“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
― Virginia Woolf, Orlando
From the importance of masculinity to the lack of accurate representations of the female gender, Double Indemnity hits the nail on the head of misogyny. The two main characters, Walter Neff and Phyllis Deitrichson act as prime examples of what would be a man’s fantasy according to Janey Place’s Women in Film Noir. Men in the film are depicted as chain-smoking, booze guzzling gods to emphasize their masculinity. On the other hand, women are portrayed as sexual objects for the men’s pleasure. Being of film noir, Double Indemnity gives women power but not in a completely positive way. Phyllis’ power is derived from her sexuality, the sexuality that weakens men to their primitive and vulnerable state. Being threatened by this, the main male, Walter Neff attempts to gain control through his masculine assertions over Phyllis’ sexual advances. From their relationship, the audience essentially absorbs the theme of how a woman’s independence inevitably leads to the downfall of man, thus protecting the construct of patriarchy.
There are countless times to when Phyllis is devalued through sexual objectification. Take for instance when she is first introduced to Walter and the audience. She is already identified as being a sensual seductress with her slight nudity on the staircase. This clearly establishes Phyllis and Walter’s relationship into a purely sexual one. We see Phyllis through Walter’s point of view in which we see Phyllis diminish into nothing but a “honey anklet”. The camera’s focus is a closeup on her anklet, not her entire body. This draws attention to Phyllis’ role as a nothing but a mere sexual fantasy. She isn’t even depicted as a whole being, the fact that Walter begins to characterize her as a honey anklet is a prime example of sexual objectification women face in film noir (Place 135).Some would argue that Phyllis’ depiction as a sexualized and “liberated” character is a progressive choice of film noir but that is not the case. Women are defined in relation to men and their position is centralized in sexuality (Place 131).
There is a wavering balance of power between Phyllis and Walter in Double Indemnity . This because Phyllis uses her sexual agency to her advantage when persuading Walter in committing a crime with her. Initially this works, for Walter is weak to seduction and is also lonely man in the film noir world. He soon realizes that his power on the situation is questioned therefore he begins to assert his male dominance on Phyllis. He protects his tough guy image through the repression of any weakness (Belton 135). For example, whenever Phyllis has something clearly important to say he literally silences her by kissing her and using the line “Shut-up Baby”. Other times include when both are at their usual meet up spot but under the impression that his life is threatened by Phyllis, Walter steals away her power to even speak by interrupting any word she utters with “Let me speak first!” or “Not so loudly shh”. There’s even a scenario when Walter magically turns the car’s engine on after Phyllis countlessly tried to do so. This is the writer’s subliminal way of reinforcing Walter’s male dominance on Phyllis.
What their relationship does is that it emphasize the importance of men and devalues the role of women to a mere sexual being. People may have viewed Phyllis’ role as a Spider Woman as a positive and liberating one. We understand that this is not even an accurate representation of women since they are clearly defined in the likes of men (Place 131). The film Double Indemnity is a classic but a very misogynistic one by engraining the idea of how women’s liberation inevitably leads to the downfall of mankind.
Place, Janey. “Women in Film Noir.” Multi-cultural Film: An Anthology. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2013. 135-39. Print.
Belton, John. “Film Noir:Somewhere In The Night.” American Cinema/American Culture. 4th ed.
N.p.: McGraw Hill, 2013. 135. Print.
Abbie Garcia is a Queer content creator with a knack for events and community engagement! Current projects include Spoon Live Streams, Thoughts On That Podcast, Lifestyle Themed Youtube Videos, and LGBTQ+ Events. In their spare time, they like to cycle, sing, hike, and empower others through the education of social justice issues.