The ethics of failure: mourning and responsibility in Atom Egoyan's \ud thrillers

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Lawrence, Michael

This thesis considers the work of Atom Egoyan in order to address the relationship between film form and philosophical critique. I look at two of Egoyan's films which appropriate narrative and thematic conventions associated with the mainstream thriller. I argue that in these films Egoyan mobilizes these conventions only to suspend them, specifically through the narrative privileging of ambiguous \ud experiences of mournful and traumatic responsibility. I read these films as strategically failing genre. My analysis of Egoyan's thrillers is informed by Derrida's critique of Freud's theory of the work of mourning, and Levinas's accounts of the ethics of responsibility. While Egoyan's cinema repeatedly examines the experience \ud of mourning and the difficulty of responsibility, I argue that his experiments with mainstream genres in these two films can be understood in relation to ideas of fidelity and failure that feature in the thought of both Derrida and Levinas. The first two chapters introduce the theoretical contexts for the analyses of Egoyan's films that \ud follow. Chapter One, 'The Work of Mourning and the Trauma of Responsibility,' addresses the theories of mourning and responsibility which inform my reading of Egoyan's cinema. This chapter seeks to emphasize analogies between Derrida's \ud discussions of a mourning that paradoxically succeeds by failing and Levinas' s description of a responsibility that can never be fulfilled, that inevitably fails. Mourning and responsibility, in these accounts, cannot be understood in relation to conventional notions of success or resolution. In Chapter Two, 'Suspense Thrillers, \ud Generic Identity and Strategic Infidelity,' I look at debates concerning genre and auteur cinema and theories of the suspense thriller in order to provide a context for Egoyan's experimental approach to the genre. Chapter Three looks at Felicia's Journey (1999), and Chapter Four looks at Where the Truth Lies (2005). These chapters examine the relationship between the films' strategic failing of generic conventions and their narrative privileging of traumatic mourning and responsibility.
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