UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hell becomes other people : cinematic form and cruel fantasies of affectlessness Harper, Morgan


Towards the end of Jean-Paul Sartre's 1944 play, No Exit, Joseph Garcin begrudgingly recognizes that due to his misdeeds on Earth he has been punished to eternally share a single drawing room with two strangers. "Hell is---other people," he realizes (45). Instead of this recognition surfacing further anxieties amongst the new roommates, it calms them down. The realization that we cannot escape the impact of others, but will always be contingent upon them, opens up the possibility for a less strained form of co-existence. In other words, hell is not necessarily other people. However, if we do not accept and work with our capacity to be affected by others, then hell becomes other people. Despite the inescapability of our contingencies and capacity to be affected, contemporary Hollywood genre cinema is well-stocked with characters that have either seemingly achieved or are actively pursuing the fantasy of an unaffected existence. Although this lack of feeling is usually only explicitly associated with societies’ most beleaguered citizens (e.g., drug users, serial killers, etc.), this thesis argues that these cinematic fantasies of affectlessness have become ordinary and widespread. By diverting my attention away from cinema's explicit announcements, and toward cinematic form, I will explore how specific formal features encourage fantasies of affectlessness for both characters and audience members. Within this thesis, I seek a theoretical explanation of these fantasies as well as to understand the motivations that have encouraged their widespread popularity. In order to understand how cinema facilitates these fantasies for audiences, I will also examine two formal features which filmmakers have used to evoke these fantasies of an unaffected existence: coloured noise (in Solaris (Soderbergh 2002) and Mom and Dad (Taylor 2018)) as well as the erasure of affective markers (in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Wright 2010)). Despite these fantasies’ widespread circulation, I will argue that these fantasies encourage what Lauren Berlant has termed ‘cruel optimism’; indeed, despite the optimism these fantasies of affectlessness provide in promising a tensionless existence, in actuality they cruelly obstruct individuals from reducing their lives’ tensions.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International