The Disruptive Power of the ‘Juck’


[1] 00:04:00-00:05:30

[2] Suture was originally a psychoanalytic term but has been adopted into film theory to describe the operations by which the viewers are absorbed into the narrative and made unaware of the constructed quality of the gaze (Chaudhuri 49)
Fig. 1. Still from JUCK featuring the main cast. 

            During this year’s Go Short Film Festival in Nijmegen, one of the films that really stood out in terms of affective quality was JUCK [THRUST] (2018), a Swedish short documentary centred around an all-female dance group and their signature pelvic thrust. In one particularly engaging scene[1]the five main dancers take their performance into Stockholm’s underground. We first see the group in medium full shot, all clad in their classic schoolgirl uniforms in an otherwise empty middle part of a carriage. They are thrusting their pelvis to minimal but powerful electronic house and one of them is intensely, almost angrily looking into the camera while doing so. During the scene the dancers grow bolder in their performance, moving into the aisles and getting closer to the commuting public that is made into an audience. Meanwhile one of the dancers explains in the voice-over that “someone living in a narrow world may need to be exposed to new perspectives”. According to the cast and crew, but also judging by the commuter’s expressions, these new perspectives evoke a wide array of responses ranging from curiosity to anger and, interestingly, discomfort (Van den Boogaard 4). While it is clear that the performance challenges traditional conventions, we might ask ourselves: what exactly is it that makes JUCK so provoking?
            One thing that immediately stands out and largely contributes to the affecting quality of this scene and the documentary as a whole, is the way the women occupy both public space and movie screen with an intense, intent gaze (see fig. 1). Offering a wide variety of frontal camera shots in which the dancers look directly and often down into the camera, JUCK seems to directly oppose the male gaze that has been theorized by Laura Mulvey in her canonical essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975). In Mulvey’s analysis, men are active, constituted figures of ego identification creating the look, while women are made into passive objects of eroticized looking or scopophilia (Olin 321). They are the perfect product, “sequestered to a world of becoming” (322) with faces “rendered hallucinatory by soft mists” (322) and body parts “fragmented for loving perusal in close-ups” (322). This way, the camera gives the spectator free rein to mindlessly objectify, sexualize and gaze upon them.  

Fig. 2. Still from JUCK featuring Emelie Enlund and Feyona Naluzzi. 

Fig. 3. Still from JUCK featuring Cajsa Godée.

