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Washed in Blood: Male Sacrifice, Trauma, and the Cinema

Claire Sisco King
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjf0s
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    Washed in Blood
    Book Description:

    Will Smith inI Am Legend. Leonardo DiCaprio inTitanic. Charlton Heston in just about everything.

    Viewers of Hollywood action films are no doubt familiar with the sacrificial victim-hero, the male protagonist who nobly gives up his life so that others may be saved.Washed in Bloodargues that such sacrificial films are especially prominent in eras when the nation-and American manhood-is thought to be in crisis. The sacrificial victim-hero, continually imperiled and frequently exhibiting classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, thus bears the trauma of the nation.

    Claire Sisco King offers an in-depth study of three prominent cycles of Hollywood films that follow the sacrificial narrative: the early-to-mid 1970s, the mid-to-late 1990s, and the mid-to-late 2000s. From Vietnam-era disaster movies to post-9/11 apocalyptic thrillers, she examines how each film represents traumatized American masculinity and national identity. What she uncovers is a cinematic tendency to position straight white men as America's most valuable citizens-and its noblest victims.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5206-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)

    Mel Gibson’sThe Passion of the Christ(2004) succeeds at being a hard film to watch. Like the devotional art of the Middle Ages, it focuses intently on the psychological and physical torment Jesus endured during the hours before his death, graphically depicting scenes of torture and fixating on Jesus’s bloody lacerations. Its gore has led some critics to callThe Passiona traumatic film: a film not onlyabouttraumatic suffering but also one that is traumatizing to viewers.¹ For instance, Owen Gleiberman’s review forEntertainment WeeklylocatesThe Passionwithin “the cinema of cruelty.” Citing the “voyeuristic brutality”...

  5. CHAPTER 1 REEL PRESENCE, SACRIFICE, AND THE CINEMA
    (pp. 19-42)

    A naked man hangs from a post: blood drips down his chest; gaping wounds expose his skeletal structure; his arms have just been severed above the elbows. Two men crouch at his knees with a sharp blade embedded in his leg, which has begun to separate from his body. This gruesome image comes from a photograph taken in China around the turn of the twentieth century and depicts a frozen moment during a torture known as Leng Tch’e, or slow slicing—a form of public execution in which a victim’s body is gradually dismembered. Bataille centered his philosophical writings about...

  6. CHAPTER 2 UNHINGED HEROES AND ALPHA TRAUMAS
    (pp. 43-78)

    Biological warfare, a capsizing cruise liner, demonic possession, the Antichrist, serial killers, and an evil empire may seem to be disparate and unrelated (if not unbelievable) social harms, but according to 1970s Hollywood, these problems shared a common solution: redemptive male death. During the final years of the Vietnam War, a cycle of sacrificial films emerged as part of the industry’s turn toward violent cinema laden with special effects, inaugurating what would become a recurrent cinematic strategy for constructing and making use of trauma discourse.¹ The sacrificial films of the Vietnam and post-Vietnam era includeOmega Man(Boris Sagal, 1971),...

  7. CHAPTER 3 FREE FALLS IN THE 1990S
    (pp. 79-119)

    In January 1994, a jury acquitted Lorena Bobbitt for the crime of severing more than half of her husband’s penis from his body. Her defense of temporary insanity persuaded the jury that chronic abuse by her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, led her to snap on the night of the attack. Mrs. Bobbitt reportedly suffered from symptoms akin to those of PTSD, including being inundated with flashbacks, or what she called “pictures.”¹ One of the most notorious scandals of the decade and tabloid fodder for months, the Bobbitt case exemplifies the American “fascination with torn and open bodies and torn and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 REMAKES, RESURRECTIONS, AND SACRIFICIAL RETURNS
    (pp. 120-160)

    On the first anniversary of 9/11, the city of New York hosted a series of commemorative events that included speeches by prominent U.S. figures. With the exception of President George W. Bush, who debuted a new speech, mayor Michael Bloomberg asked speakers to deliver canonical texts from U.S. history. New York governor George Pataki recited Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey delivered the preamble and introduction to the Declaration of Independence, and Bloomberg read excerpts from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech.

    While Bloomberg framed his decision to mark the occasion in this way as his attempt...

  9. EPILOGUE: BIG-SCREEN MEMORIES
    (pp. 161-166)

    A frozen image of a colossal tower in the midst of collapse suddenly begins to reverse itself. As if by magic, the tower gathers in its scattered pieces and pulls itself together. Smoke and debris, once filling the sky, disappear into the building, which, for a moment, stands in one piece. Then, the building’s collapse begins again. This disorienting process of rise and fall—of imagined reconstruction and disintegration—continues in a loop for over three minutes in the YouTube video “9/11 Tower Collapse.” Commenting on similar images played and rewound on ABC news coverage on September 11, 2001, Caryn...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 167-206)
  11. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 207-210)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 211-220)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)