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The Film Noir in American Cinema

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The stereotype image of woman as a dependent and subordinate housewife with the male heading the family suddenly disappeared. The men who came back from the waterfront were surprised to see stronger, powerful and independent women at home. It was this new woman that led to the emergence of the concept of “ femme fatale” . This concept is a product of the male fantasy about this new woman as well as his anxieties about her. She has more desire in her and is capable of expressing it to such an extent as to arouse fantasies in the male.

She is able to have this ruthless desire because she is independent of any other males and has the strength of her own. The female expression of sexuality the suddenly became direct and often aggressive. Her desire is no more passive. Earlier it was the male who expressed such direct sexual desires aggressively. The newly empowered female became capable of doing it to get whatever she wants to get and with whomever she desires. This new role is defined as predatory, though such a label was not there when the male played the same role earlier.

This shows that the “ femme fatale” is a male concept that originated out of his fantasies. It, in a certain way, expresses the male jealousy against the newly empowered woman. In the Noir context, such a woman is dangerous too. She entraps the male and leads him to his doom. Thus this gender element is as vital an element as the thematic uncertainty and instability which are the other major essentials of the Noir films and which contributed to the thriller element of these films.

If a director could achieve the thriller – gangster cinematic experience without the female fatal, he could get rid of this element, which meant that it was not the very essential element of Film Noir. But in most cases, this gender archetype became a part of the fatalism of Film Noir. She fulfilled the need of the thriller to excite the viewers. Thus she is constructed as very exotic and intriguing and very often tempting too. The protagonist is helpless in resisting the lure of this vampire-like sexual woman, leading to his own doom as she is the product of response to the threatened male authority.

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