Access denied: memory and resistance in the contemporary ghost film

Brewster, Scott (2008) Access denied: memory and resistance in the contemporary ghost film. In: Uncanny Modernity: Cultural Theories, Modern Anxieties. Palgrave, London. ISBN 9780230517714

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Access denied: memory and resistance in the contemporary ghost film

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This essay examines the hauntings and uncanny aftermaths in Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others (2001) and Robert Zemeckis’s What Lies Beneath (2000), in order to explore how notions of repression and repetition have been shaped by debates over recovered memory over the last two decades. The returning dead, and the secrets they bear, are at once invited and denied in each cinematic narrative. The films draw on a classic Gothic repertoire – isolated houses, enclosed or suffocating spaces, obscure depths, spectral visitations, various forms of crypt, the disturbance of the domestic sphere – and the countervailing demands to resist and access a past is figured in terms of rooms that are revisited, re-locked and re-opened, actions obsessively performed, flickerings of the eye, mists that clear and envelop. The meditation on loss, frozen time and historical remainders in these films recalls Freud’s anecdote about involuntary repetition in ‘The Uncanny’, in which he recalls his ‘voyages of discovery’ in a provincial Italian town, when he kept returning as if by design to a red-light district which (we presume) he was desperate to escape. The feelings of helplessness and uncanniness these perambulations inspire locate the uncanny as a spatial and temporal resting point which never allows us to advance, and yet which never allows us to stand comfortably still. In Freud’s anecdote, there is nothing to escape, no ‘guilt’ to confess, no secret to uncover, yet the place, and the very act of resistance to that place, irresistibly draw his steps. This model of restlessness, of unfinished business, provides a counterpoint to the positivism that drives contemporary therapy culture, and the imperatives to reveal, recover and bring closure to traumatic memories. Despite operating as mainstream star vehicles, The Others and What Lies Beneath refuse to offer such closure.

Keywords:Ghost film, The Others, What Lies Beneath, Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, Trauma, Alejandro Amenábar, Robert Zemeckis
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q323 English Literature by topic
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:14997
Deposited On:19 Sep 2014 09:25

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