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Cinematic Symptoms of Masculinity in Transition: Memory, History and Mythology in Contemporary Film


This paper uses psychoanalytic and cultural theories to explore contemporary shifts in hegemonic masculinities through a discussion of their representation in mainstream cinema. By interrogating the uses made in cinema of ideas around history, trauma and mythology, we suggest that masculinity has been undergoing a stage of cultural transition towards new modes of masculinity that challenge the rigidities of images in previous decades. The political potential of such images may also, however, be ultimately reined in by the insistence of the hegemonic set of discourses around representation. However, by drawing on psychoanalytic explanations of trauma, gender and cultural fantasy, we show that these cinematic representations of masculinity are often highly complex, ambiguous and transitional, and, as such, may lie somewhere in between overly defensive narcissistic modes of masculinity and those which are more fluid and open to change. In the end, we settle on the importance of seeing representations of masculinities as forming a continuum between these positions. While foregrounding that ambiguity, we explore both the potentially positive and negative implications for the kind of identifications and affective responses that are opened up for the spectator, and the readings that are created as a result.

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Correspondence to Caroline Bainbridge or Candida Yates.

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Bainbridge, C., Yates, C. Cinematic Symptoms of Masculinity in Transition: Memory, History and Mythology in Contemporary Film. Psychoanal Cult Soc 10, 299–318 (2005).

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  • cinema
  • fantasy
  • history
  • masculinities
  • trauma