Sun. Apr 5th, 2020

A Streetcar Named Desire as Mirroring of Hollywood’s Classical Era

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1541369a) A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando Film and Television

The following essay discusses the famous scene from the monumental movie A Streetcar Named Desire[1], on the basis of Laura Mulvey’s theoretical analysis of the practices present in the making of the movies from the „Golden Age of the Hollywood”, as elaborated in the article „Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“[2].

With the movie industry as a promoter and sustainer of binary, „patriarchal“ socially constructed discourses, as an introductory premise, Mulvey criticizes dominant filmic methods of representation, ever-present in the period between 1920 and 1960. The accent lies on the stimulated discrepancies between the roles of genders and influences on the unconscious of the public eye, as a follow and, with a desire of spreading awareness and enabling a change of system, psychoanalytical ways of observations provide the structure for deconstructing the well-established creator of illusions, the Hollywood Studios.

First of all, the film theorist suggests the criteria of „being looked at“[3] as constructer of pleasure, as a general principal, found in the daily life, but mirrored in the figures on the screen.Under the name of scopophilia, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud defines the term as a manifestation of objectification, namely of observing a person as an object [4]. Furthermore, cinematic experiences work to increase „voyeuristic fantas[ies]”[5], by placing charismatic, appealing actors on a virtual pedestal, thus enabling a „sexual stimulation through sight”[6]. The chosen scene from Elia Kazan’s emblematic production, displays for the public viewer a in a long dreamy gown Stella (interpreted by Kim Hunter), firstly surprised in the intimacy of her private room, sitting, in a state of meditation (0:34), thus subversively disturbing her pace of thoughts. The personal domain of her unconscious is being decomposed by the voyeuristic audience, as enabled by the close-up of a on her character centralized camera. Furthermore, not only the immobile state of Stella can be considered an intimate experience, which ought to be isolated by the outside world; her movement, as in a state of dream, of trance and, finally, the romantic embracement with her lover, offers a visual lust for observers.

Second of all, Laura Mulvey promotes the criteria of narcissism[7], as sustained by the psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan, the „likeness and recognition“[8], the identification of the audience with the preferred character, as a follow of the perfected aura surrounding the figures of Marlon Brando and Hunter, works in increasing one’s own, trust and appreciation in one’s self, this being a method of „subject building”, of spreading belief in individuality and singularity.

Last of all, Mulvey points out the differentiation in looking at a female figure, as in that of a masculine one. From the moment Stella begins to move, she is accompanied by provocative jazz music. The small development of action, her luscious figure, as she sets her feet on the stairs, looking from an upper perspective, over the now quiet, tranquilized man (0:55), offer time for an „erotic contemplation“[9], both through the eyes of Stanley, as well as through those of the auditorium.Under the illusion, Stella is in control of the situation, she is the one who causes the loss of speech, by throwing herself in the arms of the crying lover, she, enabled herself to be „controlled” and „possessed“[10].

Considering Mulvey’s position the manly figure appears as „reluctant to the gaze“[11], Stanley is presented with a ripped shirt, soaking wet, but he is rebelling disturbed about his cause, as if he is infuriated, either with the initial rejection, or with his display as an object for observation. The viewers are placed in his position, with the help of an over-the-shoulder angle. Therefore, the character of Marlon Brando has attributed to himself an „omnipotence“, an aura of director, through which he, not only dictates, what is to be seen, but also influences the course of the narration.The impact of his tonality, as he screams the name of his lover, can only increase his power as ruler. Desperate, due to a momentarily loss of dominance over the female character, he succeeds in symbolising the importance of her to him, through a hysterical manifestation of love, convincing her to forgive him and, as a conclusion, restabilising the patriarchal „equilibrium“. Mulvey takes her assumption even further, implying, on psychoanalytical basis, a „fear of castration“ of the male protagonist, with the female as primal source of threatening, a source which has it’s anthological origins in the reminiscent of maternity and the security of the womb, but which, paradoxically, needs an urgent abolition.

In conclusion, the archetype filmic production, A Streetcar Named Desire, winner of four Oscars and vital for the movie industry, can be observed from a psychoanalytical perspective, as proposed by the feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey, with an emphasis on subversively represented symbols of the by society imposed defining rules and boundaries set, not only on the matter of gender attributes, but generally, on daily activities and on individual ways of thinking and perceiving the surroundings.


Mulvey, Laura, „Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“, in: Screen 1975, 16/3, S. 198-209.


A Streetcar Named Desire,  USA 1951, R: Elia Kazan.



[1] A Streetcar Named Desire,  USA 1951, R: Elia Kazan.

[2] vgl. Mulvey, Laura, „Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“, in: Screen 1975, 16/3, S. 198-209.

[3] a. a. O., S. 200.

[4] ebd.  

[5] ebd.

[6] a. a. O., S. 202.

[7] a. a. O., S. 200.

[8] a. a. O., S. 201.                     

[9] a. a. a. O., S. 203.

[10] a. a. O., S. 204.

[11] ebd.

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