An analysis of Doug Liman’s Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) focusing on Butler’s notion of fluid gender identity. Butler’s concept of fluid gender identity states that rather than seeing the male and female genders fixed, they should be seen as fluid or flexible depending on the situation any one person could be in at any point in time. By using this notion Butler proposes that we could work towards a new equality where people are not limited by their male or female gender roles.
Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) follows the lives of a couple, John and Jane, whose marriage is falling apart. Both are secretly assassins for hire and neither one of them knows their spouses secret until they are both assigned each other as targets. While on the pursuit to eliminate each other they continue to learn more about one another than they have over their six years of marriage. I have chosen to analyse Doug Liman’s film Mr & Mrs Smith since Butler’s fluid gender identity theory is already partially at work here.
The gender roles of the male and female characters, John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), have, in a way, been swapped therefore challenging many gender specific stereotypical ideas. Throughout this essay I will be discussing the significance of Angelina Jolie’s character Jane Smith in terms of Butler ‘s theory. Although both Pitt and Jolie play the role of assassins, Jolie’s character Jane can immediately be seen as the more dominate of the two and you already begin to see the flexibility in Jane’s gender identity right from the start.
Bildungsroman is a novel genre that narrates a hero or heroine’s process of psychological maturation and focuses on experiences and changes that accompanies the growth of the character from youth to adulthood. “The term “Bildungsroman” was introduced to the critical vocabulary by the German philosopher and sociologist Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1941), who first employed it in an ...
The first scene we find John and Jane in a marriage councillors office, we can tell that Jane is uncomfortable in this situation therefore leaving her gender identity to flow from her preconceived feminine gender, that the viewer might already have, to that of a more masculine manner by not wanting to talk about the problems their having. On the other hand John’s gender reaction, if you will, is pushing more towards the feminine, by actually wanting to solve their issues.
Butler suggests that gender is free floating rather than fixed “When the constructed status of gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one. ” Judith Butler (1990) Gender Trouble, New York, Routledge. In order for this to be correct Jane’s gender identity will have to differ throughout the film.
Using the scene when both John and Jane are at home together this time her gender identity varies from that of the dominant masculine female assassin that she regularly is, to the preconceived notion of a female, doing housework and cooking dinner etc, this notion being made apparent by Ann Oakley Ann Oakley (1974) The Sociology of Housework, London, Robertson. These two particular scenes represent Butler’s theory entirely, by showing her flow from a masculine gender to feminine depending on her situation or surroundings.
The reason for his particular gender flexibility at work here could be because Jane does just want a normal married life, meaning her gender flow, in this case, would be subconscious. Another interesting example of Jane’s gender flexibility would be the scene where the couple attend their neighbour’s party. The two filter off into their respective gender groups and while John seems at home with his fellow male friends, what’s interesting is that Jane, rather than being comfortable with her sex she is shown to be relatively uneasy with the female group.
It is generally agreed that Aleister Crowleys approach to sex magick, and in fact to his religious tradition as a whole, was phallic. He described it in this way repeatedly and enthusiastically. This might lead us to wonder whether Crowley was sexist, and whether he considered the male sex organs superior to the female, and by extension, the male superior to the female in general. There has been ...
Assuming that Jane has not always been an assassin, from this we can see that over time Jane’s constant gender flexibility from feminine to masculine has caused her to relate more to the masculine gender but not from a male himself but from other females with a more focused masculine gender like that of her work colleagues. Obviously there are some theories that Butler argues against that are partly true within the film, for example radical feminist Andrea Dwokin explains how she believes that men love death and murder Andrea Dwokin (1988) Letter From a Warzone, Lawrence Hill Books.
Butler disputes this claim by says such approaches are unsuccessful since it “mimics the strategy of the oppressor instead of offering a different set of terms” Judith Butler (1990) Gender Trouble, New York, Routledge. In the case of Mr & Mrs Smith with John being an assassin and killing people for a living Dowkin is technically correct in stating this but towards the end of the film, after the two have found out their secrets, they ask each other how many people they have killed and Jane has actually killed far more “I don’t exactly keep count but I’d say high fifties, low sixties.
I’ve been around the block but the important thing i-” “Three hundred and twelve”. This same piece of dialogue is referencing the same conversation any couple might have had about past sexual relationships and again Jane is seen here as the more masculine figure by having the higher number of “kills”. This is the concept of hegemonic masculinity at work here but it does not apply in its original sense, that being how a male maintains his dominance over a female.
It is a manipulation of the concept by showing how the more dominate figure, male or female, in this case female, maintains their dominance over the lesser, this is due to Butler’s fluid gender theory. Another stimulating point to rise about Jane’s character is that although she is often seen as the dominant masculine figure in the film, Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze still applies here. Laura Mulvey suggests that in film the woman is only there as the object for the male to look or gaze upon “The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man” Laura Mulvey (1975) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen 16.3 Autumn. One example of this would be the scene where Jane poses as a prostitute to gain access to a targets hotel room. Although she is the female prostitute in this particular situation her gender identity suggest otherwise by still flowing towards the masculine gender since she is dresses as a dominatrix, meaning a dominant female with sexual power over the male. Finally the last point in the film I’d like to concentrate on is right before the climax.
Gender roles are present in every Western society and culture today. One’s portrayal of gender roles begins at a young age, not only at home through parents, but also through the media. The media is one of the largest influential factors of gender role portrayal. There has been concern about the accuracy of the portrayals of men and women in media, which may not be proper depictions (England, ...
The two have worked out their differences, forgiven each other for the lies they told, rekindled their love and have decided to work together as a team to fight against their respective employers who hired them to kill each other. John is going through what they have left of their arsenal of guns and hands Jane a pistol, to which she says “Why do I get the girl gun. ” This being the most obvious example of fluid gender identity within the film, this firmly cements Butler’s theory.
Showing how depending on the situation, in this case preparing for a gun fight, a an activity widely associated with masculinity, that Jane’s gender flows from the loving and forgiving feminine to the masculine fighter, so much this time she actually objects to having a gun associated to her sex. The end of the film, in a way, has reached Butler’s final goal of equality. The two have worked together for the first time, displaying their different assassin skills and defeating the companies. We now see a new found respect they have for one another.
In the final scene they are back in the marriage councillor’s office but this time Jane’s gender is far more feminine talking about how they renovated the house since she’s comfortable with the situation she’s in and that her marriage is in a place she’s happy with. Bibliography Laura Mulvey (1975) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen 16. 3 Autumn. Judith Butler (1990) Gender Trouble, New York, Routledge Andrea Dwokin (1988) Letter From a Warzone, Lawrence Hill Books Ann Oakley (1974) The Sociology of Housework, London, Robertson