‘Identity is Everything’….

The Power of The Onscreen Hero: ‘Film is all about identity’.’

 Identity comes in degrees; no one thing defines a person’s identity. There are given factors such as gender, culture, race, sexuality, and creed set parameters on a person’s identity. Yet identity is far more intricate, it has layers as well as degrees. We can identify with a feeling (pain, fear, anger, joy) or a memory (achievement, failure) or a thought (aspirational. defeatist). For example we may never have been in outer space but can connect with the isolation felt by Sandra Bullock in Gravity (2013), her fears and the human instinct for survival. In this lecture Lord Puttnam speaks of how James Dean’s character in Giant (1956) (and in particular his relationship with his father) resonated with him as a young man growing up in a very different world to the films protagonist. Within the cinematic experience we are transported to different countries, era’s and even galaxies, but it is not until the moment we identity with a film’s theme, or character’s do we truly feel part of the experience. We are left with the strange dichotomy that in delving into the world of the film, we are somehow brought closer to our own experience and to understanding ourselves.
In terms of national identity there is an even more instant connection with the onscreen characters. A sense that although the characters are clearly fictional, that they somehow seem more real to us. As described by Susan Hayward in the context of national identity, “a mirroring process occurs…positioning the spectator as a subject-effect who takes as real the images emanating from the sreen”.[1] Although we may identify with characters of Hollywood or European cinema there is something particular about film where the protagonists are from your own country. To describe yourself as an Irish person as “Black and proud” would perhaps seem ridiculous in any other setting. But when the bandmates in the Commitments chant the words together we believe in it and relate to it entirely. We identify with their sense of oppression as Irish people and therefore believe that our onscreen heroes could emanate people of a completely different nationality: the great American soul singers.

I m Black and I m proud!

[1] Pg 26 Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts 2nd Edition, Routledge 2000.


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