Anti-Feminism and Gender Inequality in Films

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Anti-Feminism and Gender Inequality in “Un Chien Andalou”

Kristen Martinez, a Seattle-based therapist at Pacific NorthWell who specializes in women’s issues and LGBT+ issues, explores anti-feminism and gender inequality though the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou.


 

Un Chien Andalou, a well-known 1929 Surrealist film by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, exploits gender inequalities and, in particular, the anti-feminist feelings of the directors and the time period. Through unusual types of continuity and editing, Buñuel reveals that there is no place for women in cinema, unless they are being mistreated.

Continuity in Un Chien Andalou – whether it is spatial, causal, or temporal – is a curious thing; it is Surrealist in principle, so it deters any and all sense. For instance: a woman walks out of her apartment, previously shown with a city street around it, and on to a seashore; a woman’s armpit hair ends up on a man’s face; scenes are shown with arbitrary intertitles of “Eight years later”, “Once upon a time”, “Towards 3 a.m.”. Editing is paramount in Un Chien Andalou for evoking emotional responses from shocking and disturbing visual material.

Famously, Buñuel and Dali insisted against using conventional narrative principles, thinking that analyzing films should take a more Freudian psychoanalytic approach. This approach is described as a cinematic exercise in free association, where seemingly disjointed scenes occur one after the other, evoking a complete meaning in the viewer subconsciously: “[t]he hope was that free form of the film would arouse the deepest impulses of the viewer” (Bordwell 453). Possibly the only uniting feature of continuity in Un Chien Andalou is that the same woman plays every female character. This woman gets run over, fondled, and has her eye slit open (“Luis Buñuel”). Therefore, this actress is a metaphor for all women everywhere. Acting as the whole female kind, she becomes a victim of male abuse in many forms.

In the pivotal scene (the focus of this paper), a blind woman dressed in a man’s suit is hit by a car. At the start of the scene, the woman looks all alone, due to the cinematography; the corners of the frame are blacked out. When the camera zooms out, however, we realize that she is in the center of a crowd of people. A point-of-view shot from the woman’s perspective – who, ironically enough, is blind – shows members of the crowd looking curiously down at her.

Typical shot/reverse-shot editing follows, between the blind girl down in the street and a couple looking through the window of their apartment. The couple looks nervous, possibly anticipating the woman getting hurt, but they never leave their comfortable place at the window to help her. A bird’s-eye view of the street then shows the crowd scattering away, leaving her alone. In the busy street. Blind. The mise-en-scene emphasizes this, showing her clear, dark shadow on the ground juxtaposed with white space all around. Her solitary shadow symbolizes her aloneness in her beliefs – no one else wants women to be treated like men. In this respect, feminists are unsupported in their efforts of receiving equal treatment. She is alone in wanting equal treatment between women and men.

Next, another impossible point-of-view shot from the blind girl’s perspective shows a car coming directly toward her. The dramatic effect is heightened by the back-and-forth shots of the blind girl’s face and the car moving closer and closer to her. She is hit by the car, then falls to the ground. Interestingly, this is when the men on the street take notice of her. They did not help her across the street earlier, but once she gets hit by the car, they act as heroes and try to “save the day”. Shot/reverse-shot editing makes the blind woman getting hit by the car more frightening and suspenseful. Throughout the sequence, slow and dreamlike music plays in the background, lending an eerie quality to the already disturbing scene (“Luis Buñuel”). This scene shows that being a woman is a handicap in a male-dominated world. The woman is hit by the car because she is dressed as a man; moreover, she is dressed as a man in the first place because she desires to be treated like a man. This scene sums up the ideas of the film and connects the film together as an anti-feminist piece; anti-feminism goes against all ideas of feminism and calls for the woman’s return to a subservient position to the man.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Other situations involving women in Un Chien Andalou similarly rely on editing, along with bizarre Surrealist continuity, to display anti-feminist feelings. A scene occurs when the man up in the apartment corners the woman and fondles her; editing (in particular, subjective shots) allows the viewers to look at the woman as the man sees her – completely naked. Here, the point-of-view shots emphasize that the woman is the subject of the man’s gaze. We see him grope her with her clothes on, then the shot dissolves into a shot of him groping her naked. We realize that, to the man, the woman is just an object. And because of this, we as viewers notice that the film objectifies women for our entertainment – except it isn’t entertaining at all.

