by Christophe Gans. Adapted from the Horror Game Silent Hill by Konami, the film is a classic example of stereotype contravention. It has been described as a majorly feminist film based on the argument that the film stars three all female main characters. Contrary to common place horror movies which depict male characters in the more horrific roles, this film portrays the female characters as closer to the dark side compared to the male characters. It is through the actions of the female stars that the eerie feelings associated with watching horror movies are felt. These characters are not presented as the conventional fearful and helpless creatures that females are presumed to be in most horror movies (Smelik, 1999). With its Analyzing the feminism in the film is thus a potentially challenging task since one is obliged to look beyond the expected.
The female characters starring in the leading roles in Silent Hill include: Rose Da Silva, the mother of the nine to ten year old Sharon who is the focus of the horror scenes; Officer Cybil who is an active police woman and Christabell, the head of a cult. The three women take the most active roles in the movies and as such, their actions direct the feminist stance for the movie. It is through them that the movie producers managed to clearly give the audience something out of the expectations from a horror movie. However, the characters also face challenges which show the feminine side of them and how their features as females help them to surmount difficult tasks. The feminist nature of this film has made it stand out over the years as a perfect example of what contemporary feminism is about. Confusion and helplessness are no longer associated with the feminine gender. However, the emotional strength and attachment that has been a stereotype of the female gender from the past through to the present days is still depicted in the film through the relationships portrayed therein. As such there are two facets to the consideration of feminism in Silent Hill. The first is through the more traditional gendered perspective which will address factors such as characters, costumes and voices. The second facet is through the more contemporary indistinguishable gender stereotyping with equality.
Feminism in Silent Hill: Traditional perspective
Discussion of feminism in horror is a subject that is devoid of a single theory or outlook for presentation. This is because horror itself is multidimensional with equally diverse impacts on the audience. The type of characterization, costuming and voice choices will depend immensely on the type of horror that is being presented in the film. Horrific and gory scenes may require similarly appearing characterization while the hair raising romantic horror films could portray females in the more feminine costumes. As such, feminism in the films can be distinguished as being either intra-filmic or extra-filmic depending on the analytical performers (Freeland, 1996). Feminism associated with research into the film can be described as extra-filmic while those depicted within the film itself are intra-filmic. The focus of the present critical analysis of Silent Hill is taken from the intra-filmic feminism perspective and will take a detailed look into the characters, costumes, locations, camera movements, sounds and others (Kirkland, 2005).
The first aspect that comes to mind in the traditional view of feminism in the film is the representation of gender sexuality. The film depicts relationships of marriage, particularly between Rose and Christopher Da Silva. In the representation of these characters, the movie clearly brings out the demarcations in gender sexuality within the movie. Contrary to the belief that the look-at-ness of the women in a film influences its performance in the market, the film avoids the representation of women in the sexual context despite showing a working marriage (Paglia, 2010). Besides being the wife of Christopher Da Silva and the mother of Rose, the sexual roles played by any of the women is not depicted in the movie. This could be taken to imply that the producer’s intentions were to bring out the importance of family without showing the associated obligations of different genders in the family set up. While this is essential for the writer to build up that feminist appeal of the movie, it is also quite disturbing since it is possible for a viewer to assume that the marriage/ family is dysfunctional. Moreover, the strength clarity of relationships is not revealed by the representation. It is important for viewers to understand clearly what the movie is about.
On the other hand, the film has been done well, especially on costuming. While some viewers may assert that the specification of female items of clothing for female characters has no implication on feminism, it is possible that by having them on the key actors in the film the director intended for the distinction in roles to be clear. Traditionally, female items of clothing were used in movies advancing male patriarchy to show the relative position of women with respect to the male characters. However, this film may have intended the use to be distinctive rather than excluding. The observation of female characters in positions of helplessness appeals to the sympathetic nature of the viewers in that the females in those positions will then be considered feminine rather than more masculine. It is through the costumes which make the female characters more authentic, that the viewers get to be held on to watching the film as they sympathize with the actresses and also make them realize that the roles of women and men in the traditional concept were biased.
