Gentle Dominance is the Fundament of Women’s Fatality
The image of fatal women is one of the most widespread in the literature and cinema production regardless their art genre. The authors and producers like to depict female figures that dominate over everyone, especially men and influence the people’s fate making them unwillingly serve for fatal women’s goals. Considering that women use diverse ways for the dominance in the real life, their literature, and cinematic prototypes also vary with the kinds of temperament, styles of communication and tools for influencing people. Gentle dominance is the most widespread and insidious as well as tenderness is the part of women’s nature and using it as the element of masculine power is not predictable. How powerful such way of dominance can be one can see in Body Heat and Double Indemnity films that present two alike female figures were striving to obtain their goals at the expense of the others.
A femme fatale belonged to the most popular cinematic morally challenged character that was one of the distinctive features of the so-called noir film that appeared in the after war period. Considering the times of this genre’s appearing, it is quite easy to understand that the pictures were produced at those hard and ‘black’ years could not help to reflect the reality with all its challenges. Gender confrontation was one of the brightest issues that rose after men’s returning home from the war to the new environment where women used to perform male functions in the society. The urgent need to change the men on their workplaces made women overestimate their traditional role of housekeepers they play earlier. Convention of femme fatale absorbed both women’s reluctance of turning to their previous life and men’s protest against new female ambitions. It is worth to admit that the evolution of male and female positions can be observed in every new generation of the noir film. Thus, it especially could be said about Body Heat and Double Indemnity films that were produced with a difference in 40 years. Despite a quite similar plot of the pictures, they have a lot of stylistic, contextual and symbolical differences that apparently emphasize the social context related to women’s role in 40s and then in 80s.
Considering limited social involvement of the women within mentioned period of time they could practice their manipulating mostly on the closest people. Thus, there is no surprise that both pictures Body Heat and Double Indemnity are centered on husband-wife and wife-lover relations. Such targeting on influencing men is the primary predisposition for characters’ visual images that corresponds with classical femme fatale figures that use their sexual allure and beauty to manipulate men. Both actresses who played Matty and Phyllis in the mentioned films were pretty gentle blonde. Such stylistic cinematic approach is a sure decision to depict gentle dominance as well as the chosen female’s image immediately creates the vision of them as tender and helpless women needed men’s protection. Right these images cause an initially strong effect on both male’s conscious. However, when Ned remained unaware of Matty’s treachery and danger nature until the end of the story, Walter had understood the Phyllis’ craftiness almost from the first sight. Walter admitted in his narration that he realized his grabbing the hot poker, and it should be thrown out before it would burn his hand. Despite such awareness, he could not resist the Phyllis’ charms as well as allured Ned, who unquestioningly follow Matty.
Besides similar images of the femmes fatal in both films, Body Heat and Double Indemnity authors used the quite alike stories about the wives striving to kill their husbands and seize the family’s money. The lovers of both women are only instruments for reaching this cynical purpose but how beautiful Matty and Phyllis use them. If Phyllis mostly uses her mimic and fascinating look, Matty demonstrates broader range of sophisticated women’s tricks. Along with seductive views she charms Ned with manipulating voice’s vibrations and tender touches. Both female protagonists prepossess the men to them in a gentle and unobtrusive manner. They both present their husbands as odious oppressors depriving women rights and freedom. In such way, Matty and Phyllis allow Ned and Walter feel more meaningful and responsible for these weak women who seem to believe in their male power.
The femmes fatal entertain lover’s pride lulling their vigilance that create solid fundament for manipulating them. The last shots of the film Body Heat characterized the women’s behavior quite brightly. The comments to the photos in the school album that Matty passed Ned to the prison seemed to be summarizing. Thus, schoolmates called female protagonist “the vamp” and her friend who assisted Matty in the deception had the nickname “Smoocher”. One can see that seduction and flattery were the major women's tricks that allow them to influence people’s mind. In contrary to Lawrence Kasdan, who saves the illusion of fatal love till the final shots, Billy Wilder discloses the Phyllis’ fatality at the beginning of the picture. For this purpose, he used metaphorical and rather refined approach saying that he never thought that the murder could have the aromas of honeysuckle.
