Goddess preliminary discussion questions for class Wednesday June 23
In the most obvious sense, Goddess is a critique of urban modernity. That is, the city is consistently depicted as a menacing, unfriendly place; people who seem like they would be helpful are actually harmful: policeman, neighborhood children and parents, school teachers (the principal blames “filthy streets” and “toxic environment”). However in another sense, the goddess herself can also be read as the female embodiment of Shanghai, the city as seductress (see for example clip at around 12 mins into the film, gambler is imagining her smiling face set against city skyline). Although she represents the ideal virtuous mother, to what extent does the film implicate the goddess as contributing to the anxiety of the modern urban experience?
Despite her attempts to keep the two parts of her life separate, the goddess’s occupation spills over to her personal family life, especially since it is the means by which she financially supports her son. Is it possible to read the goddess character as a Baudelairean flaneuse (as a prostitute she challenges the idea that women must remain in the private domestic sphere)? Is there any way to redeem her as a female figure with some agency, or must she remain foremost the symbol of “women’s misfortune and oppression,” as Wu Yonggang envisioned (Harris, p. 129)? On the other hand, is the film successful as a social commentary on poor working conditions in the modern city, or is that message overpowered by melodrama?