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Noise, Observation, Ecology in John Cassavetes s A Woman Under the Influence




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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This paper examines how the emotionally open-ended performances of Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands in the film disrupt a traditional belief that meaning is produced around the idea of a self-contained identity. Such disruptions not only create fluid interchanges between individuals and environments, they constitute a posthuman turn away from language as signifying a symbolic order that upholds the masculine control of familial and ecological relationships. I then look at how Cassavetes, rather than containing these ongoing disruptions, promotes them through a self-reflexive commentary on observation and sound. Key scenes are not filmed in his usual documentary style. For instance, the water main break at night, filmed in impressionistic blue tones, creates an ecological crisis that further pressures the relationship between Nick, a construction team leader (Falk) and his wife, Mabel (Rowlands). Likewise, the use of digetic sound calls attention to how cinematic language is constituted through complex and shifting environments. For example, the crashing surf on the beach drowns out Nick s attempts to talk to (that is, manage ) his kids after Mabel s breakdown. I argue that in the film, breakdown is everywhere: in ecology, language, identity even humanism itself. That the influence that catalyzes Mabel s trauma remains unnamed suggests that language does not mediate the profound tensions between identities and environments. Rather, to understand the connections between family and ecological crisis, we must grasp how observations are staged in moments of disorder and remain unstable.

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London, United Kingdom

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