History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

Synopsis

History films were a highly popular genre in the 1990s, as Hollywood looked back at significant and troubling episodes from World War II, the Cold War era, and the techno-war in the Persian Gulf. As filmmakers attempted to confront and manage intractable elements of the American past, such as the trauma of war and the legacy of racism, Susan Linville argues that a surprising casualty occurred- the erasure of relevant facets of contemporary women's history.

In this book, Linville offers a sustained critique of the history film and its reduction of women to figures of ambivalence or absence. Historicizing and adapting Freud's concept of the uncanny and its relationship to the maternal body as the first home, she offers theoretically sophisticated readings of the filmsMidnight Clear, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Nixon, Courage Under Fire, Lone Star,andLimbo. She also demonstrates that the uncanny is not only a source of anxiety but also potentially a progressive force for eroding nostalgic ideals of nation and gender. Linville concludes with a close reading of a recent 9/11 documentary, showing how the patterns and motifs of 1990s history films informed it and what that means for our future.

Excerpt

Near the beginning of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Prospero instructs his daughter Miranda for the first time about his past and, in passing, about her own. She has been watching a harrowing sea storm and shipwreck, a physically harmless piece of magic that Prospero has created to rectify history, but one so overwhelming that Miranda is quick with sympathy for its human victims. The tempest and Prospero’s inquiries about what Miranda remembers of her early childhood, what “house or person,” prompt the young woman to ask two questions, queries which Carol Gilligan astutely paraphrases as “Why all the suffering?” and “Where are the women?” Prospero’s reply reflects his interest in justifying his present actions as remedies for past injustices—“what’s past is prologue,” as his traitorous brother Antonio will later say—but as Gilligan notes, Prospero’s account fails to do justice to Miranda’s curiosity, memory, and desire. In the course of the play, Miranda herself learns to forget her own initial questions, and her education about her father’s past forms the groundwork of her forgetting. Her future marriage (and, extradiegetically, that of ill-fated Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I) is celebrated in another illusion staged by Prospero, a wedding masque that dramatizes Miranda’s regenerative role through fertility imagery of the goddess Ceres while stressing her function as the ligature binding feuding political factions. Yet the marriage that Prospero arranges, though it recaptures and consolidates political power and identity, comes at the expense of Miranda’s grasp of a history that encompasses women, their sense of home, and their ties to each other. In a similar fashion, the narration of U.S. history through cinematic illusion was a paramount interest of Hollywood moviemakers in the closing . . .

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