P:O.V. No.11 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, PEEPSHOW

How to treat a woman orů ?

Kirsten Wellendorph

In discussing the short film Peep Show, I would like to look at the view of women that is expressed through the themes of duality and irony.

Duality is present throughout the film – in the way the music is used, establishing a sense of space (staging), in the narrator's angle and in the characters. I would characterize the music as soft pop with a text about love. This contrasts with the title, Peep Show. There is a hint of the duality in the opening scene, as the soft pop is mixed with the actual sounds of rain and thunder, well-known connotations of danger and horror. On the one hand, the safe and secure soft pop; on the other, the discomforting and threatening actual sounds. When the woman goes into the cabin, the music and actual sounds stop, and are replaced by silence – a silence that underlines the woman's discomfort. The silence belongs to the woman; the music and actual sounds belong to the men. The duality is established in the story by using music, actual sound and silence. This atmospheric split is duplicated in the physical partition of space. On one side of the wall is the woman; on the other side are the two men. I would call these rooms including the ticket-window, the factual rooms. These rooms maintain a kind of reality in the story.

The rooms and the music/actual sounds create two images: one of a woman, vulnerable and hesitating but still looking for adventure and daring to explore new territory; the other of the two men, safe and superior on their home ground.

The narrator's angle appears in two forms: the woman and a narrator. The latter is the most important and is used most of the time. Only a few times the story comes from the woman, and when this happens, it is to underline her discomfort in the particular situation: her eyes searching the room, and when she looks for more money in her wallet.

By the extensive use of an external narrator, the woman's role as one that is stared at – she is also an actor in a peep-show – becomes emphasised. Another duality: the spectator in the show is actually herself the object. The distribution of roles has changed. On the surface the woman plays the active part, that of the spectator, but as the narrator lets us get behind the stage to follow the conversation between the two men, their activities and the show they are putting on for the woman – the roles change. The woman is reduced to an object, stared at and evaluated. Instead of playing the acting and active part, she takes on the receiving and passive role: that of an object the two men can talk about, laugh at, and to a certain extent control. The beginning of the story indicates a reversed view of women and their sexuality, but gradually we end up in the conventional story with women's sexuality reduced to enthusiasm for make-up, buying shoes, fitness, nobility and romantic phrases. A traditional view of women and their sexuality. A conformity the woman embodies with her look and behaviour.

Conformity can also be found in the two men. They are negatively depicted in a very conventional way: sitting in front of the TV, watching basketball, drinking beer, smoking and talking in a vulgar manner. On both sides of the wall, we get stereotypic images of men and women; but when they meet, the situation changes. Again we are confronted with duality.

We would get quite another idea of the meaning of the story, if strong implementation and use of the second theme – irony, were not present. We are invited to assume an ironic distance throughout the story in the description of the characters and in the particular scenes. Examples are the actual sounds of rain and thunder mixed with soft pop adding an ironic touch, the stout man selling tickets wearing a white coat and reading a newspaper, the way the woman's uncertainty and searching is depicted, the almost classical farce of the men watching TV and drinking beer and finally, for each dollar she pays, the way the two men's dialogue gradually becomes more and more like lines from a soap-opera.

How to treat a woman orů ?
I have used the two themes – duality and irony – to encompass the story's view of women. A view according to which the woman, no matter what, becomes an object you observe/stare at, an object for men's exultant laughter, a "thing" you talk about in nasty terms and whose sexuality is at best synonymous with romantic phrases.

But the mixture of duality, irony, a realistic space, the characters whose behaviour and statements are grossly satirised, gives this story a very special quality; one automatically assumes an ironic distance. This oblique angle allows us – as the audience – to accept the story as it is.

to the top of the page