Academic journal article Shofar

Spectacles of Pain: War, Masculinity and the Masochistic Fantasy in Amos Gitai's Kippur

Academic journal article Shofar

Spectacles of Pain: War, Masculinity and the Masochistic Fantasy in Amos Gitai's Kippur

Article excerpt

Israeli war films of the 1950s and 60s focused on the typically male fantasy in which a soldier is prepared to sacrifice his body to torture and harm-and sometimes even to death-in order to serve national ideals. Masochistic enjoyment is a substantial component in the construction of the fighting male body as a war machine, but in the 50s war films this component was absent. The materiality of bodily pain appeared as a representation of an abstract national idea.

What was omitted in these films becomes a spectacle of pain in Amos Gitai's film, Kippur (2000). The film constructs a masochistic fantasy whereby the fighting male body is stripped of its metaphoric national meaning, turning now to its bodily corporality, to flesh, blood, and bone. Gitai's film exposes the violence and suffering that are denied by Israel's culture of war, and which are required for the very construction of nationalism.

Death on the battlefield as a foundational value in Israeli society was a central motif of Israeli war films of the 1950s and 60s.1 Those films were concerned with constructing a myth, which would mask death in war and emphasize the meaningfulness of lighting and sacrifice. The fighter who sacrificed his body on the national altar was represented through the national myth of the "living-dead"-the soldier whose physical body is no more, who has died, yet who is still present and alive in the imagined national consciousness. Through the mythic metaphor of the "living-dead" soldier, the national culture of war confirmed its preparedness to sacrifice victims.2 The existence of the individual was subjected to the collective, and the death of the warrior was endorsed and justified by being given a greater and more general national and transcendent meaning. As Ella Shohat wrote, "[t]he death of the protagonists . . . is allegorically compensated for by the rebirth of the country-the ultimate protagonist of the film[s]."3 Or, in terms of the body: individual and real death, and the materiality of the male body, are elided and incorporated into the process of revival of the national body.

For example, in the film He Walked Through the Fields, Uri's death is not shown on screen.4 The dead body is replaced by a freeze-frame image of Uri's surprised face seconds before he is killed. The cinematic freeze-frame becomes a metonymic symbol for the threshold between life and death, and constructs the national myth of the "living-dead." The frozen image of Uri's face dissolves into an image of the sea, from which new immigrants to Israel are arriving. The cinematic dissolve corresponds with the figure of the national "living-dead," in that the dissolve itself, as argued by Christian Metz, "is a dying figure, a figure which is dying right from the start . . . : two images go to meet one another, but they go backwards, turning their backs on each other."5 The sacrifice of Uri's life while blowing up a bridge assured the safe arrival of Jewish immigrants and paved the way for the establishment of an imagined national Israeli community. Not only does Uri's body transcend death, it is assimilated within and gives meaning to other bodies, and especially the national body.

In this national myth, war is represented as an education in masculinity. The ideal of masculinity is represented as a symbol of personal and national regeneration. As George Mosse claims, "[m]anhood was cast in the warrior image, symbolizing youth grown to maturity without losing its attributes of youthfulness. . . . Youth and death were closely linked in that myth: youth as symbolic of manhood, virility, and energy, and death as not death at all but sacrifice and resurrection."6 Uri's heroism, as an expression of ideal and courageous masculinity, corresponded to the atmosphere of military superiority and power that prevailed in Israeli society after the I.D.F. victory in the Six-Day War (1967). Assi Dayan, who played the part of Uri and was the son of Moshe Dayan-appointed Minister of Defense at the outbreak of the Six Day War-became a star overnight. …

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