Slavoj Zizek’s essay helps in evaluating the concept of fantasy asobserved in the film Raise the Red Lantern (1991). Zizekperfectly illustrates the manner through which fantasy space works asan unfilled surface, as a type of screen for the projection ofyearnings. Fantasy has the capability to fill the individual’s mindwith perceptions of events, which they expect to happen, or hope tohappen. The movie is an ideal picture of this fantasy, experienced bythe audience.
Zizek’s concept of fantasy argues that when we view somethingstraight on, employing matter-of-fact viewpoint, the experience isreal. However, when the object being observed is puzzled by wishesand apprehensions, the result is a distorted, unclear view of things(Zizek 34). Raise the Red Lantern is about females that becomeconcubines to wealthy males. As concubines, the women hope that theycould become wives to their masters. Most of the women in the movieidealize the life of becoming the most admired woman by their master.Thus, they are filled with jealousy towards each other, due to theinability to actualize their fantasies. This is illustrated in thescenes where Songlian interacts with servant Yang. Yang hatesSonglian, as she had the fantasy of becoming a wife to the master.This resonates to the concept of fantasy advocated by Zizek, wherecharacters view things in the line of wishes. For Yang, becoming amaster’s wife is a wishful thought, causing her to fantasize of thelife she supposes Songlian has taken away from her.
Fantasy creates a nostalgic longing for a natural condition wherethings are contemplated objectively (Andrew 135). Cinema acts as arelevant proof of the impact of objectivity in influencing viewers tofantasize things. This is apparent in the film, there is an outwardlyuncontested restriction and elimination availed by the exotic Chinesecourtyard. The courtyard acts as the focus of the film, bringing tolight the fantastic world that characters live. Audiences cancompletely own, in fantasy, the oppressed Chinese women bodiesvisually, bearing in mind that in the movie the sexual equals thevisual (Lu 162). Zizek employs the illustration of pornography, shotthrough an objective camera, viewing issues straight on. Theobjective camera offers the pornography to the audience to view. As aresult, audiences fantasize what they view straight, which acts asthe substance of pleasure (Zizek 35). Similarly, the women in thefilm cause audiences to associate and envision living in the similarconditions. This is especially the case for male audiences that arelikely to draw pleasure from the objective visual representation ofChinese women. Just like in pornography, the women are depicted assexual objects to their masters.
Zizek further evaluates different nostalgic retro movies, which bringabout the logic of the gaze, which causes objects to appear as realin the minds of the viewers. The logic of fascination in the gazehappens when the subject views in the object, their personal gaze. Itis a perfect illustration of self-mirroring, which symbolizes theCartesian philosophical practice of self-reflection by the subject(Zizek 43). In Raise the Red Lantern, the females of themaster live in personal courtyards, as well as quarters where theirmaster selects where to spend the night. This results in powerstruggle amid the wives over who wins the affection of their husband(Robin 19). The red lantern is used as a sign to depict the womanthat has been chosen by the master (Zhu 119). Such scenes cause theviewer to fantasize what measures they may have taken in winning themaster’s affection. Most probably associate with Songlian. As ayoung, defiant and headstrong female, compelled to give up heraspirations of college schooling, and brought to a globe where she isclueless. Audiences have their different fantasies on how they wouldreact through self-mirroring of the conditions that face Songlian,and if the measures she takes, are appropriate. Such measures includewhen she cuts one of the mistresses ear. In a different incident, shepretends to be pregnant in order to gain favor from the master overher co-wives.
Lacanian real is a different kind of fantasy (Zizek 50). It regardsto a point that never happened in symbolic reality, but envisioned asa type of missing link ensuring the regularity of symbolic actuality.Such fantasy entails identifying with the protagonist, or differentcharacters. In the film, when Songlian fakes her pregnancy, and theservant gets to know that she is lying due to her period-stainedtrouser taken for washing. The missing link is why the characterrisks taking her clothes for washing despite knowing that it couldact as evidence against what she is attempting to lie about. It isalso expected that the servant does not reveal the character’ssecret. Hence, the viewer envision what would have actually happenedis Songlian was pregnant. Questions include how the master wouldtreat her, if it could be any different from how the other mistressesare treated.
Andrew, J D. Concepts in Film Theory. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 1984. Internet resource.
Lu, Tonglin. Confronting Modernity in the Cinema of Taiwan andMainland China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.Print.
Robin, Diana M. Redirecting the Gaze: Gender, Theory, and Cinemain the Third World. Albany, NY: State Univ. of New York Press,1999. Print.
Zhu, Ying. Chinese Cinema during the Era of Reform: The Ingenuityof the System. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2003. Print.
Zizek, Slavoj. Looking Awry. October 50 (1989): 30-55.