Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Women as Morally Suspect Essay

This essay paper will analyze the films "Baby Face" and "Double Indemnity" in terms of their message and story line in relation to the morality of women. Given that women’s sexuality is often linked to immorality, since it can be used as a tool to weaken and control men, the appropriate roles for women are those demanding self-sacrifice in the name of romantic love, such as wives and mothers. However, in the aforementioned films women are represented in their seducers’ roles.

In ‘Baby Face,’ Lily Powers is portrayed as the ultimate symbol of female destructive sexuality. 

From the very beginning of the film, her immorality is established as she is forced to sleep with her father’s clients. However, this also suggests that she is a victim of circumstances rather than in intentional seducer and power-seeker. Her first application of her female charms occurs when she has to make up to a railroad worker for trying to escape from her little town and miserable life on a freight train. In New York, she is able to get employment and make her way up the career ladder by sleeping with the right people. Yet such a behavior on the part of a female character inevitable leads to tragedy in classic cinema. When Ned Stevens kills himself and his potential father-in-law after discovering the Lily is involved with the latter, Lily’s downfall is foreshadowed.

After marrying Courtland Trenholm, Lily does not give up her ways and is reluctant to help her husband when he gets in trouble; instead, she decides to run away with all his presents. However, she discovers that she loves him, but it is too late, since Courtland has shot himself in his office. Thus, the film is a story of redemption and transformation of a seducer into a loving and caring wife. Since this transformation happened too late, Lily is punished for her immorality. At the same time, Courtland is said to have good chances of survival. This plot development represents hope that even a deeply immoral woman can turn into a caring and sacrificial being and be rewarded for that instead of being punished by her dangerous sexuality.

In the second film, ‘Double Indemnity,’ the representation of a female using her sexuality as the means for achieving material gains is also connected with the portrayal of femmes fatale as immoral and dangerous. Phyllis seduces Neff into killing her husband and using ‘double indemnity’ provision in his life insurance policy to get double the amount of compensation. Apart from using her sexuality as a weapon, she is unfaithful, just like Lily, and flirts with her stepdaughter’s boyfriend. Phyllis has no sympathy for anyone, not even Neff, as she confesses after shooting Neff. Yet there is also an element of redemption involved: when wounded Neff asks her to shoot him to death, she is unable to fire the gun because she discovers feelings for Neff. Yet it is already too late, and the seducer has to be punished: Neff does not believe her words and shoots Phyllis.

It is possible to conclude that both films establish a narrative of female sexuality as dangerous and devastating, especially when employed for speculative gain. While seducers can discover love deep in their hearts, it is usually too late to avert tragic consequences.

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