Surveillance and perception in world cinema : three case studies
MacMurdo-Reading, Margaret Ann
This thesis examines the increasing centrality of surveillance devices, themes and concepts from varying social, theoretical and philosophical points of view by analysing and comparing three films. These films examine the already realised possibility of a surveillance society, whose control and reach is exercised through the manipulation of visual culture. By mobilising concepts expounded by Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault and David Rodowick, I unfold a critique of contemporary visual culture, its dominant modes of representation and the construction of self that they serve. In Chapter One, I discuss the French film, Caché / Hidden, (2005), directed by Austrian Michael Haneke, a film which makes definitive statements about surveillance and the psychology of a surveillant society. Surveillance is established as a point of view in this film, taking on the quality of subjectivity. This point of view, in turn, helps reveal the hidden dimension of a conscience within the main character, and also that which, by implication, may be hidden beneath our increasingly digitised visual culture. I uncover a latent pattern of disconnections, guilt and culpability concealed below the surface of similitude that surveillance and its attendant forms and strategies construct and maintain. Chapter Two treats the American film, Minority Report (2002), directed by Steven Spielberg, whose central conceit concerns the possibility of surveilling the future — in other words, watching events in a future time, and first by monitoring, then by taking action, preventing their occurrence before they actually happen. Surveillance as a topic arises from the prophetic dreams of somnambulist savants who are able to predict future crimes by dreaming the future. Chapter Three looks at the German film, Das Leben der Anderen / The Lives of Others (2006), directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, a film which contributes many elements to the discussion of the genre of the “surveillance film.” Surveillance in this case is perpetrated by the Stasi, the government’s secret police force, in 1984, during the Cold War in East Berlin. In contrast to Caché, the figure in the film that undergoes the significant transformation is the perpetrator, Stasi operative Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, who, rather than exposing the lives of others through surveillance, protects and conceals them. I identify these films as belonging to the surveillance film genre not only because of their classic use of surveillance, but also because they offer a unique model for the examination of certain social conflicts. The genre of the surveillance film postulated in this thesis constitutes an initial attempt to promote discussion about why we have accepted and normalised surveillance technologies in our every day lives.
Advisor: Mehigan, Tim; Ryan, Simon
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Languages and Cultures
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis