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AbstractIn a 2013 public letter to Bigelow, which concerned Zero Dark Thirty, Naomi Wolf wrote: ‘Like Riefenstahl, you are a great artist. But now you will be remembered forever as torture’s handmaiden’. This essay will expand on this condemnatory Riefenstahl/Bigelow association - but not through a straight likening of Riefenstahl’s exaltation of the Nazi Party in Triumph of the Will to Bigelow’s apologetics for torture in the ‘War on Terror’. Rather, the concern will be that of aesthetics in relation to landscapes and ecology, that is, the parallel is to Riefenstahl of her earlier ‘Mountain Films’ period. Bigelow, at times, reaches for a feminised, New Age mysticism through which her characters are momentarily lifted out of their mundane earthly concerns to commune with the wider universe. And it is this wider universe which seems the ultimate arbitrator of their actions, rather than any (Geneva-based) concerns around human rights. Thus different paths to psychic fulfilment seem to determine Point Break, or the idea of the restless spirit against the failings of the Repressive State Apparatus in Zero Dark Thirty, or soul against the system in Detroit. And thus, and most tellingly, in Last Days of Ivory, Bigelow advocates for military action against African tribal people in the name of conservation, on the grounds (soon revealed to be highly questionable) that the illegal ivory trade funds the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. The crudity of Bigelow’s propaganda in Last Days of Ivory, which chimed with Hillary Clinton's position on the same (a greenwashed liberal interventionism) is lent the approval of elephants, and of the wider ecology, in Bigelow's film. In the same way that Riefenstahl once repurposed German Romanticism for a sequence of Hitler descending from the clouds as the saviour of Germany from its enemies, Bigelow reworks such Romanticism in the name of the ‘white woman’s burden’: the Western imperial feminist speaks out on the part of the oppressed, and summons the ecosphere as her witness.
CitationHalligan, B. (2021) Sway of the sea: Kathryn Bigelow's imperial eco-eschatology. The New Review of Film and Television Studies, 19 (3), pp. 295-310.
PublisherTaylor & Francis
JournalNew Review of Film and Television Studies
DescriptionThis is an accepted manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in the New Review of Film and Television Studies on 2 September 2021. The accepted version of the publication may differ from the final published version.
Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/