bookgazing: (revolution)
[personal profile] bookgazing posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is the most engrossing film I’ve seen this year. It is the exceptionally charming and worrying story about whether a group of people affected by serious mental illness will ever be ok. And yet at times it is also a rather troubled, neat portrayal of those illnesses. There are many things I could pull out of this film to talk about, but as this is lady business and I am who I am I’ve decided to concentrate on the main woman in this film:

Gif of Jennifer Lawrence explainin that eating is one of her favourite parts of the day


It’s another ladybusiness post about a character played by Jennifer Lawrence! Yes, my interest is perfectly under control, thanks for asking.

Gif of Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany leaning in to talk to Pat. White text says I just got fired actually, on the line below it yellow text says Oh really? How? and on the line below that white text says By having sex with everyone in the office.


Unsurprisingly, considering the content of this scene, it’s common to find several similar gifs when searching for images of Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’. Looking closely at this scene, where Tiffany and the film’s title character, Pat, go out to eat, illuminates how the film portrays the depression and grief of her character, Tiffany, who has been recently widowed.

First, note Tiffany’s physical presentation. She’s dressed in a black top, partly because she’s in mourning for her husband and black clothing is traditionally appropriate in this situation. There’s a long history of cinema aligning white, dark haired women with outsider status and by association authenticity, and Tiffany’s dark haired character continues the pattern as she is something of a social rebel who rejects the middle class lifestyle of her sister and speaks bluntly. She is also wearing heavy, dark eyeliner. Darkly dyed hair and heavy, dark eye makeup is often used to indicate sadness, or in other cases depression. It’s partly necessary to go outside the text to justify this last idea, because it's Lawrence’s change of hair colour from blonde to brunette that conjures up ideas of a traditional filmic presentation of depression, not any change of hair colour by the character – as far as the viewer knows, this is Tiffany’s natural hair colour. However, her character’s attachment to copious black eye-liner makes a strong connection with this cinematic tradition of clothing white characters in dark shades to indicate a painful emotional or mental state. In this scene she is dressed up in her depression, her appearance stylised so that her outside expresses the state of her life and mind clearly to the audience.

‘Silver Linings Playbook’ may be a romantic comedy, but it tries to attach itself to the school of socially realistic entertainment in many ways for example, the awkward, rambling way many of the characters speak and the inclusion of a less idealised romantic storyline. I’ve said before that I’m a fan of the costumes and aesthetic styles that are typically used to show pain, damage, ruin, sadness and other difficult situations. And I love how the way Tiffany is dressed and made up in this scene reflects so much about her present situation. But I also know that depicting a person’s emotional state by making them look a certain way owes more to, nineteenth century ideas about how appearance reflects character, than to ideas about creating realistic art. So, it’s interesting to see a film using costuming in quite such an obviously and traditional indicatory way, when in other areas it attempts to put a sense of realism and authenticity into the lives it shows.

Next, look at Tiffany’s reaction to grief and depression. In the scene depicted in the gif, she outlines how she got fired from her job by ‘sleeping with everyone in the office’ because she was ‘very depressed after Tommy died’. Later the viewer learns that her husband’s death is also in part a sexual story as he died returning from a trip to buy lingerie in an attempt to re-start their sex life. In fact a large part of her journey through her grief involves controlling the destructive compulsion that causes her to fall into a repeated pattern of casual sex which causes problems from her in other areas of her life (the need for which conveniently disappears so that she can make a pass at Pat on the first night she meets him). Tiffany’s response to sorrow is perpetually linked to casual sex in this film.

I’d suggest that there is a link between Tiffany’s sexual response to her depression and her visual presentation in the scene above that explains this film’s attitude to women and depression. When ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ imagines depression on its main female character, it imagines a certain bedraggled, dark hotness which comes with an interest in casual sex and a side of non-threatening willingness to sleep with other women. Tiffany’s presentation in this film harks back to a tradition of portraying depression as a disturbing but sexy fantasy phenomenon; a pain that regularly removes sexual inhibitions. Tiffany’s experience with grief and mental illness has made her a sardonic, hard-edged character, and her inclusion in this film appears to encourage the audience to spend time with a less represented kind of female character. However, choosing to link her response to depression so heavily with casual sex and shaping her character around a particular aesthetic, which reinforces established fantasy ideas about which women are sexual, also makes her mental illness seem attractive, sexy and like a special couture version of depression. The way the film sets her character up is laced with tropes that fetishize her illness and turn it into a traditional male fantasy.

