Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

The crisis of masculinity

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 4422 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this


My dissertation is concerned with the male hegemony of Hollywood cinema. I will consider briefly the representation of the female but only to support the discussion of male hegemony in regards to spectatorship and representation of the male.

I will limit my argument to the “post feminist” period (post 1970’s) because this cinema era is extremely significant as it demonstrates a fundamental change in the representation of the male. I have decided to concentrate on the representation of the male because the discussion of female representation, although not investigated in its entirety, is generally more prevalent.

I have chosen to analyze two key films that had major success in the year 1999. I have specifically chosen these films as not only do they reenact a threshold point in society’s perception, but both deal heavily with the theme of modern day masculinity.

The two different approaches from very different directors- David Fincher, The director of Fight club has a lengthy history of “mainstream” work whereas Paul Thomas Anderson’s work history is more “alternative”.

I will argue that in its structure Fight club is highly synonymous with Hollywood in terms of character placement…….(male protagonist, passive female). I will look at how Magnolia is more discoursive/melodramatic focusing on coming from a “female” perspective.

I will look at the main characters in each of the films and discuss how both films approach the key aspects of masculinity: Paternity & the Phallus.

The similar concerns and contrasting nature of the films thus conclude that they serve as great examples for discussion.

The dissertation will consider film theory and psycho-analysis however I would like to relate those to cinematic textual systems – a term used by ……to describe mise en scene elements, editing and other cinematic manipulation of the frame for the spectator.

Talk about how perspective and cinematography are interlinked, cinematography being vital to “the gaze”.

“To theorize the gaze is to engage in cinematic textual systems (diegesis, montage, mise-en-scene, intertextuality etc) and the act of viewing, as well as the competing, dynamic and heterogeneous processes involved between the two”. Pg 6 (a)

WHY CINEMATOGRAPHY IS IMPORTANT TO DISCUSS. Once we have investigated on a functional level how cinema manipulates the viewer’s gaze only then can we move forward and expand on this?

The very existence of cinema relies on box office profits; cinema conveys the reality of the desire of the spectator, but also notably produces films that display the unconscious fears of the societies that produced them. This is an argument I will discuss at more length in the first chapter.


  1. Phallocentric perspective/cinematography

    I will start by engaging with the philosophy which forms the basis of the dissertation. I will also justify the inclusion of cinematography as a valid point in my dissertation by clarifying its relationship with film theory and psychoanalysis.

  2. “We’re Designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shoppers” – Tyler Durder (Fight Club)

    In the second chapter I will put my discussion in context, explaining briefly the importance of the cinema of this era.

  3. “Fight Club”:

    I will discuss why I chose the two films I did The two different approaches directors- coming from very different background fightclub is aimed at mainstream whilst magnolia comes from an alternative viewpoint.

    I will argue that in its structure Fight club is highly synonymous with Hollywood in terms of character placement…….(male protagonist, passive neurotic female)

  4. “Magnolia”:

    I will look at the key characters of the film and analyse how they demonstrate a crisis of masculinity. I will examine the look at how Paul Anderson’s Magnolia manages to subvert the male hegemony of mainstream films and acts as a critique of the Hollywood cinematic address.


“The spectator constructed by the text is taken to be male-regardless of the ‘actual’ gender

of the viewer. He is taken to look through the eyes of the male hero on screen at the

on-screen female, so that the viewer in the auditorium can fantasize the pleasure of dominating and possessing her, and thus enjoy the visual pleasure of ‘masculine’ conquest”. Kenneth Mackinnon

Whatever the route of the gaze, the result is the same. She is objectified. And the female object confirms that the male is the proper and sole subject.” (b) pg 126

Since Hollywood’s conception the films produced have taken to rather formulaic, standardized conventions to accrue predicted success at the box office. These are seen in it’s cinematic style, and narrative form. As a result Hollywood has become extremely skilled at satisfying the spectator through manipulation of its address. male hegemony

At the beginning of cinema for example, spectators desired to see more and so became the standardization of erotic display to satisfy the spectator interest in voyeurism. Thus this Hollywood address gives us a spectacular insight into the unconscious fears and desires of society.

