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Critical Analysis of the finished Part of "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

Mulvey's essay introduces the notion of the "male gaze." She argues that classic Hollywood films employ an aesthetic that enables spectators to take erotic pleasure in watching movies. This is partly through the sexualized portrayal of women on screen, but more importantly, in the way the camera constructs the cinematic world, which Mulvey argues is explicitly male.

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Mulvey uses Freudian and Lacanian theory to examine the nature of film consumption and, in particular, the way the gaze of the spectator (which she identifies as explicitly a "male gaze") constructs or assigns meaning to images of women. Mulvey sees this relationship as explicitly objectifying; women on film are not "makers of meaning" but "bearers" of it -- a way for the male viewer to "live out" his fantasies.

Mulvey argues that the male viewer derives pleasure from two kinds of "looking." First, there is the pleasure of looking at the sexualized image of the woman. Second, there is the pleasure of identifying with with the image of a male character on screen, who comes to possess the woman. These two views are subordinate to a third "look," which is the look of the camera itself; the perspective of the camera creates a realistic simulation of reality in which the viewer can immerse himself.

For Mulvey, this third look is key. Part of the lasting influence of her essay lies in its politicization of the camera, and revealing how the mechanics of classic Hollywood filmmaking are predicated on the presentation of women as objects of desire. Mulvey includes in her essay analyses of several Hollywood films, notably Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Rear Window, which she sees as both an embodiment and interrogation of the erotic pleasure of cinema.