Arguably the most famous scene in Un Chien Andalou is the eye-slitting scene. First, the woman sits, unresisting and lackadaisical, as the man slits her eye open with a razor. In feminist critique according to this essay, the woman has realized that resistance is futile and men will do what they want, no matter if she protests or not. The clever editing cuts between the man, sharpening his razor on a balcony and looking up at the full moon, and a close-up of the woman sitting with the man holding her eye open. When a cloud dissects the full moon, the foreshadowing isn’t realized until after the scene is over; the full moon being cut obviously parallels the woman’s opened eye being slit. Therefore, editing draws juxtapositions and, in this case, parallels, between shots. This scene, the first in the film, is seen as the directors’ sign that the film will be an assault on the viewer’s eyes; this is a sign that this movie is not the expected, usual, conventional film and the viewer will have to do more than just passively watch this film – since this is not a product of Hollywood but Surrealism, the viewer must engage himself in this film.

Concerning the directors’ suggestions for intepretation – psychoanalysis – this film has several important symbols that should be addressed. The attack on eyes (representing rationality or, in Freud’s term, the superego) in the beginning of the film can be continued in the pivotal scene with the blind woman. She might be blind because she, desiring equality between the sexes, is acting without listening to rationality and her superego (at least, from the opinions of the directors and men of the time). Perhaps she lost her eyesight because she was never under control of the superego, society’s accepted norms. Secondly, another body part – hands – seems to play a crucial role in Freudian analysis. From the French symbol of ants in the palm that means ‘a desire to kill or behave sexually’, hands in Un Chien Andalou could represent the conflicting side of the unconscious – the id. The blind woman playing with a severed hand could represent her playing around with ideas of the irrational or societally rejected (wanting equal rights). The policeman who puts the severed hand in the box and gives it to the girl could be a symbol that he, like other men, wants her to repress her id and return to following her superego, the more rational part of the unconscious, which would have her believe that she is subservient to men. Also, the man in the apartment who gropes the woman first sees ants coming out of his palm, the literal version of the French phrase symbolizing the id. He, seeing the ants on his hand, then proceeds to use his hands (the id manifested) to follow through with his societally rejected desires to grope the woman. The film takes on a new aspect when viewed psychoanalytically.

As a sort of disclaimer: it is interesting to analyze a film that has been made specifically not to be analyzed, at least not overtly; “[m]any Surrealist films tease us to find a narrative logic that is simply absent” (Bordwell 452). Buñuel and Dali purposely created Un Chien Andalou without a narrative structure. They tried their hardest, especially through discontinuity editing (as when the woman walks out of her apartment door to a seashore), to create a dreamlike film where the semantics of temporality, space and time do not matter. Moreover, it may seem hypocritical to be analyzing this film for feminist tendencies – or any theme in particular – because that is specifically what the directors did not want. However, there clearly seem to be thematic links throughout the film. If the directors knew they created a film that is so perplexing to watch, they might be able to understand why viewers have to assign meanings to different scenes, gestures, or characters.

While it may be understandable to excuse Buñuel and Dali from making a narratively sound film, the high proportion of scenes attacking women in some form or another should not be dismissed as being simply Surrealist. The fact is, wherever there is a woman in this film, she is being mistreated or maimed. And this fact should not go unnoticed. Even the seemingly happy final scene of Un Chien Andalou where the woman and man hold hands and stroll lovingly down the beach ends disturbingly for the woman (and, surprisingly for the man as well). The two characters are shown, in a flash forward, as dead bodies sitting in the sand (“Luis Buñuel”). Perhaps their fates end this way because psychoanalytically, the woman is empowered (functioning through her id) and the man does nothing to suppress her ideas (rejecting his superego). As is patterned through the film, people’s lives don’t end well if they follow their ids instead of their superegos.

The directors, through their typically Surrealist uses of continuity and editing, display their negative attitude towards women. In particular, the shocking scene where the blind woman in a man’s suit gets run over by a car clearly conveys this attitude; the blind woman tries to fit in with the men and is murdered for thinking she could ever fit in with them in the first place. Even Luis Buñuel himself said, of the film, that it is “a passionate call to murder” (Bordwell 453). But maybe Buñuel forgot to mention just who that passionate call to murder is directed towards – and that is women. Women who want equal treatment. Feminists.