Analysing Representation within a trailer…’Sweeney Todd’

Posted: September 24, 2010 in Media

We were told in class to choose a trailer (recommended to be of our specific genre so in my case thriller and/or revenge)  and analyse it, focusing on the representations in portrays to the audience of a specific group. (Like Gender, age, class etc)

So I’ve decided to analyse ‘Sweeney Todd’, which I know to be a thriller/horror with a big theme of revenge (it’s also a musical but I don’ t think this really matters) and I will analyse and evaluate the various representations of gender within the trailer(which I have put below)…

So, how is gender represented in the trailer?

Well, I’ll start off with the representation of women

I would say that, at least to begin with, the representations of women are rather stereotypical. Lucy, Todd’s wife, is conveyed as innocent and vulnerable which is reinforced by the connotations we get from her blonde hair and completely white outfit. Her reaction shot as her husband is whisked away by the police shows how distraught and frightened she is- making her appear like she is vulnerable without her husband (Todd) there to protect her. Also, the fact she just stands there, speechless, while her husband is dragged away also stereotypically represents women as weak or powerless (in the presence of men especially).

Another shot (I think a flashback we see early on in the film itself) shows Lucy, now without Todd, stumbling around a room full of costumed people. She looks confused and scared– again representing women as stereotypically vulnerable, like ‘damsels in distress’ waiting to be rescued by a male hero. Although we do not see what really happens, Lucy slumps onto a couch and is soon discovered by Judge Turpin. He takes advantage of her, or springs an attack of some kind upon her in this dazed state she is in. This represents this female character, and to an extent, women, as easily confused/tricked and prone to attack from others if they do not have a man to protect them.

I’d also like to point out that, in the film, Lucy’s character also negatively represents women as rather stupid or gullible. Which is shown as Mrs.Lovett recalls what the Judge did to Lucy after Todd was taken away:

‘She wasn’t no match for such craft you see/ and everyone thought so droll/They figured she had to be daft you see/ So all of them stood there and laughed you see….poor thing..’

Making out that the Judge was too crafty or clever for Lucy represents her (and to an extent, women) as rather naive or just stupid– that either she could not see behind the Judge’s plans and realise he would take advantage of her or that she was too naive and innocent to possibly think he would do such a thing to her. This does represent women as vulnerable and stereotypically, as victims as Mrs.Lovett constantly calls her a ‘poor thing’ and this, coined with the fact no one helped her and just stood and laughed as it happened, represents women as all the more vulnerable, especially in the hands of men.

And then we are given the character of Johanna, Todd’s daughter. She is said to be in the care of the Judge, and her light clothes, blue eyes and blonde hair all connote her innocence, representing women, especially young women, as vulnerable. In a close up, her eyes shakily shift to the judge who is standing in her doorway, suggesting he scares and has power over her. And then her vulnerability is conveyed even more when the Beadle pounces onto her and she screams while making little or no effort to get away as she is simply powerless in his grip. She is then bundled into a carriage against her will, and if this doesn’t represent women as vulnerable and powerless in the hands of men I don’t know what does.

Also, a shot which even further represents vulnerability is when we see Johanna behind the bars of a prison cell, desperately looking out of the window and clutching onto the bars themselves. High up (suggested by the fact she appears to be peering down at someone) and surrounded by darkness it makes her seem lonely and vulnerable– like a princess in a tower who needs to be saved by a prince. Representing women, once again as vulnerable when put in a position when they are on their own and have to fend for themselves.

And we also have, of course, Mrs Lovett. I’d say a representation of perhaps a ‘stronger’ woman at first, breaking the usual stereotypical representations of women as she has dark hair and dark clothes– most of them red, connoting a fiery personality and representing women as not easily pushed around. She certainly is  not represented as naive or stupid as she appears to, in the trailer, hold vital information about the plot– so she represents women as a bit more ‘knowing’ and smarter than the other representations we have had previously. Also, I think that Mrs Lovett is portrayed like a character who uses her initiative and has a bit more strength than any of the other female characters, representing women as strong and able to cope on their own, without a man to protect them. There is a nice shot which suggests that women aren’t interested in men’s business but have other ideas of their own (Sweeney Todd stares at his barber’s knife, pondering on his revenge, while Mrs Lovett stands beside him, looking at him more than the blade itself, suggesting she is instead thinking of a possible love relationship sparking between them both) which ultimately represents women as strong minded and individuals, instead of hanging on every man’s word and having no ideas of their own on their life.

Lovett does also represent women as caring and forgiving. She constantly tells, or rather advises, Todd in the trailer to stop this path of vengeance he wants so badly on the judge. ‘You’ve gotta leave this all behind you..’ representing women as rather clever also as this implies she knows that by seeking vengeance, it will get Todd nowhere (although it is pointless trying to tell him this as he does not care!). Anyway, annoyingly the very un-stereotypical representation that Mrs Lovett’s character portrays of women seems to be broken slightly as we see a shot of her bringing a plate of pink iced cakes into a room with a merry smile on her face and a pink frilly dress on. This I think is a stereotypical image of a woman doing the cooking and the home-based chores they are usually portrayed to do in films/TV. And I think her un-stereotypical representation suggesting women have their ‘own mind’ and don’t need to be told to so things by men is also broken as we see her constantly dancing with Todd and gazing lovingly towards him. This can represent woman as easily swayed when in love as it is suggested that Todd has control over her through the scenes where we see her crying and where she is dressed in white clothes, suggesting her personality/values on life has changed as she has fallen in love with Todd. This, overall, negatively represents women as fickle and easily controlled (especially by the men with whom they are in love).

