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Title: The American imaginary in the contemporary American multi-protagonist film
Author: Teinemaa, Teet
ISNI:       0000 0004 7425 5954
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2017
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In this thesis I explore the contemporary American multi-protagonist film’s use of contingency and representation of the American Imaginary. The multi-protagonist film is a film form of increasing significance that moves away from the classical narrative cinema’s reliance on a psychologically motivated goal-oriented character and causally coherent narrative, and favours instead a formation of several lead characters and contingency as a way to create coherence in the narrative world. I exemplify why contingency should be understood in these films to mean the opposite of necessity and not simply standing for accidentality. Although accidentality has an important role in the multi-protagonist film, as the thesis highlights and the current scholarship rightly recognises, I explore the way in which accidents can bring forth a larger sense that the given order could have been otherwise. The American Imaginary is understood as a cinematic depiction of a complex intellectual and material framework informing the characters’ worldview. My focus is not on arguing how the American Imaginary presents itself in the society of the United States, instead I explore the way in which the chosen films represent and interrogate a set of ideas and values that they depict as specific to the U.S. With that being said, the films can also be argued to be empirical examples of social constructions of the U.S. I engage with the subject via close textual analysis of three multi-protagonist films – Thirteen Conversations about One Thing (Sprecher, 2001), Killing Them Softly (Dominik, 2012), and The Big Short (McKay, 2015). The films are chosen above all based on their deep interest in both contingency and the American Imaginary. While Thirteen Conversations and The Big Short are representative of the form and could be argued to be close to the generic core of the multi-protagonist film because they treat all their lead characters equally, Killing Them Softly is a less obvious example because it seems to favour one character over the others. Yet, the film is chosen because I see it as representing a tension common to all multi-protagonist films – a struggle of striking a balance between treating all characters equally and to some extent following the norms of the classical narrative cinema, which, among other devices, applies psychological complexity for creating coherence in the story-world. I make use of the thinking of Jacques Rancière and Slavoj Žižek to highlight the chosen multi-protagonist films’ similarity to contemporary continental philosophy. The philosophers are chosen based on what I illustrate to be a “family resemblance” between some of the authors’ main ideas and the chosen films. I will explore how Rancière’s understanding of equality, its connection to contingency, and his thinking on the aesthetic regimes of art offer a way to rethink the central tension of the multi-protagonist film – that between the form’s interest in contingency and its own rigid structure. Žižek’s psychoanalytical thinking of the Real, the unsymbolisable, and its relation to ideology as the latter’s main structuring principle, can be seen to create a close parallel with the chosen multi-protagonist films’ profound interest in the contingent nature of all social structures. As such, the thesis departs from much of the current writing on the multi-protagonist film by demonstrating that the form’s interest in contingency is not restricted to an easy way of connecting the various lead characters nor is it simply a method through which the film form is aiming to reflect the increasing complexity of modern society. Rather, I show the example multi-protagonist films to be exploring contemporary American society with a particular emphasis on capitalism and neoliberalisation, understood by the films as a social process where business and financial logic comes to inform the most various aspects of life. Instead of recognising the contemporary American multi-protagonist film as only adapting to the rapidly transforming society, the film form is shown to actively contribute to a changing understanding of America and its role on the global stage.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: University of Warwick
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PN1993 Motion Pictures