Volume 15, Issue 9 / September 2011

Comparative Film Analysis

In this issue

The idea of comparative film analysis is an approach that attempts to understand one film by relating it to another object, often another film(s) (as is the case, to varying degrees, with three of the essays here), or a concept from outside the world of film (as is the case with the fourth essay on comparative analysis in this issue). This month Offscreen groups together (four of the five) essays that attempt to illuminate specific films by drawing out formal and thematic comparisons to other films or other disciplines. In the opening essay Kyle Barrowman analyzes the richly textured (on both the visual and thematic sense) Michael Mann urban crime/noir film Collateral. Barrowman defines the film as either an “urban drama” or “crime drama” or “neo-noir” and hence makes a general genre comparison of Collateral to other similar films, and a more direct comparison to Taxi Driver and The Terminator. Barrowman argues that Collateral offers an ethical dilemma by making the murderous/villainous hired killer character of Vincent (Tom Cruise) sympathetic, largely because he lives by a rigid code of nihilistic ethics which is part of the post-9/11 zeitgeist. This forms the comparison to Taxi Driver and The Terminator, who also present similar ‘sympathetic’ killers. Barrowman relates this to what Robin Wood has identified as the “incoherent text.” The second essay, by Donato Totaro, burrows deep and unearths some striking similarities between Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (2009) and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), two films dealing with dual female fantasies. The third essay analyzes Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut as a ‘dream movie’ (hence the use of Freud) but also compares it to other Kubrick films, mainly The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. Eyes Wide Shut is also tied to Chloe through the thematic of infidelity, and the differences morally and psychologically between thought and action (having the thought of being unfaithful versus enacting on the thought). The fourth essay, on Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line takes as its comparative material Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophical ideas on the ‘Will.’ Malick’s reverential attitude toward nature also stems partly from Schopenhauer’s philosophy, which believes that any act of destruction against nature is cruel, careless, and unthinking because nature is a part of the universe, and by extension, a part of ourselves. The final essay is a stand-alone entry by Daniel Garrett on the political drama Five Minutes of Heaven (which does share Chloe‘s male lead, Liam Neeson). (Donato Totaro, ed.)

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