If we look at one particular example “Metropolis” (1927) Directed by Fritz Lang, this film featured a destructive and powerful female robot. Notably this film came at a time when society had to deal with the increased mechanization, loss of jobs in industries resulted in a perceived loss of male control and power.

“Metropolis” represented the destruction of masculine dominance over science and nature, represented as a female android, the ultimate opposite.

The more information gathered by the development in film theory and psychoanalysis the further we can investigate into understanding the reality of the relationship between spectator and cinema and can move forward from male hegemony into creating an alternative cinema one in which both sexes are represented fairly.

this can be shown through the deigesis, mise en scene, etc etc.

In Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, she discusses the passive role that women have played in cinema arguing that this passive role supports the male hegemony by encouraging visual pleasure. This visual pleasure is formed by

Mulvey identifies three “looks” or perspectives that occur in film which serve to sexually objectify women.

The first is the perspective of the male character on screen and how he perceives the female character.

The second is the perspective of the spectator as they see the female character on screen.

The third “look” joins the first two looks together: it is the male audience member’s perspective of the male character in the film. This third perspective allows the male audience to take the female character as his own personal sex object because he can relate himself, through looking, to the male character in the film.

Female body representation has always involved some degree of eroticism fragment a women’s body into various body parts.

A good example of how editing shot composition and framing can be seen in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The main character Jake La Motta becomes entranced by the physical beauty of —- by the side of the pool. By the sequence of close ups we are placed into the mental position of Jake to reduce —- to a mere object to be gawped at. Here we literally see the “looks” as Mulvey referred to them shown through the shot juxtapositioning. Although one could argue this section was designed to illuminate us of Jake’s disturbed mentality, thus serves as an extreme example; however we do see these looks perpetrating mainstream Hollywood throughout the generations since its beginnings.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

However self conscious and ironic Hollywood manages to be, it always restricts itself to a formal mise en scene reflecting the dominant ideological concept of the cinema. The alternative cinema provides a space for the birth of cinema which is radical in a both a political sense and an aesthetic sense and thus challenges the basic assumptions of the mainstream film

Thus cinematography holds the key to the buried attitudes of gender.

The cinema is an epic form that utilizes dramatic elements; this is determined by the technologies of the camera and editing. Even in a spatially and temporally continuous scene (mimicking the theatrical situation, as it were), the camera chooses where to look for us. In a similar way, editing causes us to jump from one place (and time sometimes) to another, whether it be somewhere else in the room, or across town. This jump is a form of narration; it is as if a narrator whispers to us: “meanwhile, on the other side of the forest”.

“One of the key pleasures cinema allows is identification. The spectator will almost always identify with the character whose look authorizes the point of view shot.” – pg 94 Hedges,Inez

Vertigo is a prime example whereby everything is seen from the perspective of the main male protagonist, the audience follow his erotic obsession and subsequent despair precisely from his point of view. However the spectator is caught in moral ambiguity toward the latter part of the film as the film reveals the illicit nature of the voyeurism.

“We’re Designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shoppers” -Tyler Durden

“These violent white male icons grew at a time when working class white males had to contend with increasing economic instability and dislocation, the perception of gains by people of colour at the expense of the white working class and a women’s movement that overtly challenged the male hegemony. One way the system allows working clases (of various races) the opportunity for masculine identity validation is through the use of their body as an instrument of power dominance and control.. The threat that women posed as a result of their increased economic independence, destabilizes gender realtions and upsets male identity”. Spectacle of the Male


Working Class Males had less access to more abstract forms of masculinity validating power (economic power, workplace authority) – Fightclub protagonist has loss of authority, in the end he reaffirms his masculinity through physical acts of violence.