Apart from this, the females in the movie are also represented as persons in distress. This is evident from the various positions and scenes in the film which portray them as desirable of help. For instance, when Rose leaves her home city to take Sharon to Silent Hill where she hopes her foster daughter will get help for her sleep walking problem, the car crash in which they were involved could be taken to give the image that females are dependent and helpless without the presence of a man. However, this feeling only lasts as long as one fails to watch the rest of the film. The initial impression is however an indication of limitation in that the mere presence of fog is sufficient to cause a crash when a female is the driver. Besides this, other scenes also portray the helplessness in the female characters to various degrees.
For instance, when Rose goes in search of Sharon on her own and finds herself being sought by potentially dangerous men, she locks herself in a room where she constantly calls for help while holding her chain. This may be taken as a most feminine reaction to a difficult situation. The desire to be helped is also evidenced when Sharon and Christabell are chased into a room where they hide from the people after them. The only reason why the two and more particularly Christabell runs away from a woman is because the foe is backed by a group of men. On her own, she would be at the mercy of the women. This scene gives a distinct juxtaposition of the traditional versus contemporary feminism in the movie. This is because the strength of the enemy is in the presence of her helpers yet she is the dominant personnel among them. This brings out the evolution of feminism in the film from the traditionally helpless roles to the more dominant females depicted in the entire movie.
Moreover, females are also represented as being gullible. This representation is mainly evidence in the subject of Dahlia, Alysse’s mother who is convinced that purification would be carried out on her and her daughter as she had refused to tell who the daughter’s father was. Accepting the command of the cultists to go away while the purification was performed on her daughter was a show of trust without confirmation of intentions (Rabinovitz, 2005). If she had questioned the cultists more on what they intended to do, maybe she would have saved her daughter and thus the entire town from the darkness that was to engulf it in later years. Another evidence of gullibility is seen in the fact that the devil chooses to make pacts with only female victims for the purposes of destruction. Despite being in distress at the time of making the pact with the devil, the fact that both children in who the devil resided were females goes a long way in portraying the females as being gullible. The implication of this is that despite the struggle to be free from the male dominance, it is possible that the gullible nature of females make this a difficult feat.
While this portrayal brings out a not so feminine outlook of the film, there are other potentially feminine features that the film directors either repressed or left out as gaps. The complete analysis of the film thus requires an all round consideration of facts and various aspects of the plot. There is for instance a reason why there is no clarification of the details of purification and the reactions of Dahlia after the process. It is difficult to tell whether there were regrets, mourning or even cursing, all that is clearly shown is that the burnt child eventually wanted to revenge.
Contemporary Feminism in Silent Hill
Emotional strength has been a characteristic of feminism from the early days of feminism analysis to contemporary times. This aspect of feminism has not changed over the years with females being presented as greater comforters compared to men. Horror films have this characteristic of bringing on females who play the mostly passive roles of offering comfort to the afflicted while the males get out into the field to deal with the real threats. However, this representation has clearly been left out in the Silent hill film. In spite of leaving out the more passive role, the women are still represented as being emotionally responsive and capable of offering emotional support as well as creating lasting friendships for true benefit. The confirmation of this representation comes out clearly in various contexts. The first is that in which the Sleep walking Sharon is helped by her mother prior to the arrival of her father.
This scene clearly shows that another person’s distress makes an impact on the female emotions thus making it possible for intervention to be made. Moreover, Rose is seen in the field with Sharon while her daughter draws. By sitting with her, hugging her, talking to her and generally keeping her close, Rose strengthens the mother daughter bond between her and Sharon. This makes the girl more comfortable around her mother and it can even be said that such acts make the child to trust her mother completely. This may have led to her agreeing to the suggestion that they visit Silent Hill without her father’s assent, an indication of feminine independence in the movie.
The representation of females as independent also takes centre stage in the movie. Dependence is characterized by the inability to accomplish tasks or carry out certain responsibilities effectively without financial, physical or emotional support from others. The aspect of female independence is seen clearly in the three main characters in the story. Rose Da Silva, officer Cybil and Christabell all show exceptional independence in handling the threats at hand. For instance, by carrying her daughter to Silent Hill without her father’s assent, Rose gives the impression that she is capable of taking care of both her daughter and herself even in the absence of her family head. The effectiveness of Rose and her friends when they meet also attests to the fact that females are independent and do not need physical help when dealing with male foes. Despite knowing that Silent Hill was a dark town, the three women managed to create an all female friendship through which they overcome various obstacles that challenged them. The absence of male characters in key roles in this film sends a message that what men can do; women can be able to do it even more effectively. This gives body to the idea that the absence of males in the dominant position only functions to bring out the alpha females in the characters in spite of their feminine clothing.