            JUCK however, allows no such spectacle. While audiences are usually made unaware of the constructed quality of the gaze by using camera-work, lighting and editing to divert attention away from both the camera’s look at the pro-filmic reality and the audience’s look at the film (Chaudhuri 35), here the camera is acknowledged, and the spectator directly addressed. From the moment the camera cuts to the scene in the subway carriage, even before the spectator is consciously aware of what they are looking at, one of the dancers is already meeting their eyes, intensely gazing back. This way, the documentary answers Mulvey’s call for a disruption of phallocentric cinema by highlighting how film has depended on voyeuristic mechanisms and destroying the pleasure and privilege of the invisible audience (18). By breaking suture[2] JUCK exposes the erotic power of the gaze and makes the audience aware of its voyeuristic quality (Olin 324), potentially explaining some of the uneasy feelings that are evoked by the documentary.
            It is important to note here, that it is not just the audience in the movie theatre that meets the gaze of the dancers. While the ‘juck’ is performed in different private spaces in the scenes prior to the one discussed, here the dancers forgo the sanctity of walled theatre space, empty auditoriums and familiar bedrooms to move into the Stockholm underground. Meeting their unsuspecting audience face-to-face and engaging with the urban environment, the dancers enact a significant alteration in everyday life; both in the spatial practices of the carriage and the everyday routines of their audience (Simpson 7). While commutes are often carried out in a repetitive, semiautomatic, and distracted manner (Felski 89), JUCK intervenes in the everyday by temporarily suspending and disrupting the usual order with their provoking performance. One key factor facilitating this intervention is the reduction in distance between performer and audience (Simpson 6). The restricted and crowded nature of the subway forces a proximity to the commuters and makes sure that, similar to how the cinematic audience is confronted with the frontal close-ups, the commuters cannot but acknowledge the women’s gaze.
            However, it is not just about acknowledging the women’s gaze, but also about their way of being in the world. In the final seconds of the scene, Cajsa Godée, the dancer that has been most prominently and angrily gazing back at the cinematic audience from the beginning, is seen with an almost cartoonesque but in no way funny red-painted mouth. Painting far outside the lines of her lips, she moves closer to a male commuter and almost seductively places her hands next to her face in a fashion that might indicate a focus on beauty but could just as well be read as feigned surprise (see fig. 2). She then moves in close proximity to another male commuter to paint her eyebrows with dramatic flair. With her mouth slightly opened, gazing intensely, almost emptily, at the man, she seems to ask him without words: “Am I really what ‘you’ - the big Other, the social system – say I am? The answer is, of course, no.
            Thrusting their pelvis, screaming, panting and sweating, the group challenges and pushes the boundaries of the way women’s bodies are expected to move. While it is quite clear that this behaviour is a way for the dancers to take up space and no longer “apologize for their existence”, the scene also brings up questions, and perhaps uneasiness, about femininity and masculinity: is the ‘juck’ an imitation or appropriation of the male pelvic thrust? Are the dancers recalibrating femininity by appropriating the masculine? Is the performance perhaps blurring the gender boundaries? What further complicates this matter is the erotic charge that is apparent in the performance: one that does not exactly fit with traditional representations of desirable femininity, nor can be qualified as simply masculine.
            What I would like to argue is that the audience’s inability to place that erotic charge, as well as the inability to define the pelvic thrust, significantly adds to what makes JUCK such an affecting and provoking documentary. Unable to define what exactly is happening, the performance becomes an uncomfortable moment beyond the binary in which the dancers are inhabiting the possibility of something otherwise. Thinking with Slavoj Žižek and what he has written about the ‘+’ in LGBTQ+, we might view JUCK not as masculine or feminine, but rather as +: the third element that does not stand for what is excluded from the binary, but for “difference as such” (“The Sexual is Political”). While coming from within the symbolic order, that what is + also eludes and resists the symbolic grasp, threatening it whenever it is used. JUCK, being +, or difference as such, unsettles the harmony of the male/female binary, “opening it up to an incessant process of re-accommodation” (“The Sexual is Political”). In doing so it creates a performative internal moment in its audience that queers the normative parameters, creating a sense of instability, uncertainty and, for some, discomfort.
            To conclude, there seems to be no one specific element that completely explains what exactly it is that makes JUCK so difficult to grasp, provoking, and, for some people, discomforting. We might however come to the preliminary conclusion that the core of what JUCK is and does comes from both the meeting between performer and audience and the performance’s power to disrupt that which often happens almost without thinking: the semiconscious, the habitual, and the normative. By rupturing the male gaze, the routine of the daily commute and the audience’s normative parameters, the dancers do not only intervene in everyday routinized behaviour, but also in habitual attitudes that are based on numerous unstated and unexamined assumptions about ‘the way things are’ and what a person might be. While there are still numerous examples of women getting sanctioned for disobeying unwritten, but known cultural rules (Novakovic), JUCK builds their performance around breaking them. Through movement, facial expressions and camerawork, far from providing a lecture about gender or sexuality, the dancers use their bodies not to answer questions but provoke new ones: “Because if you feel uncomfortable after seeing this film, it might be a good idea to wonder why” (Van den Boogaard 4). 

Works Cited

Chaudhuri, Shohini. Feminist Film Theorists. Routledge, 2006.
Felski, Rita. “The Invention of Everyday Life.” Doing Time: Feminist Theory and 
            Postmodern Culture
, New York University Press, 2000, pp. 77-98.
JUCK [THRUST]. Directed by Olivia Kastebring, Julia Gumpert and Ulrika Bandeira, performances by
            Tarika Wahlberg, Feyona Naluzzi, Shirley Harthey Ubilla, Cajsa Godée and Emelie Enlund, Bad 
            Land, 2017.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures, Palgrave
            Macmillan, 1989, pp. 14-26.
Novakovic, Ravijojla. “Challenging the Phallocentric.” Stock Town, 13 Mar. 2014, 
   Accessed 29 Dec. 2018.
Olin, Margaret. “Gaze.” Critical Terms for Art History, edited by Robert Nelson and Richard Shiff,
            University of Chicago, 1996, 318-329.
Simpson, Paul. “Street Performance and the City: Public Space, Sociality, and Intervening in the
            Everyday.” Space and Culture, vol. 14, no. 4, 2011, pp. 415-430.
Van de Boogaard, Eva. “Het begrip ‘vrouwelijkheid’ is rekbaarder dan mensen denken.” Hard//hoofd, 14 
            Apr. 2018,
            Accessed 29 Dec. 2018.
Žižek, Slavoj. “The Sexual is Political.” The Philosophical Salon, 1 Aug. 2016, Accessed 29 Dec. 2018.