And now, we move onto the representations of men….

Well, since Todd appears to change in his character and give off completely different representations of men, I thought I’d start with ‘Benjamin Barker’ or the ‘old’ Sweeney Todd, and how he represented men before the ‘bad thing’ happened to him…

So, firstly Barker is conveyed to the audience as an ‘ordinary man’ (so the voice over puts it). He clearly is shown to care a great deal for his wife and daughter as he is seen in shots going about in town with them and playfully showing his daughter a toy doll. This positively represents men as caring and loving towards their family. And he is then simply snatched away from his wife and child, his reason for living, on an entirely false charge. He is dragged away by officers and with his mouth agape and his eyes looking deeply sorrowful, and this represents him, and to an extent men in general, as vulnerable and most of all innocent. Which is very different to the stereotypical representation we usually see or perhaps expect of men in the media as we’d never usually witness a male character to appear vulnerable (but I suppose it is understandable as he is vulnerable in the hands of another man who is in a higher status than himself and therefore has immense power over him- as it would be quite different if he were vulnerable in the hands of a female character).

And then his representation and character changes. We see him 15 years later and it is revealed that he is not the man he once was. Literally he says he’s a different person because of what happened to him: ‘Not Barker, it’s Sweeney Todd now, and he will have his revenge…. And even his appearance has changed- his skin is very pale, he has dark bags under his eyes and his hair is constantly messy and swept back– this represents men as volatile and that they are particularly hard to control. Having returned from being imprisoned on a false charge to find his wife gone and his daughter in the care of the very man (Judge Turpin) who caused all the suffering in the first place, Sweeney can not let it go. He is seen constantly alone in shots, brooding and looking sorrowful, as if he is unable to forget any of the things that happened to him. Which represents men as stubborn and perhaps rather unforgiving. For example, Mrs Lovett even suggests to him that it would be best to leave it all behind him, but he snaps: ‘No!’ and seems to refuse to let any of it go or take anyone’s advice on how to come to terms with what has happened. No, he chooses vengeance instead. Seen in shots as he constructs his barber’s chair (so that when it tilts back it opens up a trapdoor leading to the cellar, which, if Todd’s knife work didn’t kill his victims, the drop would..) this somewhat represents men as stereotypically ‘handy’ and technically skilled.

Seen in the next few scenes brandishing his barber’s knife and grinning evilly, Todd sings:

‘Alright! You sir? No one’s in the chair, come on, come on/ Sweeney’s waiting…I want you bleeders/ You sir! Too sir, welcome to the grave/I will have vengeance…/I will have salvation…’

Apart from this clearly stating that Todd is fixed on getting his revenge and no one can stop him, I think this negatively represents men as rather violent. He wants revenge on one person but is still adamant that he will go through anyone and everyone who gets in his way, so in the long run, a lot of blood will be spilt just because he has a hate-filled feud with one man…

Overall, Todd’s character does have a very negative but I have to say stereotypical representation of men– he gets what he wants using violence and is very stubborn, constantly brooding on the past. He is seen regularly in the trailer slitting throats of unidentified characters, slashing his blade in the air violently and covered in blood. As the titles say: ‘Never forget’…’Never Forgive’ and this is just what Todd does. He doesn’t forget and he certainly doesn’t forgive. And I think the repetitive use of scenes where Sweeney is using violence suggests that the violence he uses in his path of vengeance does not even give him what he wants– he gets nothing from it and it doesn’t give him any sense of justice that he deserves, so maybe this represents men as rather impractical– they have a notion of using their ‘fists before their brains’– and that they perhaps do not realise that violence will eventually, get them nowhere.

And then of course there is probably the second most important male role within the film and trailer- the Judge Turpin. No doubt the villain of the film itself (can Todd be regarded as a hero??…). Anyway, Turpin is first introduced in the trailer as a ‘Man of power’ and this is backed up by his bright and respectable clothing, insinuating he is a wealthy and powerful man in society. But despite this use of mise en scene, I think Turpin’s character generally conveys negative representations of men as he is said to literally ruin another man’s (Todd’s) life just because his wife took his own particular fancy: ‘Stole his freedom…destroyed his family…and banished him for life…’ which I think represents men as controlling and downright selfish– he ruins another man’s entire life just because he came across his wife on day and thought she would be the perfect woman for himself without considering or caring for that matter, just how his actions may affect others.

And well, Turpin doesn’t change much even in the 15 years that pass in the film. Later in scenes he is seen viciously pouncing an attack on Todd’s wife Lucy as she sits dazed and alone. He takes advantage of her when she is in her most vulnerable state– which represents men as controlling and having a certain amount of power over women. And then we hear that Turpin now also has Todd’s daughter, Johanna, in his care. And we can insinuate from the trailer that he is not taking good care of her, as she looks afraid of him in a lot of shots and is he himself is seen suspiciously spying through a hole in a wall (which I know, could be anything in a trailer as it’s not specific but I know that from watching the film that he is in fact spying on Johanna) which represents men again as controlling and powerful.


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