The Portrayal of Pygmalion and Galatea in Mannequin, a Movie by Michael Gottlieb

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Pygmalion and Galatea as portrayed in the movie Mannequin

The movie Mannequin was directed by Michael Gottlieb and was released in 1987. The movie follows the love story of an artist by the name of Jonathan Switcher and Emmy, a mannequin created by Jonathan himself to be used in the window exhibits of a retail store called Prince and Company[1]. The movie Mannequin is a purposefully, accurate retelling of the story of Pygmalion and Galatea as written by Ovid in which you can see how societal behaviors have altered the perception of women’s beauty, and courtship rituals.

The story of Pygmalion and Galatea appears in book ten of the epic poem “Metamorphoses” written by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, commonly known as Ovid, in 8 BC[2]. Pygmalion was a young artist who, despite admiring women, chose not to take wife. Instead of taking a wife, Pygmalion created Galatea, an ivory statue of a women to which he “gave greater beauty than any girl could have.”[3] Ovid tells of Pygmalion embracing and kissing his statue, showing that Galatea offered him the sexual satisfaction he did not want from other women. In addition to developing a sexual relationship, Pygmalion showers Galatea with compliments, gives her fine jewelry and clothes, and even prepares her a place to sleep. Completely entranced by Galatea, Pygmalion prays to Venus, the Roman goddess of love and sex, to give him a wife “like [his] ivory girl”[4] Hearing his prayers, Venus animates the body of Galatea and blesses their marriage.

In Mannequin, Jonathan Switcher is an accurate embodiment of the artist Pygmalion. Jonathan Switcher is an artist who works in a mannequin factory that produces mannequins to be used in retail stores. When Jonathan is fired from his job for dedicating excessive lengths of time to perfecting his creations, he is separated from his most perfect creation, Emmy, and they are not reunited again until he finds her in the window of a retail store called Prince and Company. Before Emmy is animated, Jonathan can be seen caressing her and developing a physically sexual relationship with his creation just as Pygmalion developed with Galatea. When Jonathan is hired at Prince and Company he becomes the designer of the store’s window displays. Thus, he dresses Emmy in fine jewelry and clothing just a Pygmalion did. Pygmalion and Jonathan are both artists who desire a perfectly beautiful woman that they are unable to find among the women within their societies. This beauty can ultimately only be found in the animation of their perfect creations.

One of the greatest differences between Ovid’s telling of Pygmalion and Galatea, and Mannequin lies in the reasons for which Emmy and Galatea were animated. While Galatea was animated as a gift for Pygmalion, the gods animated Emmy in response to her own prayers. When we are initially introduced to Emmy, she prays to the gods to help her escape from her life in Edfu, Egypt circa 2514 BC[5]. In the opening scene, Emmy’s mother is pressuring her to marry a camel-dung seller as a last attempt to find Emmy a suitor after she has rejected all the other possible suitors. In response to her prayers, the gods cause an earthquake that results in Emmy disappearing. Emmy goes on to be animated into different bodies multiple times until she is finally animated in the body of Jonathan’s mannequin. When Emmy is first animated she tells Jonathan that he ‘made this body so that [she] could come to life.”[6] Therefore, in Mannequin Emmy is not animated in response to the prayers of her body’s creator, but rather in response to her own prayers.

In Ovid’s telling, Pygmalion prays, “If you can give all things, o gods, I pray my wife may be… one like my ivory girl.”[7] Galatea is then animated by the goddess Venus[8]. In Mannequin, Emmy is not animated in response to Jonathan’s pleas, but rather seems to have been animated in an attempt by the gods to find Emmy the husband she desired when she lived in Edfu. These two different reasons for being animated may be the result of changes in societal gender roles. Ancient Roman society functioned under a strong patriarchy[9]. It is likely because of the influence of this patriarchy that Ovid chose for the woman, Galatea, to be given to Pygmalion as a gift without her approval. Modern American society has evolved from that of ancient Rome’s to become more equal among genders. In making Emmy’s animation the product of her own prayers, Emmy becomes an empowered woman that, rather than being given as a gift, seems to have received Jonathan as a gift instead.

Ovid’s tale and Mannequin both use the creations, Galatea and Emmy, as models for the ideally beautiful women in society. In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, Galatea can be seen as a model of perfect beauty in ancient Rome. When creating Galatea, Pygmalion gave her the appearance of the ideal woman in Roman society in hopes of finding a being capable of giving him the sexual satisfaction he was unable to get from other women. In his creation, Pygmalion found a beauty that he had been unable to find in woman of his own society. Thus making Galatea the only being who was physically attractive enough to satisfy his sexual needs. In Mannequin, the character Emmy is seen to embody beauty standards set in place by American society just as Galatea was a model of Roman beauty standards. The role of Emmy was played by Kim Cattrall, a woman known for playing roles of women who are acutely sexually aware, physically attractive and have seductive voices[10]. During the 1980’s, beauty standards held that the perfect woman was tall, had voluminous hair, and was thin yet curvy[11]. Cattrall can be seem embodying these characteristics in her role as Emmy.

The relationship between creator and creation after animation has occurred does not develop in the same way in the Mannequin as in “Metamorphoses”. In Ovid’s telling, when Galatea is initially animated, Pygmalion is seen to have “stroked her breast, and felt the ivory soften under his fingers.”[12] One of the first things Pygmalion and Galatea do after Galatea’s animation, is consummate their marriage and have their marriage blessed by Venus. In Mannequin, Jonathan is taken aback when he sees that Emmy has come to life in the body of his mannequin. He is fearful of Emmy and is seen doubting his own insanity[13] This difference can also be seen drawing attention to the differences between ancient Roman and modern day society. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is set in a time when women were often forced to marry at young ages and had little say in who they married[14]. It is expected that Galatea would be well behaved and act in the way that ancient Roman society deemed young women should act. However, the same behaviors are no longer expected of women in modern American society. In modern American society, women are active in finding the person they choose to marry and because of this more time in allotted to courtship rituals. Jonathan and Emmy are seen courting throughout the movie, and are only married at the end of their movie in their mutual love.

Mannequin is a successful retelling of Ovid’s story of Pygmalion and Galatea as seen in “Metamorphoses”. In Mannequin, you can see the ways in which developing societal behaviors and beliefs have cause the story to change in order to more accurately embody the societal trends of that time. This can be seen in the embodiment of beauty standards by Galatea and Emmy, as well as Michael Gottlieb’s decision to make Emmy’s animation the result of her own prayers. You can also observe how marriage and courtship have evolved in American from the ways of the ancient Roman’s in the actions of Jonathan and Emmy after she is animated.

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