The Treatment of Female Characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray is a dramatic fantasy thriller which was first screened in 2009. It was directed by the British auteur Oliver Parker who had his first go at directing a film, different from a romantic comedy. However, in 112 minutes he succeeded in presenting the pain of the forever young Dorian, reflected in the countless intercourses he has with prostitutes, unfamiliar, married, older, under-aged women and men.

A scree shot of Dorian in a brothel

A scree shot of Dorian in a brothel

What Happenes is…

The plot of the movie is based on the only published novel of Oscar Wilde—The Picture of Dorian Gray and it was adapted by Toby Finlay. In the core of the story is Dorian, a young, still pure, man who arrived in London and directly enters the high society. He becomes the subject of a painting of his friend Basil, who later becomes obsessed with his beauty but is one of the few positive characters. The young handsome boy makes a wish in front of the painter’s finest work, praying that he would forever look as he does in his prime and that the painting would age instead of him. His wish is fulfilled only to backfire at him later. Under the bad influence of Lord Henry Wotton who introduces Dorian to brothels and vices like alcohol, smoking, cheating, and deceiving, he is caught up in a whirlpool of meaningless sex, murders, never ending lies. Ironically, when, supposedly, true love comes, the forever handsome boy meets his death, never knowing what true affection is like.

Throughout the entire movie Dorian’s moral downfall and, eventually, regret for his wasted life in sin, is portrayed very vividly by the objectification of women. The more egocentric and dangerous the protagonist would get, the more women would be illustrated as unable to sustain his presence. Not only that, but he never offers his protection to a female character, but quite the opposite. Mr. Gray’s cold behavior causes the death of a young theater actress, which again is illustrated as women’s weakness—she commits suicide, because she cannot accept she is not being loved back by Dorian. This suggests that women cannot deal with mental pressure and are always ready to give in.

What to expect

From the beginning of the movie, the viewer is prepared that the film would contain elements of sexism, because of the fact that Dorian accepts Lord Henry as his mentor. He is a morally deprived person who is part of the prestigious society in London. He is married and has a daughter but this never slowed him down from being a regular at a brothel, situated on a street with bad reputation. He treats his wife as a tool to maintain his reputation in front of the society and the viewers see her only when scenes of balls and receptions are shown. Dorian, on the other hand, not only does adhere to every advice of Henry but ends up exceeding him beyond the Lord’s imagination.

Dorian's picture reflection in the end of the movie

Dorian’s picture reflection in the end of the movie

First steps towards the Dark Side

After the protagonist realizes that his wish came through and that his picture will age on his behalf, he gradually turns into a monster without any morals. All of the women he encounters he treats as erotic objects, disregarding their feelings and desires. Sometimes he does not even bother to converse with them. The culmination of the objectification of females is when Dorian and the Lord are at a cotillion of a young lady, being first introduced into society. The protagonist takes the virginity of the girl in her bedroom while the reception is still in progress downstairs.

The viewers are not shown the act or any foreplay. The high point comes when her mother enters the room, looking for her daughter. She enters angry and insulting Mr. Gray but then he charms her with a few words and takes her into the same bed he made sex with her daughter while she is still under it, able to hear everything. This time around the audience is shown some erotic moments in order to amplify the tension and diminish even more the importance of women in this movie. The voyeuristic manner in which the scene is presented perfectly reveals how women are taken only as passive sexual objects, unable to resist men. This example, as well as many others in Dorian Gray suggests that every woman can be treated like, more or less, a prostitute if the man is handsome and high class. Due to these qualities, the protagonist never faces any difficulties in having any woman despite her age, social or marital standing.

Dorian Gray, although based on a novel which was written in a different time, is a classical example how mainstream Hollywood movies even nowadays can disregard feminism. The film contains everything that an emancipated and proud woman does not want to be perceived as. It depicts females as weak willed, erotic objects, whose feelings are not important to the dominating man. The way in which the handsome Mr. Gray is able to persuade them to blindly follow him into purely sexual relationships and even orgies with just a couple of words, truly illustrated women as the weaker gender.


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