Susan Faludi went one step further, arguing that films of the 1980s such as Fatal Attraction (1987) and Baby Boom (1987) were part of a wider backlash against women’s liberation and women’s careers.Yearning for reinstatement of the nuclear family, American Beauty – protagonist yearns for realignment of patriarchal structure – as does Gaz in full monty his desire to recover his role as breadwinner so that he can reclaim his son from his ex wife.


“It touched a nerve in the male psyche that was debated in newspapers across the world.” The Times


“Could be worse, a woman could cut off your penis” – Tyler Durden

Marla introduces/is the conflict. Neurotic marla is a sexualized woman/object (her flat – dildo etc) placed into whore category. – she disturbs the house causes cracks in walls leaks, etc.

“What counts is what the heroine provokes or rather what she represents. She is the one or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance” – Budd Boetticher


Tyler and his impulsive nature, represents the Freudian philosophy of the Id. The id is responsible for our basic drives such as food, water, sex and basic impulses.


Always has his chest on show like the iconic images of the 1980s heroic action movies. The body is shown to acquire battle scars which removes any erotism which may induce the female gaze – need to explain….. used as a tool of power to redeem authority. This is the physical manifestation of the ironic rejection of the “heroes” of the action films of the previous years.

He is in control, has the power over Marla and makes the decisions, drives the narrative.


“We’re a generation of men raised by women” – Tyler Durden

Paternity discussed in the bathroom between the two, father abandoned him EXPAND


First introduced to violent action gun in his mouth – then to the softer image of sign saying “We’re still men” – Bob has larger breasts feminized.

The genitals are particularly present in this film – from Tyler showing the graphic images of full frontal male nudity of the penis to taking away the statesmens balls thus demasculating him. Balls stand for Male Power the ability to reproduce – Testicular cancer meetings also….

Dildo in Marlas bedroom representing the fake male the fake man, the substitution of the real penis with a fake one reveals inferiority complex – no need for the real man in the modern world.


Primarily the narrative of the film Fight Club is wholly centered on the male our protagonist Jack. We are encouraged as the spectator to emphasize with him, he navigates the shots in the Voice over the use of the word “ we” is used to encourage identification from the spectator.

<[p>Is there a problem with identification in this film because the spectator identifies with the protagonist Jack who turns out to be Tyler also so when Jack finds out he is Tyler not only do we experience the same surprise as him, the spectator is left feeling removed from identification? Misplaced just as man does in society?

The creation of a microcosm in the house new world order fascism – back to being real men, almost militarian (that’s what they associate with manhood).

Use of colour, lighting difference between the house and the flat, how Brad is framed with his chest exposed showing his muscular torso to portray the idealized man Jack wants to be.

The decaying house, large empty insde and out (as its on an industrial estate) builds up a representation of the inner vacousness of the protagonist.


Paul Thomas Anderson’s LA ensemble film “Magnolia” disrupts the classic Oedipal patterning common to many mainstream films. The film repeatedly enacts a pronounced degree of male failure and what amounts to an indictment of the system of father rule

The men of Magnolia are to some extent all feminized by circumstance or choice: Earl, dying, is in need of care; Phil is a compassionate male nurse; Donnie is gay and wants to give love; Jimmy, because of his illness, is dependent; and Jim is a nurturing representative of the law who loses first his baton and then his gun, the phallic signifier par excellence. Even Frank Mackey, who has closed down his internal feminine, is again a caretaker by the film’s end.

The most recalcitrant male is Stanley’s father, Rick. He suggests a barely controlled violence, throwing a chair through the television as Stanley refuses to compete. A crisis in masculinity and male paradigms of power and behavior is posed. Clearly, the film is scrutinizing how to be a man and live as a man in culture.


