Film hand, Film noir’s subversive view of the family

Film noir is habitual to managing particular constructions of the
numerous gender roles in this aesthetically driven cinematic style, creating
extremely discrete erroneous archetypes for women within the ongoing history of
film noir. 2

The
narrative of film noir and the ever-present domestic space during the 1940s and
1950s is an obvious thematic representation of woman as other, in which the
“attack on the dominant social values, in film noir is normally expressed
through the representation of the family.” 3

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Claire Johnston,
through her studies of Double
Indemnity (1944), elucidates that “the Oedipus complex allows
access to desire only through repression: it is through lack that desire is
instituted”. 4 Women in film noir are often faced with the common
theme of an embedded Oedipus complex in the narrative, a threat of castration
done by the female antagonist to the male protagonist of the film. 5 

Women in
film noir are mainly of three types – Femme Fatale, Good Woman and the Marrying
Type. Of the three types, the femme fatale illustrates the most absolute attack
on the traditional and orthodox womanhood and the emergence of nuclear family. Femme
Fatale noir women refuse to play the conventional role of a dedicated wife and affectionate
mother that the prevailing and mainstream society preaches. 6

As
Karen Hollinger describes in “Film Noir, Voice-Over and the Femme Fatale,”
women in film noir are put through to the psychoanalytic approach of the male,
which attempts to try and construe the meaning of femaleness, which is deemed a
taxing point of view, since it speaks for a silenced demographic by popular culture
and media. 7

Other the
other hand, Film noir’s subversive view of the family life and women’s accepted
role in the society extends to its portrayal of the “good” or “normal” woman. The
Good Woman embraces her traditional “place” in the family. According to Janey
Place, film noir depicts the good woman as an unlikely
choice for the hero and sees the traditional family as an unsafe and
undesirable refuge from the world outside. 8

By the
late 1940s, a third distinct type of female character began to appear in film
noir – the Marrying Woman. The marrying woman plays the role of threatening to domesticate
the hero. The hero, like the femme fatale, resists his “proper” role within the
status quo family and suffers for his transgressions.

The three
types of film noir women appear throughout the noir cycle, but as the immediate
post-War years give way to the 1950s, a shift begins to takes place in the treatment
and function of these female types.