Gloves in Films: Hiding True Character and Desires
April 17, 2017 13 Comments
This will be my 200th post on the blog, and I thought I would do something different. I have always been fascinated with objects and their symbolic meanings in films, and some object-placements in films evoke powerful imagery and are open to different symbolic interpretations. On the face of it, gloves in films do not present a big conundrum: they can be worn for warmth; because of an unspoken societal rule/etiquette; as a result of a fashion trend; in the course of a professional pursuit, such as medicine or sport; or in the course of a crime. However, arguably, gloves may also sometimes have a more symbolic interpretation in a film, and represent a character’s “camouflaged”/hidden true intention or desire, or emphasise a character’s subconscious attempt to distance him(her)self from others, hiding their true character.
In the past, the wearing of gloves by women was dictated by the rules of society. Only a minimal physical contact was allowed between unmarried ladies and gentlemen, and what better way to comply with that rule then to minimise the skin exposed to contact. This was also the time when the value of pale, soft hands was high. Such films as “The Portrait of a Lady” (1996) and “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) take the wearing of gloves by their female characters seriously; and the bear-skin hand-touch between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth half-way through “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) is one of the most erotic and sensual moments of the entire film. Later, the wearing of gloves became equated with elegance and prestige, dictated by fashion. The female characters in “Woman of the Year” (1942) and “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) wear colourful gloves, and in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), the character of Audrey Hepburn sports long, black gloves.
Men also sported gloves in the past, but, in films, it is interesting to emphasise their wearing of gloves as a result of their professional activity: be they boxers, servants or simply criminals. In that vein, the character of Russell Crowe wears boxing gloves in “Cinderella Man” (2005); Forest Whitaker, in the role of Cecil Gaines, wears white gloves in “The Butler” (2013); and Ocean’s gang in “Ocean’s 11” (2001) accessorise themselves with black globes to rob a casino. Also, it may be that the wearing of gloves by men in films emphasises their masculinity and professionalism; while gloves on women may highlight their femininity, sensuality and coquettishness.
However, the wearing of gloves in films may also point to a more symbolic interpretation, and may refer to a character’s desire to mask their true self from others. In “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013), Eve and Ava, vampires, wear white gloves when they are out in public in a nightclub. Their gloves-wearing may indicate that they hide their true selves from those around them, in this case – their vampire nature. In “Drive” (2011), Driver wears leather gloves as a professional accessory, but his gloves-wearing may also connote him distancing from those around him, and possibly, the hiding of his true, caring and emotional inner personality. Also, in “Repulsion” (1965), it seems that the gloves-wearing in public highlights the character’s sexual unavailability to others, while also emphasising the character’s strong erotic and “dark” inner personality. In that movie, Carole wears white gloves in public, appearing shy and refuting the romantic advances of her admirer. However, when she comes home, Carole takes off her gloves, revealing in that instance both her inner highly sensual nature, and also her deviant sexual associations, because she also becomes repulsed by the act of her removing the gloves from her hand. More convincingly, in the animation “Frozen” (2013), apart from the spell protection, Elsa wears gloves when she hides her true self, i.e., her Snow Queen personality. In the animation, when Elsa no longer desires to hide this side of her, she throws the gloves way, revealing herself as someone who no longer wants to mask her true nature.
Apart from hiding his/her true personality, a wearer of gloves may also hide their true intentions or desires, and, in such instance, the wearing of gloves becomes the symbol for hiding something personal deep inside, and being secretive about one’s true thoughts. In “The Age of Innocence” (1993), the unbuttoned glove represents the heroine’s generally secret, but, at that moment revealed, desire for the protagonist (apart from the usual fashion/societal rules connotations). The unbuttoned glove in the film is a powerful imagery, because Newland also removes his glove, exposing his desire, and when he kisses the hand of the Countess Olenska, the kiss symbolises “the breaking into” the heroine’s secret thoughts and desires – breaking the taboo – and the two become accomplices in the forbidden act. Furthermore, it is precisely the lack of gloves which exposes Scarlett’s lie to Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind” (1939). In that film, Vivien Leigh’s character forgot/chose not to wear gloves when meeting Rhett in jail, and, as a result, she was unable to fool Rhett and persuade him that she was wealthy, when, in fact, she was dead broke. In this instance, the lack of gloves pointed to the inability of the heroine to mask her true intentions/desires, i.e., to borrow a large sum of money. Similarly, in “Little Women” (1994), the suitor of Megan, John Brooke, “steals” her glove, and, by that action exposes his true feelings for Megan because Megan’s glove represents one of her most “intimate” accessories. By taking Megan’s glove, John also subconsciously desires to unmask Megan’s true feelings and desires, and expose her femininity to him. Finally, in Lucile Hadžihalilović’s “Innocence” (2004), young Bianca finds a male glove in an empty theatre and later keeps it as her treasure. These scenes hint on the former wearer’s past hidden desire, and on Bianca’s own exploration of the male fascination in young females in the movie.