Patriarchy In Fargo And Raise The Red

Lantern Essay, Research Paper

Explore the relationship between women’s roles and patriarchal society in Raise the Red Lantern and Fargo.

For many years from our history, women’s rights have always been a contraversial topic. History has shown the world to be primarily a male-dominated society, where a woman’s role is often dictated by a man. In the movies Raise the Red Lantern and Fargo, both movies dictate a society where the dominant sex is male. In Raise the Red Lantern , the women are concubines who (seemingly) have no say in what the master wants or does not want. In Fargo, the opposite seems true, as Frances McDormand plays the only woman in the movie who has intelligence: Officer Margie Gundersson. Yimou’s film showcases a different kind of intelligence: a shrewd, cunning intelligence that is utilized in order to retain power over the master.

Raise the Red Lantern gives western society a everyday look at the fourth wife of a rich landowner, Songlian (Gong Li). Forced to marry against her will by her sickly mother, Songlian initially despises her new surroundings: a small, enclosed manor filled with traditional rules and ritual with which she is unfamiliar with. Although she has been to University, education means nothing here; her entire world becomes that of the small compound cut off from the rest of society. Yimou’s portrayal of a patriarchal society is evident through his use of mise-en-scene comprimising of uniform, hard-angled lines, consisting of rectangles and squares. The use of framing in various scenes depicts an environment where escape is impossible. Also, the use of the camera is often restricted emphasizing the lack of freedom the women have. The camera stays in one postion during scenes, hardly ever tracking to follow an action or person. This filming style mirrors the strict tradional, expressionless society trapped in this neverending ritual. Inside this cold, uninviting setting, the only people whom Songlian is allowed to see are her husband, his family and their servants. Despite the bright colors adorning the inside of Songlian’s walls, she finds her home to be a lonely, cheerless place.

In almost all the scenes in this movie involving the master, Yimou intentionally chooses not to reveal the Master’s face; he remains a symbolic figurehead of the power that men control. For this reason, almost all the scenes in this movie consists of imagery of women. Intentionally masking the master’s face makes the viewer see him as having less importance than the wives, as they are the main focus of the film. The master’s role consists of upholding tradition and enforcing strict rules, which the women are forced to live by. Although they are “wives” in name, their role as wives are different then those often perceived in western society, as in Fargo for example. Rather than cook and clean, the women all have their own personal servants. Ironically, this pampering is in place so that the women remain dependent: they must please the Master according to his wishes in order to gain his favor. Raise the Red Lantern offers a view of life within a closed, dictatorial social community consistent of that of a patriarchal society, where the man is master of his domain and women are treated like any other common object.

According to the master’s tradition, lanterns are lit outside the house of which the master chooses to join for the night. At first, Songlian is confused about the lanterns. Her initial dislike for her situation is evident in her actions towards the master; she acts as if being with the master is unimportant. However, she soon learns to compete for the lanterns with the third wife, Meishan (played by He Caifei), having to resort to deceit and manipulation to retain her husband’s interest. Slowly, Songlian learns how to compete for power; she learns how to make the master want her. This revelation however succeeds in bringing out a darker, more sinister Songlian, capable of anything in order that her needs are met. Yimou’s focus on competition, ironically, degrades the power that the master has; he is nothing but a pawn in a game of deceit played by his wives. Easily swayed, yet unable to see the deceit and corruption overcoming his wives, the “master” remains powerless. Much of the film deals with the ever-shifting balance of power between the various concubines, who struggle to be as cold and calculating as the other “sisters”in playing the “game.” Beauty and sexual appeal remain secondary in a battle of wits that demands both guile and duplicity. Although seen as having supreme power over the household, the master controls nothing. In the end the real power belongs to the wife who controls him.

A film of comic contrasts and tragic circumstance, Fargo chooses a seemingly unlikely protagonist: Margie Gunderson. In the film, Margie plays the role of a police officer sent to track down the killers in a bizzarre kidnapping plot gone awry. Although seven months pregnant, the character of Margie is competent as her role as a police officer (she is smarter and knows what is going on compared to other deputies). With a quick glance at the murder scene where a state trooper and two motorist have been murdered, she is able to tell exactly what happened. Her conclusions, accurate and dead-on, are delivered in light, almost musical vocal rhythms with a sweet smile which

give her a decidedly non-threatening appearance. With the Coen Brothers many shots of typical every-day life, Marge is made a character with whom the audience is able to relate with. Margie’s many shots of her eating at

various fast-food places seem almost distracting to her main duty: a detective on the case of two killers. The Coen Brother’s manage to combine the typicality of an everyday suburbanite wife with a no-nonsense Columbo-style

detective in an almost parodioc way. We can see her as a mom, as a detective and wife all at the same time, without sacrificing the quality in each role. While she is able to gauge exactly what happened at a crime scene, she is also

equally adept at being sympatheic to the pressures felt by her painter husband Norm (John CarrollLynch) or watching nature shows on late-night tv. In their marriage, traditional roles are reversed: Norm stays home and cooks and is the more artistic type of the two (he paints pictures that he hopes will make it onto a stamp), while Margie goes out into a dangerous world of cops-and-robbers. This little switch-up illustrates the changing times; a woman police

officer would not even have been considered 40 years ago. Furthermore, it portrays women as being just as (if not more) capable then men at a previously “male” occupation. The choice of a female, pregnant lead protagonist against two armed, “funny-looking” guys and a seedy car salesman seems unfair at first; however, she proves to be more than a match for these three, single-handedly figuring out the turn of events and bringing both Lundegaard and the two killers to justice.

In both films, the notion of a patriarchal society is challenged. In Raise The Red Lantern, Songlian learns to play a devious, calculating game of deciet and lies in order to control the “master” of the house, while in Fargo,

Margie Gunderson proves that an independent, capable (albeit pregnant) woman who is able to hold her own. In both movies, the men are nowhere as intelligent or as “aware” as the women. However, both movies approach this

fact in a different way. Raise the Red Lantern initially expects us to believe the man is superior while in Fargo, we are given, straight from her first scene, an intelligent, competent, independent woman who seems intellectually

superior to any man. In Raise the Red Lantern, while the master’s favor determines which of his wives commands the most power, Yimou’s illustration of how easily he can be manipulated is ironic of a patriarchal society; the man

controls nothing.


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