This notion is foregrounded by Frank’s “Seduce and Destroy” infomercials, which appear during different segments of the film, and his performance of masculinity for the internal diegetic male audience. The excess of language, gestures, and emotion here enact male hysteria. A wielding of language that speaks as a means to recapture and reanimate male power, it suggests a masculinity reasserting itself at the expense of women. Frank’s misogyny and anger toward women come to seem a projection, a denial of the self-loathing and father-loss that resulted in his becoming his mother’s caretaker as she succumbed to cancer. Women seem to be a smokescreen for his pain, something he can latch on to and feed his sense of rage.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Frank, played by Cruise at his best in his usual angry young man mode, is aptly named as the teacher of ostensible truth, power and control who with arms nailed to an unseen cross is projected as an illuminated (Lucifer) savior. His crucified humanity, now a loaded shell, a persona with rigid firm ego boundaries of patent masculinity, launches a provocative assault, laced with inexplicable resentment, against Woman. His assumed control and power over his own vulnerability (fear of his undeveloped feminine component generalized as woman) results paradoxically from the rejection by and loss of his father followed by the incessant care of his slowly dying mother whom he was unable to save.


Stanley Spector to his father: “You need to start being nicer to me”

His all-encompassing impotent rage is projected along with his need to control the symbolic Woman who constitutes the loss of his childhood and manhood.

Like a fatherless boy of the ghetto, he shuns the excessive identification and nauseating closeness associated with his mother and her powerless circumstance. To acquire her world would only confirm his loss and her power to destroy. To him she only means burden and loss of freedom; thus he abuses Woman in order to maintain control and detachment. Moreover, his loss of masculinity resulting from the inability to control the inevitable suffering and eventual death of his mother lead him to create and identify with what he lacks, a powerful male image. His artificial self-acquired mastery over himself results tragically from lack of opposition since he cannot win the badge of manhood by defeating a foe who is missing or a cause that is inexplicable.

The grateful male crowd (representing the incomplete male) is willing to pay Frank to attain his techniques to compensate for its loss and to overcome its incompleteness through the power of maintaining distance and control. But Frank paradoxically eventually finds redemption in what he denied, in the traditional female manner of acquiring power, through interaction with the Other. Frank, the rejected son finally confronts his dying father who is now unable to reply, apologize and expiate his guilt. Without the articulation and acceptance of his father’s sin, Frank cannot forgive or overcome the unknown one, he can only endure his memory. The cathartic release of his tormented repressed anger and simultaneous conflicted fear of another loss of and desire for his missing father is gripping. He faces uncertainty but his acceptance of his past and his anguished self, the veil of his repression and denial of his history is lifted and results in the loosening of his current defences and his false self. The painful return from/to his original position confirms that rebirth is painful. He can now join the family of man.

The initially compliant game show kid (J. Blackman) alters his condition of bondage by sacrificing the moment of glory by a paradoxical (anorexial) attempt to avoid the game by controlling his body until he loses bladder control. When he realizes that adherence to arbitrary debilitating rules crushes creativity and freedom, he loses his ambition to succeed conventionally by a symbolic Freudian urethral discharge. Both the game and his body are beyond his control. He confronts his parasitic father as an incomplete child (no mother), asking to be treated anew with respect without having to constantly sacrifice himself to earn the love of his father.


The cop who shows an interest in her, needs no change, only completion by another, but he too demonstrates his universal deficiency by losing the badge of his profession, his gun. This loss of power is later recovered from the sky god and magically saves a life. His stability rests on his identification with the law which he chooses to interpret selectively as a wise judge with the power to render mercy


Magnolia constructs the place of the female subject differently for the process of identification with the spectator. This is done by…..

Magnolia systematically rejects mainstream film’s signifying system. As Fiske notes, soap opera suggests the workings of a feminine aesthetic and thereby posits the audience as female (180).

Magnolia subverts the classic masculine gaze and audience address usually associated with film.

The masochistic position from which we watch Magnolia is inscribed by the excessive music and by the competition of the musical discourse and the dialogue. This is doubly inscribed, as it were, because it speaks to the condition of the character as opposed to working in counterpoint to the image. For example, “One” (“is the loneliest number …”) plays while introducing these lonely characters; over a close-up of the victimized and addicted Claudia, we hear “Save Me” (“You look like a girl who could use a tourniquet …”). Soap operas exemplify such “double-voiced discourses” in which dominant cultural forms allow women participation (Fiske 192). The predominant use of close-ups and extreme close-ups throughout the film also expresses this excess.

