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Essay on the role of women in Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard - Term Paper Example

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Women in Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the entire world was recovering from the devastating effect of the Second World War. Although the victors were not suffering as badly as the Axis powers, over a million Americans had died in the conflict…
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Essay on the role of women in Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard
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"Essay on the role of women in Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard"

It is interesting to look at male-written and -directed films in this time to see how the attitude of traditional authority figures changed, and how their work may have influenced women viewers to seek a more even balance of power. This essay will compare Mildred Pierce and Sunset Boulevard to show the development, slight though it may have been, in the perception of women from 1945 to 1950, and suggest how films like these may have contributed to later feminist movements. In Mildred Pierce, director Michael Curtiz depicts Mildred as unhappy: the flashback scenes pile image upon image of Mildred as a twice-unhappy wife, inadequate and later grieving mother, and ashamed waitress. She marries her second husband (who ruins her financially) to impress her daughter rather than for love, and when she becomes a restaurant tycoon, the story still centres on her daughter's feelings of disappointment instead of her own successes. The implication is that Mildred's painful and heartfelt efforts can never be enough for the new generation of younger women, and this is played for maximum cruelty: the trailer of the film (Youtube, accessed 02/22/11) judges Mildred as “a woman who refused to live by the rules,” “indiscreet,” a woman who “tried to kiss off a crime!” The contemporary audience would have been well aware that they were supposed to accept the present-time, darker “noir male discourse of a dangerous, nocturnal underworld” (Williams, 13) as reflective of Mildred's personality, not the evenly-lit, sympathetic scenes of her past. “Mildred tries to tell her own story, but the film image conspires to turn her words against her” (Williams, 14). The later character of Norma Desmond also inspires a mix of pity and disgust, but has been allowed greater narrative control, as “in spite of Gillis's painfully crass and 'authoritative' voiceover, Norma is almost always correct” (Bergman, 57). Compare this to Mildred, whose attempts at 'female discourse' are subverted by the film's here-and-there chronology, which juxtaposes her innocence against events which cast suspicion over her, and it is clear that directors began to see women's voices as more valid, even if they did not yet trust a woman with the entire business of storytelling. However, Norma is undeniably a very weak character, delusional and in need of being pandered to, but the mere fact that she is so often pandered to reveals her inner strength. She captivates Gillis to such an extent that he fakes her fanmail – like Mildred, the narrator's efforts to portray himself as a wise and powerful hero are corrupted by the events of the plot. The earlier character of Mildred is strong of herself but easily manipulated by others, compulsively seeking her daughter's approval in particular. A final point of consideration is the films' portrayals of reward and punishment in Mildred's and Norma's lives. Although Mildred is not the murderer, she is heavily punished by life: she is a divorcee and a widow, with one daughter dead and another deeply angry with her, who has lost her thriving business thanks to the playboy nature of her unloved second husband. At the end of the film, her first husband Bert returns to her, in a ploy which is not quite believable: are we meant to believe that Mildred lives happily ever after with the man she Read More
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