Double Indemnity

by James M. Cain

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How do the films Double Indemnity and Raise the Red Lantern compare in terms of gender representation, themes, and character relationships?

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The femme fatale is a classic stereotype of film noir, and the character of Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity is the classic example. She is seductive and deadly, and she uses her looks and sexual powers to trap the men in her life, to seduce them, and then ultimately to betray them. She pretends to be helpless and to want the men’s protection and control, but clearly, she is the one who controls them. As the story unfolds, Phyllis is shown to be not at all the helpless woman she pretends to be but rather conniving, manipulative, and deadly.

Phyllis is objectified, but she is objectified because she wants to be. She realizes that it is exactly this objectification that gives her power over men, and she recognizes male lust as weakness. In Raise the Red Lantern, the women are clearly objectified, but their objectification is built into society and they accept it as the natural order. These women are manipulative because they’re fighting for the same man, thus they manipulate each other in order to win the favor of the man. They struggle to gain power over each other; in other words, they don’t fight the subjugation and oppression by their husbands. In feudal Korean society, the man of the house held all the power; he could have as many wives as he wanted, though each wife was required to be loyal only to him. Those women continued to fight their oppression, but within the limits of the social structure that controlled them. They gained power—or believed they gained power—by overpowering the other women, and by extension, using their seductive powers to win the affections of the man.

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