“There are two dramatic points of depature for melodrama. One is coloured by a female protagonists viewpoint which provides a focus for identification. The other examines the family and between the sexes and generations; here, although women play an important part, their point of view is not always analysed and does not initiate the drama” pg 42 Mulvey.L

Marcie, the unruly black woman at the edges of the text, shouts what appear to be empty threats, but the danger she evokes is soon realized. The canted camera angles and frenzy of the editing, in addition to her shouting, foreground the level of disorder she represents. Handcuffed to a sofa, she continues to be verbally abusive as Jim investigates. Pulling the sofa from room to room, she becomes comic relief even as her powerful frame suggests a formidable adversary. Jim seems barely a match for Marcie, despite her containment.


Coded as marginal, Marcie wreaks havoc on the established order to which she is subject but in which she has no place, except as the “return of the repressed.” Jim finds a dead man in her closet. As a black woman existing on the social margins, she is an enigma that Jim and the film refuse to solve.

In terms of sex, too, Magnolia exposes the system of male hegemony and power. In most soap operas, the condition of women living under patriarchy is examined to promote a reading that women identify as corresponding to their own reality, which leads to tears.

Doane refers to these melodramatic texts as activating the “tropes of femininity” (183): waiting, watching and self-sacrifice.

Through Jimmy and Earl, marriage as a system is also undermined. Not only is Jimmy adulterous, alcoholic, womanizing, and guilty of incest, he has astonishing contempt for his wife. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Rose learns the truth about her marriage, but it is also clear that she has known. Her performance of the dutiful wife, right up to the end, motivates Jimmy’s contempt.

Rose can only face Jimmy’s molestation of Claudia when her husband breaks with the veneer of mutual respect and love on which their marriage is based. The only women with power in Magnolia are the black women, and when we are with them we are sutured to the position of two of the film’s key white male characters, Frank and Jim. That we identify with these women anyway, and with their threat to Frank and Jim, speaks to Magnolia’s feminine positioning of the viewer.” – (a)

“Magnolia displaces film narrative to television text and shifts from the normative masculine viewing position to a feminine one. Magnolia is symptomatic of a crisis in masculinity and interrogates cultural texts such as cop shows, quiz shows, and infomercials. Magnolia is a subversive cultural product, an indictment of paradigms of male hegemony and power, and a critique of the media systems of film and television.

The film’s privileging of the soundtrack is unusual. Paul Thomas Anderson conceives the film in relation to one of Aimee Mann’s songs and envisions her voice as “another character” in the film (Anderson 204). Her voice does indeed constitute another character to such an extent that at times it upsets the normative hierarchy of discourses that mainstream films espouse. The use of such a counternarrative strategy and the predominance of a strong female voice working against and at times doubling the text also point to Magnolia’s challenge to the “male” textual film system and more traditionally “masculine” narratives. Mann’s voice is like a commentary on the action, pulling us in to watch the film from a female viewing position.


  • Dillman, Joanne Clark “Magnolia”: Masquerading as Soap Opera, Journal of Popular Film and Television 33 no3 142-50 Fall 2005
  • Dines, Gail: Gender, Race and Class in the media
  • Brod,H. (Ed) (1987) The making of masculinities
  • Various, “The trouble with men: Masculinities in europeon and Hollywood cinema.”
  • Fuery,Patrick (2000) New Developments In Film Theory- Palgrave, New York,
  • “Male Spectatorship and the Hollywood Love Story”: Mackinnon, Kenneth. Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2003, Carfax Publishing
  • Classical Hollywood Cinema : Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960 Bordwell, David.; Staiger, Janet.; Thompson, Kristin Publication: London Taylor & Francis Routledge, 1988.

  • Fight Club () Dir: David Fincher
  • Magnolia (1999) Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Rocky ( 198 – 200 )
  • Thelma and Louise (1991)Dir: Ridley Scott


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: