Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

"Until Justice Is Done": Authenticity and Memory in Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday and United 93

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

"Until Justice Is Done": Authenticity and Memory in Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday and United 93

Article excerpt

Résumé: Établissant des liens entre les visées des représentations politique et cinématographique dans les films de Paul Greengrass Bloody Sunday et United 93, cet article pose la question de ce que signifie « faire justice » à des événements nationaux traumatiques. Les stratégies du réalisateur pour faire justice à ces événements en capturant authentiquement aussi bien l'histoire que les identités culturelles des sujets impliqués (les soldats britanniques et les manifestants républicains en 1972 et les passagers et les pirates de l'air en 2001) font écho à des distinctions théoriques non résolues du travail de Derrida et Benjamin, entre la loi et la justice, entre les conceptions auratiques et non-auratiques de l'art et entre la mémoire volontaire et non volontaire. Oscillant d'un pôle à l'autre de ces oppositions, les films démontrent comment les récits de l'authenticité et de la justice excèdent les présuppositions mêmes sur lesquelles ils reposent. Mais encore, ils révèlent aussi que, dans cet échec pour rendre compte de l'histoire, un genre particulier de « justice disjunctive » émerge - un qui anticipe la révaluation créative et la remémoration continue des événements traumatiques.

In the closing scene of Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, 2002), a film that recreates the day on which thirteen demonstrators in Derry were killed by British soldiers, the last word is given to the civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin. She speaks to a room full of press conference cameras and promises, "we will not rest until justice is done." Her promissory political goal parallels the director's goal of doing cinematic justice to the event by establishing what he calls an "edge of authenticity."1 One of director Paul Greengrass's central strategies in achieving this sense of authenticity is to cast participants in the original events, and in similar ones, as themselves. Soldiers who have served in Northern Ireland play the parts of British forces in the streets, while the crowd scenes include relatives of the victims as well as participants in the original demonstration who reprise their roles by marching the same doomed route thirty years later (with the difference that in most of this recreation the streets of present-day Dublin stand in for Derry in 1972, a geographical relocation that parallels the actors' temporal dislocation from the original event). Greengrass uses this strategy again in United 93 (2006), in which Ben Sliney, operations manager of the Federal Aviation Administration, plays himself as he tracks the hijacked flights on September 11, 2001. He relives his experience of the original situation on film and communicates with other professional air-traffic controllers and military personnel, eight of whom were also there on the day; many of the other parts - including those of the pilots and flight attendants- are played by non-actors who perform these roles in their working lives off-screen.2 Other techniques designed to create "a veracity" and "a real truthfulness," in spite of what Greengrass acknowledges as "multiple perspectives" on both events, include the hand-held camera and improvised scripting in which actors respond on camera to unannounced events and communications.

Greengrass's goals, as well as those he attributes to Devlin, can be understood through a series of unsettled theoretical distinctions on similar issues: for Jacques Derrida, between "doing justice" and "giving justice;" and for Walter Benjamin, between auratic and non-auratic conceptions of art, and between involuntary and voluntary memory. As it oscillates across each of these oppositions, Greengrass's filmmaking invites us to interpret Devlin's last words on the refusal to rest as a comment on a conceptual state that disables the ability of cinema-and that of historical recreation more broadly- to arrive at authenticity and justice. In the broader context, such a state of restlessness, necessitated by the irresolvable disjunctions and indeterminacies that both generate and undermine the desire to arrive at a finally adequate account of the past, extends to the search for authenticity and completion in works of mourning for these nationally traumatic events. …

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