Reversing the Gaze: Empowering the Other in Wes Anderson Films
Shannon Shikles, Eckerd College
This video essay argues for a reevaluation of Wes Anderson’s films in relation to issues of race and gender. As I discuss, Anderson’s films, including The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), have been criticized for their reinforcement of white masculinity as a source of power, often expressed through access to the male gaze as defined by Laura Mulvey and Jane Gaines. However, I would argue instead that Anderson’s films present a comic world where the white male is not dominant or composed, but rather a struggling and emotionally bottled individual. As parodies of hegemonic representations of race and power, Anderson’s films highlight often-unconscious ideologies so that the spectator disidentifies with the film’s traditional male protagonists and so questions their empowered position. The audience is then aligned with the “other” in the film, taking an oppositional view of the white male protagonist.
In this video essay, I explore how Anderson’s films reverse the traditional power structure in three ways. In the first section, I discuss how Anderson’s films draw attention to the white male’s obsession with controlling himself and those around him but ultimately failing to do so. The second section deals with the shame, punishment, and loss of control that the protagonist experiences when he attempts displays of control or privilege. The third and final section traces how Anderson’s films reverse the traditional representation of the white male gaze in cinema by instead depicting their protagonists as objects of the gaze of the non-white other.
Throughout this video essay, my goal was to recreate the symmetrical and hyper-controlled style of Anderson’s films while unearthing their decentered approach to ideology. By pulling to the foreground the particular use and depiction of non-white characters, I examined how the formal aspects of Anderson’s films effect a reversal of the traditional power structure as well as how they also subtly align us with these nontraditional identification points. In particular, I wanted to emphasize where this reversal can appear outwardly to the audience in ways that may not have seemed apparent upon initial viewing of Andersons’ films. These films employ exoticized representations of non-whites as objects and yet also depict these characters as bearers of the look. As such, they are able to both shame and punish the protagonists for their attempts at control as well as to offer the only form of help after the white male protagonists have been punished. My goal was to create a more nuanced perception of the representations of class and race in mainstream and classic Hollywood cinema and, following, their implications on society and views on “othered” cultures.
Shannon Shikles is a recent graduate from Eckerd College with a BA in Film Studies and Environmental Studies and with a minor in Philosophy. In addition to film, she holds a passion for the environment and will be attending American University for an MA in Film and Media Arts to pursue a career in wildlife filming.