I had to watch this movie for my seminar recently and give a presentation on the representations of masculinity, femininity, and gender within the film. Not gonna lie, the pressure was on: this movie is filled with characters that possess masculine and feminine traits as well as subtle commentaries on gender roles of men and women.
Films noirs were made in America after World War II and were a response to the frustrations of returning soldiers. During the war, in order to keep the economy going, women picked up the work of men, getting jobs in factories and the such and leaving their domestic lifesyle. Men returning from war were frustrated by this notion of women working anywhere but in the home and felt that they were, in a way, loosing some control over their masculinity.
The creation of the femme fatale was, in some sense, a way to get back at women for taking over a man’s world. As mysoginistic as this is, the character of the femme fatale also created a totally different role for actresses in Hollywood to play at the time. And, honestly, the femme fatale is one of the most memorable roles in a movie EVER. Actresses were dying to play femme fatales!
In “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, Cora Smith (Turner) is our femme fatale. She is, obviously, very beautiful and sexy. We find out that she is married to a much older man who is incompetent and doesn’t pay much attention to her. When a young rugged drifter comes into town, an attraction between the two fires up and, in order to be together, she manipulates him into the idea of killing her husband. Their attempt fails and her husband doesn’t remember anything except it “was dark”. Everything that I have just written here points all fingers to Cora being a manipulative bitch that wants her husband out of the picture because she’s unhappy in her marriage. However, given the reason for their second attempt to murder her husband, as a woman, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic towards her.
Don’t get me wrong, Cora is selfish, manipulative, evil; all the ingredients for a femme fatale. But she is also a woman who has ambitions and goals, and the only thing keeping her from reaching them is her husband. After his recovery, he announces that he is selling his restaurant, “Twin Oaks”, and he’s moving them to Canada so that Cora can take care of his sick sister. Let’s break this down, shall we?
- “Twin Oaks” is Cora’s ambition. She has ideas on how to make business better, but she can’t do anything about it because she is a woman and it isn’t her place.
- Her husband makes this decision without consulting with her beforehand.
- She didn’t even know her husband had a sister and now she’s expected to take care of her because she needs, according to her husband, care that only a woman can give.
Way to trap your wife in the conventions of society, Mr. Smith! Needless to say, Cora is, for lack of a better word, pissed (and rightfully so)! So she speaks out against his decision, only to be put down with a simple and cold “That’s too bad” by her husband because how dare a woman speak her mind! The outrage!
So could “The Postman Always Rings Twice” be sympathizing with women at the time? Maybe.
But then again, even when Cora successfully gets rid of her husband, reaches her ambitions, and gains her independence, she isn’t happy, with guilt hanging over her head. When she finally feels content with herself and her life, however, (SPOILER ALERT) she dies. Could this have been sending the message out to the women who wanted to break the barriers of conventional society to back off?
That, my dear reader, is your decision to make ;]