Around the inter-webs I hear a lot of people calling out for female characters who are messier. And Tiffany is absolutely one of those women (even if she is still a heroic character). She gets up from her sister’s dinner table and leaves, because she can. She’s been on medication. When confronted with pain she throws herself into sex. She lies and manipulates the man she cares about to achieve her own ends. She is not any version of media’s typical/ideal/sympathetic woman. Women who resemble Tiffany are everywhere and I want to be very careful not to suggest that their lives are inauthentic poses, that they lack real pain because they act in a particular way, or that there is no need for female characters like this to appear in media. The authenticity of Tiffany’s depression is not in question. Just because she had a lot of sex and remains solid, or bitterly sarcastic, instead of displaying her pain through tears, does not mean that she is doing depression wrong. People cope in many different ways and the consistency of her spiky resilience could portray any range of coping mechanisms, or genuine personality traits. But depression, just by the way, is not sexy. Even if someone dyes their hair, even if they dress in leather and bang the whole neighbourhood as a result of/to try and escape their mental illness, depression is not sexy. As I understand it, someone with mental illness may be sexy, but their hotness is not generated by their mental illness and their depression will always still be just a painful illness. And frankly it is suspect that Tiffany’s interest in casual sex and her frankness about her partners should be an invitation to the audience to view her sexual encounters voyeuristically.

In the scene the gif refers to Pat directs the audience’s reaction to Tiffany’s frankness about sex with his repeated, invasive questions - here the film makes use of her nonchalance to provide the viewer with license to drool. Sure, the film has established that Pat’s bi-polar condition means he has issues with personal boundaries. It is entirely in keeping with his character that he would ask inappropriate questions in this situation, but does it really also compel him to objectify the woman in front of him by talking her through the sudden lesbian fantasies he starts to think about? It’s a moment that directs the audience to laugh at Pat’s inappropriateness instead of encouraging them to view this incident as it would be in real life - incredibly uncomfortable! And as the audience are encouraged to laugh, they’re also encouraged to embrace Pat’s fantasy just a little. This is especially disappointing given how the film shows Pat’s behaviour to be awkward and at times frightening in earlier scenes, despite the potential for comedy.

That’s not to say the audience should be sent in the opposite direction and made to view Tiffany as a victim of mental illness to be pitied. But there’s a huge gap between pity and perving, which is filled with a wealth of artistic possibility. When we look at the particular world of cinema that ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ comes out of (dominated by male creators brought up in a patriarchal society, full of the male gaze, consciously designed for male cinema goers) alongside this encouragement to find the consequences of Tiffany’s depression titillating it’s hard not to think that perhaps the makers of this film are interested in portraying one particular type of depression which caters to the fantasies of male viewers. I’m especially suspicious because of the way the film uses traditional ‘sexy’ visual indicators of character which mark out Tiffany’s depressed state and personality on her body, despite clear signals that this film is attempting to bring realism to cinema.

None of the responsibility for encouraging such privileged fantasy is to be laid at the door of Tiffany, or in fact the real life women who Tiffany may represent. Women do not have a responsibility to change in order to prevent men from objectifying them. Instead film makers might want to consider making sure that characters like Tiffany continue to appear, but that their narratives do not actively encourage audiences to work themselves up over the details of these women’s ways of dealing with depression. There are as many ways to do this as there are stories to be told, and anyone who shies from the task because it is difficult to re-direct male audiences from leering at women who talk openly about sex really can’t be called creative.

I barely came up for air during ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and it’s been a long time since I was so deep into a film's world, or so concerned about the fate of two characters. There are so many ways to investigate this film and I hope it gets a lot of consideration, flaws and all, because that’s what an interesting piece of media deserves. Maybe my slant on this one particular part of the film will encourage you to take the film apart and share what you find.

shot of Tiffany and Pat holding hands, text reads What's this? shot of Tiffany looking down, text read I thought you were doing it
shot of Pat, text reads Oh, I thought you were doing it shot of Pat and Tiffany continuing to walk along holding hands


And if what you want to share is love for this screen couple who am I to stop you?:P

Date: 2012-12-07 07:12 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
So I may have read the paragraphs about Tiffany’s physical presentation and what it implies with starts in my eyes. Sigh, maybe one I'll learn to analyse visual media like this :P

The solution here is the same as everywhere else: ALL the stories about ALL the women ALL THE TIME #willnotsettleforless

Date: 2015-04-11 05:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I disagree with your analysis of the diner scene. I don't know that Tiffany's admission of casual sexual activity is to be viewed as a mechanism to attract men to pay attention, or inviting the viewer to fantasize about her. I liked the scene because they both are trapped in mental illness. There is nothing else in this scene, to me, except Pat learning more about Tiffany and responding to it in a way that, under the same circumstances, most people would find uncomfortable and disturbing. For instance, if a woman who is portrayed in the film as a perky, fun character had made these same admissions as Tiffany but with a different tone, she may be considered a carefree, happy-go-lucky free spirit. But if Pat across the table had asked the same questions, he definitely would have been labeled a creep. Conversely, if Pat had been painted as a man without any mental affliction, this same scene would take on a very derogatory tone, as he would try to change the subject and Tiffany would fall to the wayside in his affections as a girl to be pitied. This scene gives Tiffany depth. It gives their relationship with each other depth. I thought it was masterfully done.

Date: 2015-04-11 05:32 pm (UTC)
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
Thanks for your comment -- I'm sure Jodie will be with you soon! :)

Just a note that if you comment again, please do so with a pseud or name for continuity of discussion. :)


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