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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Embracing alterity : rethinking female otherness in contemporary cinema Davis, Claire


The Other operates as a figure of inherent transgression: A manifestation of the repressions necessary for the sustenance of dominant ideology. As the Other lurches in from the sidelines to threaten and frighten before being neutralized through assimilation or death, dominant ideology is upheld and confirmed by being set against the abnormality and monstrosity of difference. In feminist film theory, otherness has been foundational as a means of describing women’s marginalization within patriarchal society. Where Man is constructed as subject, Woman is constructed as Other. As such, the female Other tells us far more about patriarchal constructions of Woman than it does about female subjects in the world. Feminist film theory demonstrates a pronounced investment in the need for spectatorial identification with female characters, conflating the roles occupied by character and person, and thus the female Other has traditionally been theorized as staunchly misogynistic—the embodiment of patriarchal and phallic fears of female monstrosity and lack. Against this tradition, I propose that the female Other is not always and necessarily an anti-feminist figure. Iterations of the Other that foreground character opacity and thus disrupt empathetic and identificatory methods of spectatorship productively disturb processes of ideological comfort. By refusing to subject the Other to an epistemological narrative structure, one which poses the female Other as mystery to be demystified, and by denying a resolution that destroys the Other and thus the threat that they represent, the films analyzed in this thesis demand an alternative methodology to account for the radical alterity of the female Other. The two case studies offered in support of this thesis are the melancholic Other, with the example of Justine in Melancholia (von Trier 2011) and the posthuman Other, as exemplified in Under the Skin (Glazer 2013) and Ex Machina (Garland 2015). Rather than occupying the traditional role of the female Other as monster, these characters threaten the integrity of the human precisely because of their revelation of the human monstrosity that lies at the heart of patriarchal masculinity.

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