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Animals and the Nonhuman

Essay (2-3 Pages, Double-Spaced) 

Due via Turnitin on the course blackboard, 11:00 PM, January 24.

Late papers are marked down 5% for each day it is late. 

Previous paper asked for a close reading of one sequence through one particular text, the this paper asks you to apply all of the formal, historical, and theoretical knowledge you’ve acquired over the course to a comparative film analysis. For your essay do the following:

  1. Select at least two (and no more than four) of the assigned texts for the course that you would like to incorporate in support of your argument. This means the essay PDFs, as these make particular theoretical claims. You are welcome to cite The Film Experience if this helps support your argument, but, as an introductory text book, this does not count as one of the two sources. While many of the essays address a particular film, genre, or movement, you should be able to apply some of the concepts to other examples—in fact, strong arguments often emerge when drawing connections between distinct texts and movies.
  2. Select two films you would like to compare in terms of character portrayal. These can be any two films assigned for the class (with the exception of Visions of Light and The Cutting Edge), or one film assigned for the class along with any other film (not assigned) that best illustrates your argument. Any movie you find appropriate is fine, but you must address at least one film from the class. You don’t need to address both films equally, and rather than list all similarities and/or differences, focus on the one or two aspects (key character traits, his/her relationship to the narrative, ways in which the character is visually/acoustically presented) that are most unique to the film and relevant to your thesis.
  3. Present your topic and method in your thesis paragraph. This should indicate the specific points of difference or similarity between the two films you would like to explore, along with how your supporting texts provide certain concepts, theoretical frameworks, or conceptual tools to help you with your comparison. For instance, you may want to compare two films of the same genre but of distinct time periods and address these in terms of genres of order and the ways in which masculinity and the law are connected in each case, or look a particular kind narrative structure seen in European art cinema and in a contemporary indie film, and what this might say about the situation of a female protagonist struggling for independence.

Your argument must demonstrate an informed understanding of the course material, and should thus showcase your ability to apply relevant vocabulary about the film’s style, narrative structure, historical context, etc. Avoid listing every possible difference or similarity. Rather, focus on a key aspect that reveals an interesting pattern or distinction. In other words, it is essential that the paper develop a precise argument that can be explored and supported in a few short pages. Precision and clarity with both the texts and examples is paramount.

Whether you paraphrase or quote, include in-text citation, footnotes, or endnotes, you must cite accordingly. Be sure to also include a bibliography (if not providing complete footnotes or endnotes). You do not need to do any additional research—and, in fact, should not incorporate other sources for your interpretation of the academic text or film. See the texts in the “Writing Guides” folder for additional information on citing sources. See the syllabus for additional information on paper format.

A strong analysis demonstrates how particular formal elements convey meaning or position the spectator in relation to the characters, narrative, or conflict in a way that reflects a cultural or social perspective. A rich thesis also wrestles with some of the ambiguities or paradoxes of its representations or messages. For instance, several queer theorists have noted how Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) is ultimately conservative when it comes to its treatment of homosexuality, as it fails to imagine queer desire unconstrained by repression and punishment.

Use the following questions as a starting point, and then pursue the one or two responses that promise to unveil some new or unexpected insights into how and why the film addresses such issues:

