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Cinematic Nihilism

Encounters, Confrontations, Overcomings

John Marmysz

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Explores the ways in which nihilism is encountered, confronted, and overcome in contemporary film

Exposing and illustrating how an ongoing engagement with nihilistic alienation may contribute to, rather than detract from, the value of life, Cinematic Nihilism both challenges and builds upon past scholarship that has scrutinised nihilism in the media, but which has generally over-emphasised its negative and destructive aspects. Through case studies of popular films, including Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, Dawn of the Dead and The Human Centipede, and with chapters on Scotland’s cinematic portrayal as both a site of ‘nihilistic sacrifice’ and as ‘nowhere in particular’, this book presents a necessary corrective, re-emphasising the constructive potential of cinematic nihilism and casting it as a phenomenon that need not be overcome.

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Introduction: Plato's Nightmare

Part I: Encounters


Chapter 1: Scotland as a Site of Nihilistic Sacrifice

Chapter 2: The Myth of Scotland as Nowhere in Particular

Chapter 3: Monstrous Masses: The Human Body as Raw Material

Part II: Confrontations


Chapter 4: From Night to Survival: Nihilism and the Living Dead

Chapter 5: The Lure of the Mob: Cinematic Depictions of Skinhead Authenticity

Chapter 6: Cultural Change and Nihilism in the Rollerball Films

Part III: Overcomings


Chapter 7: The Abject Self: Apocalyptic Consequences of Self-Discovery in Fight Club

Chapter 8: Rooting for the Fascists in Avatar

Chapter 9: Yukio Mishima and the Return to the Body



About the Author

John Marmysz teaches philosophy at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California.


Going back to Plato, Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Marmysz traces a philosophical genealogy of nihilism, and discusses the way film is always essentially nihilistic, and frequently thematically nihilistic.  The range of case studies is interesting, as Marmysz considers works that have received a great deal of attention alongside works and trends that have gotten short shrift.  So there are chapters on Yukio Mishima , Skinhead Films, and Scottish Cinema, as well as interesting re-reads of Romero’s zombie trilogy, Videodrome, Fight Club, Human Centipede and so on.  Thought provoking and rich, Cinematic Nihilism reintroduces philosophy into film criticism in a language that is at once accessible and comprehensive.

- Professor Joan Hawkins, Indiana University

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