Click here to view the video.
The phrase, “larger-than-life,” as applied to cinema may conjure images of masculine heroes who save the day with a gesture of of chivalry or forceful bravado, but probably not a middle-aged heroine with baggage and an unrealistic desire to destabilize the heteropatriarchal familial structure. Enter Charlize Theron. Theron may be an actor who will be seen as larger-than-life, largely due to the attention she received from her acclaimed performance in Monster (2003). In her latest film, a dramedy called Young Adult (2011), Jason Reitman, director, Theron portrays a writer of teen fiction who lives in a big Midwestern city. She decides to leave the bright lights for a trip to her small town, a place she has not seen in years, in order to reconnect with an old boyfriend. The situation that unfolds is a study in vulnerability as Theron’s character, Mavis Gary, re-enters the life of old-flame, Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. It is when she also has a chance encounter with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf, played by Patton Oswalt, that her life begins to change.
Matt is suffering wounds from the past incurred while he was in high school. Mavis, immune to his story for much of their initial encounter, seems oblivious to the kind of suffering she is about to experience as she chases her fantasy man, who is also a new father, and who is blissfully married to an earnest special-needs teacher whose alternate ego is drummer for an all-girl grunge band. Unfortunately for Mavis, there is nothing she can throw down that can turn Buddy Slade’s head. Everyone in the town knows this – except Mavis. Her singularity of pursuit is the very means by which she later attains her self-reflexive awareness, but not until a series of blunders culminating in an unexpected cry for help, occur. Theron’s heroine is thoroughly unlikeable with her indeterminacy, identity confusion, and out-of-control ego. And yet, she is larger-than-life, largely due to her plight which is exacerbated by her work which seems to have hit a plateau, as has her life.
Mavis Gary needs help. The movie hinges on her character not only coming to this realization, but taking action to save herself from her demons. Her suffering is mirrored by Matt Freehauf’s physical and mental scars inured by teenage cruelty, which Mavis’ adult self is forced to confront so that she, and Matt, may no longer live in the past. Not even the fastidiousness of Mavis’ maquillage ritual, nor her shopping quest to Macy’s for the perfect Marc Jacobs fashion armour to wear for the baby’s naming ceremony can prevent her downward slide into alcohol, anger, and numbness. If fact, no resolution seems plausible cementing this film in the category of (un)romantic drama/comedy.
How the situation is resolved (if it is) involves one pivotal scene starring Elizabeth Reasor as Buddy Slade’s wife, Beth. Yet, this scene is also the one in which the audience is left wanting Reasor’s character to contribute more words. Later in the film, Theron’s character makes the bold move of asking for help from Matt’s sister, who appears to be dressed in a nurse’s uniform. It is left to the audience to determine whether her character has changed into a more self-reflexive soul, but the situation itself is reflective of the role context plays in constituting character. For an interesting take on the subject of situational determination, check out this article by Maria Popova that I found on my Twitter feed.
In conclusion, the script, by Diablo Cody, a graduate of the University of Iowa media studies program, presents the situation of a blond, bold and beautiful heroine, aware of her privilege, perhaps a little too aware, but who has lost recognition of herself as not immune to the loneliness of adulthood. This film is dark. It is messy, and at times, sparse in content, yet, the issue of raw vulnerability, persists enough to want to discuss the topic of the numbing of affect further.
Spring 2011 Cultural Studies Conference at Claremont Graduate University
Negotiating the Gaze
Friday, April 15, 2011
Call for Proposals:
Graduate student researchers and artists, as well as emerging and experienced scholars and artists, are invited to attend the second annual Cultural Studies Conference, Negotiating the Gaze, Friday, April 15, 2011 at Claremont Graduate University.
The focus of this trans-disciplinary conference is voyeurism, spectatorship and the gaze. In addition to paper presentations, the conference is seeking submissions of artwork. Theorists whose work may apply to the theme of this conference include, but are not limited to, Zizek, Lacan, Freud and Mulvey.
Proposals from a variety of disciplines will be considered. For example, we will consider proposals from the fields of literature, religion, philosophy, feminist studies, psychology, history, economics, marketing, gender studies, ethnic studies, media, cinema, pop culture, and cultural studies.
The CFP deadline is Midnight, Sunday, January 9th, 2011. Conference presenters will be contacted at the end of February, at the conclusion of the abstract review and selection process.
Guidelines for Abstracts and Artists’ Statements:
Artists are asked to submit a 250-to-450-word statement relating their art to the conference theme, plus no more than 15 slides in jpeg to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is Midnight, Sunday, January 9, 2011.
Scholars are invited to submit conference abstracts, of no more than 500 words, no later than Midnight, Sunday, January 9, 2011. Please e-mail abstracts to: email@example.com.
Please e-mail Ms. Hampson with any inquiries.
Note, all submissions must have contact information. Although the conference committee will review abstracts through a blind-submission process, any submission without contact information will be discarded.
About the Conference:
This day-long conference will investigate the structure of and response to the gaze, the role that alterity and motive play in subverting the power of the gaze and the circulation of power surrounding the return of the gaze.
The conference organizers suggest that spectatorship and voyeurism are topics often associated with cinema and photography, but spectatorship may also transcend the boundaries of cinema and photography to include such topics as space, time, ability, gender, performance, ethnicity, sexual orientation and politics.
Questions We Seek to Explore at this Conference:
How can we transform our response to the gaze? How does the gaze affect our notions of the contingent relationships contained within and without space? How are human, and presumably non-human, subjects regulated within different social spaces? How can we create alternatives to dominant institutions?
The Cultural Studies Student Executive Committee of the School of Arts and Humanities sponsors this interdisciplinary event.