Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Killing in the Name Of.Nothing: The Serial Search for Meaning and the Absence of Desire in the Minus Man and Dahmer

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Killing in the Name Of.Nothing: The Serial Search for Meaning and the Absence of Desire in the Minus Man and Dahmer

Article excerpt

Résumé : Cet article examine deux films peu connus du sous-genre constitué par les films sur les tueurs en série dans lesquels l'homme est assimilé à un monstre. Il s'agit d'un sous-genre généralement explicite qui a connu un gain de popularité important à partir des années 1990. Les deux films, The Minus Man (1999) réalisé par Hampton Fancher et Dahmer (2002) réalisé par David Jacobson, entraînent le genre dans une spirale interne, en explorant l'absence de désir et de sensibilité du tueur. Ils procèdent à une démystification radicale du sous-genre et évitent le sensationnalisme qui lui est associé, en faisant en sorte que notre attitude envers le tueur reste neutre et indifférente, avec pour effet troublant de diminuer la distance qui nous sépare a priori de lui. Dans le film de Fancher, qui est l'adaptation à l'écran d'un livre, le personnage principal, Vann (Owen Wilson), est l'incarnation même du signe « moins » dans son néant d'indifférence et de destruction gratuite; il tue par absence de désir, en fait pour ne pas mourir. Dans le docudrame de Jacobson, Dahmer (Jeremy Renner) tue pour contrôler par le vide, en essayant d'éliminer l'humain en tant que complétude de sens et de désir. En assassinant dans cette quête futile pour donner un sens à leurs vies, ces tueurs en série rejettent, sous la forme d'une accusation, la propre quête du spectateur pour les comprendre et expliquer, par des théories populaires ou savantes, la finalité de leurs actes.

"You're a cipher. A zero."

-imaginary cop to Vann in The Minus Man

"I'm not....I don't want you."

-Jeffrey Dahmer in Dahmer

The last decade of the twentieth century and eleventh decade of cinema witnessed the emergence of serial-killer movies as a genre in their own right...or wrong.1 The serial killer himself varied from picture to picture, often depending on how much the movie's bloodshed spilled over into other genres, including the slasher film, the erotic thriller, the noir, and the police procedural.2 The frenzy began with the limited January 1990 U.S. release of Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton), delayed since completion in 1986 out of concerns over its graphic violence. The decade ended with the November 1999 release of The Bone Collector (Phillip Noyce), about the hunt for a killer who removes a single shard of bone from each of his victims, and the Christmas Day debut of The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella), from Patricia Highsmith's thriller about an American impersonating and murdering others during his travels in Italy.

As Jörg Waltje argues, the serial killer (coined as a term in the mid-1970s),3 with his compulsion and repetition, feeds perfectly into mainstream capitalist filmmaking's reliance on viewers returning to a genre and predilection for sequels; the figures of the vampire and the serial killer may reflect the addictiveness and compulsion that capitalism wishes to inspire in us as lusting consumers.4 Narratively and thematically, though, the serial-killer movie is usually about an overwhelming presence-of evil, of fiendish violence, of insanity, of roving bloodlust, of chaos-that reveals an overwhelming absence-of good, of God, of reason, of calm, of order-in a world where human individuality is grotesquely distorted by the infamous, single-minded killer or by the horribly dissected victim. What is usually assumed by serial-killer films but unacknowledged is masculinity, with repeated incidents of male violence solved by typically masculine reason and detection or righteous violence (from Holmes in literature to Dirty Harry in film). These tales mutate into a madly, monstrously violent, misogynistic, and patterned masculinity, which can be read and resolved by the usually male officers, profilers, and pattern-analysts (Dexter Morgan of Showtime's Dexter is both vigilante killer by night and blood-spatter analyst by day).5 The vast majority of serial killers in real life, and so too in reel life, are male, and in sociological and cultural studies of the serial killer, which also proliferated in the '90s, this violence-marked gender bias has been much discussed. …

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