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Death on film

Death is a subject that is frequently dealt with on film, arousing strong feelings in many viewers. Despite this, film researchers have rarely paid it much attention. Film researcher Andreas Jacobsson at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden uses a comparative perspective in his thesis to analyse the motif of death in different film cultures. Death is understood and presented in different ways in different cultures.

The author of the thesis deals with five different clusters of motifs and analyses everything from death figures and afterlife scenarios, cinematic death shows and metaphysical romances, suicide and euthanasia, to cinematic narratives that are based on the conception of both life and death as parts of a constantly recurring cycle. The fight against terminal illnesses as a result of cancer and aids is also analysed with the focus on both affluent western societies and considerably more vulnerable areas such as Africa South of the Sahara.

Radical differences emerge when comparing film cultures where death is perceived as an end point on a linear time scale and film cultures that are coloured by Buddhism, where death is understood as a protracted process in a continuous circle. The exaggerated emotional storms that usually permeate western cinematic narrative at the moment of a character's death are considerably less emotionally charged in cinematic cultures where it is assumed that the character will "return" through reincarnation.

A comparative world film perspective can simultaneously increase knowledge of both basic general patterns and local forms of expression. The study extends from the silent film era to the present day and contains a rich selection of empirical film material.


Contact: Andreas Jacobsson
University of Gothenburg

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