It is worth to admit that the element of allegory warning about danger was also used in Body Heat. It was unprecedented hot weather that tortured the people. Although this metaphorical symbol was less distinct if comparing to the Walter’s considerations, it has the same profound meaning that not only foretold the men’s downfalls but also emphasize the fatality of both women. Here one can see the primary message of social position of those times regarding femme fatale. Women who “operated outside of male control” were considered as dangerous.
It may seem to be that women’s fatality is related only with oppressing male representatives, but it is far from the true convention of femme fatale that implies internal independence of female character and their ability to overcome everybody regardless gender belonging. The presence of the other female characters besides central femme fatale Matty and Phyllis in both films brightly demonstrate this statement. If speaking about Body Heat, one could observe that Matty treated her school mate and close friend, who assisted her in fatal life’s project, the same cruel and indifferent way as the other male figures. Moreover, to emphasize the woman’s selfish and fatal purposefulness Kasdan used the nephew of her husband. Presenting Matty’s starvation to seize all the realty even the part should be inherited by the girl, producer demonstrates that nothing can stop fatal women, and even innocent children are under the risk if they stand in her way.
Billy Wilder also addressed to the additional female character to represent women’s fatality regarding each other. Lola, who is the daughter of Phyllis’ husband, is the worthy opponent to her stepmother. Being so charming and allure as the central figure, she also uses the same tricks to seize the man's attention, including Walter’s. She can defend her position as her father admitted when she appeared in the picture for the first time. Despite such characteristic inherent to femme fatale that she uses, Lola remains rather a victim of experienced Phyllis than an active enemy. Moreover, she plays the role of conscience regarding Walter and is the redemptive character in some sense. Phyllis’ lover fills with regrets after talking to Lola about her life and the death of her parents being caused by stepmother as she suggests and, most likely, not without reason.
If speaking about the cinematic approach to the similar context of the stories representing the convention of femme fatale it is worth to admit a few significant accents. Despite the similar set of features inherent to the independent women, the treacherous of Phyllis’ is less distinctive than her analog in Body Heat. The male rod remains substantial in Double Indemnity, and Walter seems to be a companion of fatal women who only provoke his desire to earn money. At the same time, Matty’s influence goes far beyond all the frames. She managed to captivate a man and blur his mind. Taking into account that he did almost unconsciously being led by love, not starvation of money, he could be considered as the victim. Here is the reflection of the evolution of the gender issue in society. Double Indemnity is dated by 40s when the women start fighting for their freedoms. These attempts were weak and faced with men’s protests that ware demonstrated at the end of the movie. Phyllis’s death looks like the just punishment for her frivolity and seems to be the warning that being by femme fatale is dangerous in the men’s world.
In contrary to Billy Wilder, Kasdan presents favorable outcome for Matty, who managed to overcome everyone and reach her purpose. It does not mean that he supports women’s freedom or admires their fatality. It seems to be the influence of gender equality trend that implies the right to choose. Everyone can do whatever he or she wants, but everybody should be responsible for each step regardless gender. Men could be provoked by the women but not forced, and he would be punished for his deeds as well as the women. Taking into account that image of femme fatale was still challenging in 80sthe Body Heat film’s end is open for viewers’ considerations provoking them to think about women’s moral choice.
After all, both films Body Heat and Double Indemnity brightly demonstrate the convention of women’s fatality that was broadly exploited by the writers and producers in after war period as an echo of gender challenges. Although pictures present similar story devoted the interpersonal relation within love triangle, they differ one from another with the cinematic effects and images’ saturation. It can be said that Body Heat is later modernized version of Double Indemnity as well as Matty is a developed version of Phyllis. Moreover, they both, most likely, become the prototypes for nowadays cinematic fatal women.