This brings to the fore, the presentation of females in the dominant position throughout the movie. The key characters of the film, Rose, Officer Cybil and Christabell are all women who are active in position of dominance in their lives. Rose, ignores the advice of her husband not to go to Silent Hill and goes anyway. This is an indication of two characteristics: first, belief in oneself is imperative for someone to be able to ignore the supposed figure of authority in one’s life hence she had to believe in herself completely to make this decision. Secondly, the impacts of the action must be worthwhile. In the case of self belief, it can be concluded that Rose was the dominant partner in the relationship with her husband and thus any decision concerning her had to be made by her. No matter what the husband said, her decision had to be final. This resonates the traditional male patriarch roles where the man was the overall head of the family and had to make final decisions in every situation. This brings out the image of the man as dominant in that type of relationship. If the woman’s decision is final, then the woman is most obviously the dominant partner. In addition to this, belief in her had to be driven from her independence. The ability of a female to effectively take care of her family without the input of the man makes it possible for the female to dominate over the man. This type of dominance is most common in relationships where the men are irresponsible, inefficient as husbands and fathers and/ or dysfunctional. Either of these possibilities brings out the image of the women as being dominant.
Also, for the action to be considered justifiable, the end results have to be acceptable and constructive. For instance, by Rose taking her daughter to Silent Hill, her action would only be acceptable if the sleep walking ended. However, if the problem had not been solved after her travails, the only way to keep her marriage would be by being the dominant partner in the relationship. Besides Rose, Officer Cybil also plays a role which resonates with female dominance. As a police woman, it is expected that when things get tough in the line of duty, she should be the first to duck. However, we see that she sticks to the victim through the entire ordeal and eventually they overcome together. This is an indication of exceptional strength which is only characteristic in alpha females, whose positions of authority force them to stick to circumstances until the right thing is done. Moreover, by presenting the females as the rescuers and fighters of evil, the traditional image of males as protagonists’ tasked with the rescue of the distressed is suppressed. The males are then objectified as being dysfunctional according to the viewers’ expectations. This representation creates a twist in the story in that most film viewers expect the males to be more dominant, particularly in horror movies. For instance, it would have been expected that Christopher Da Silva would find Rose and probably rescue her and Sharon from their foes, yet this does not happen. On the contrary, the rescuers turn out to be all female, with the cult leader Christabell also joining the fight.
The concepts of equality and liberalism have also been brought out clearly in the film through the various character representations. Physical strength, decision making capabilities, as well as fearlessness are no longer reserved for the men. Contrary to expectations, the women starring in this film posses these qualities in excess and portray them with a lot of zeal. Physical strength is seen in the fighting scenes where the women are tormented by various foes. From the devil to human foes in the form of cultists, the women find a reserve of strength to bring themselves out of tough situation. A unity of the three women appears stronger than all the cultists as they are capable of extricating themselves from the hold of the cult. Moreover, they fight despite having injuries and hunger. Also, during their fights as well as prior to the dark periods, the women all have to make important decisions regarding themselves and their families at various times in the movie. They also face their challenges head on, with the sole objective being to survive. No matter what they face, the end result is always victory. They do not lose hope, neither do they panic. On the other hand, the men are depicted as cultists and ineffective husbands and fathers, and objectified monsters that are incapable of making fruitful decisions. This depiction clearly helps to bring out the feminist stance of the movie.
Silent Hill is clearly a feminist horror movie based on the female representations. The depiction of females as being dominant, decision makers, fearless, dependent, and emotionally responsive makes the film to appear feminine. To further enhance this portrayal, the film represses female representations as sexual, distressed and helpless and further separates them from feminine roles. Consequently, the traditional consumerist gaze roles have been ignored in order to bring out feminism in the film. Male representations have similarly been used to bring out the feminine characteristics of the movie. Males as ineffective fathers, rapist janitors, cultists and objectified monsters bring out the females as the rocks upon which homes stand.
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