Socioeconomic Status 

  • Does the socioeconomic status of each character play a significant role in the narrative? How so?
  • Are people from a particular class portrayed negatively (or positively) in this movie? If so, what seems to be the point of that portrayal?
  • Does this film seem to set out to critique the socioeconomic status quo? In what ways does it do so? What aspects of the status quo does it leave unquestioned?
  • Is nearly everything of value in this movie something that can be bought and sold (i.e., a commodity)? Or does the film portray values that fall outside the realm of economics? Overall, what values are being argued for in this film? How is the argument being presented?
  • Are the main female characters in this movie as fully realized as the male characters? What characteristics do the female characters possess? Which do they lack? What is does this tell us about how the filmmakers are positioning women?
  • Is the identity of the main female character (or characters) defined primarily by her (or their) sex appeal? What are the implications of this portrayal?
  • Does this movie’s narrative seem to suggest that the relations between the sexes are “natural” and proper, or does it seem to critique the status quo? If the latter, what is the nature of the critique?
  • Does the film reflect or work against the assumptions about gender roles that prevailed in the time when this movie was made and screened? How so?
  • Do the formal aspects of this movie (the cinematography, the editing, etc.) cause you to see the female characters from the perspective of a male protagonist? In what way does this perspective limit your understanding of the characters?
  • Do you find yourself sympathizing with the main female character(s) in this film? Why or why not?
    Race, Ethnicity, and National Origin
  • Given what you know about the place or time portrayed in the movie, are there groups or people not shown or barely acknowledged in the movie who were nonetheless significant and visible there and then? Why do you think they aren’t portrayed in this movie?
  • Does the movie use visual cues—in lighting, camera angles, editing decisions, costume, makeup, or actors’ gestures—to establish that a character or a group of characters is clearly an “Other”—a strange, foreign, or menacing type of person who falls outside of the “normal” majority? If so, what are the cues and how do they work?
  • Is the movie seemingly content to reinforce traditional stereotypes of minority characters? Or does it seem to be working against them? How so?

• Does the movie portray racial, ethnic, or cross-cultural relations as complex and contradictory social interactions? Or does the film offer, literally and figuratively, a “black-and-white” worldview? What is the effect of the complex or simplistic portrayals of these relations?

Sexual Orientation 

  • Does the movie present a straightforward and uncomplicated portrait of heterosexual relationships? Or does it introduce narrative elements that portray alternative sexual identities? In either case, what comments about sexuality is the film making?
  • If the movie does portray alternative sexualities, does it present people as social deviants, as comic foils, or as otherwise “abnormal” characters? Or are these characters portrayed as fully realized human beings?
  • If a movie seems primarily occupied with portraying heterosexuality as the norm to be emulated and celebrated, does it nonetheless contain subtle narrative or visual elements that undermine that portrait of normalcy? What are these elements, and how are they in play?
  • What function, if any, do performative aspects of sexuality have in the film? Are there camp elements? Drag? Cross-dressing? Are they meant to be merely laughed at or dismissed as deviant, or do they move the movie’s narrative in an interesting direction?
  • If you watch a film made by or starring a film artist who was eventually revealed to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, or of some other alternative sexual identity, what aspects of the film seem to flow from this identity, and which aspects seem to contradict it?
  • How is/are the figure/s of disability (including the elderly) rhetorically framed? Is the disabled character presented as an object of wonder, sentimentalized, or sensationalized as an exotic “Other”? If the character is presented through a “realistic” lens, how is the disability normalized? To what degree does the figure—and the formal elements of the film—arouse identification or estrangement?
  • In what ways is the disability, as it is presented, aligned with groups or individuals typically presented as “Others” in the dominant culture (i.e. associated with “abnormal” sexuality, with “abject” poverty, “unhealthy” values)?
  • If the disabled individual or group is presented as heroic or pathetic, what might this say about the medical and social discourses and institutions of this milieu? For instance, is the figure depicted as a burden or as independent and capable?
    Animals and the Nonhuman
  • Animals and other non-human figures (monsters, aliens, and androids) are often presented in films as reflections of, or distinct from, human characters and characteristics. To what degree, and in what ways is the animal anthropomorphized or presented as unknowable or inhuman? What appears to be the intention of this depiction?
  • How do human characters interact with the animal? What might this say about particular cultural perspectives with regard to pets, livestock, and/or wild animals?
  • In what ways might the animal signify particular stereotypes or conceptions of class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. (i.e. a “junkyard dog” = white trash, masculine, violent; a lapdog = effete snobs, feminine, queer) and how might this contribute to how the audience is intended to read particular characters or the narrative?
    You’re welcome to email me possible thesis statements. I hope you enjoy your freedom with this assignment, but am also happy to provide additional structure if you prefer.

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