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On the Frontier of Politics: Ideology and the western in Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man

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The article analyses two recent films that re-use motives and themes from the Western genre in order to criticize its ideological heroisation of violence and ties to the history of US imperialism. Jerzy Skolimowski’s Essential Killing (2010) does so through discreet, critical references to classic Westerns in a movie about an ‘illegal combatant’ in the War on Terror, while Jim Jarmusch’s revisionist Western Dead Man (1995) seeks to break with traditional depictions of Native Americans. The article argues that Skolimowski’s film discovers a material world of primitive instincts and violence beneath the layers of political and cinematographic ideology. Essential Killing thereby illustrates a pessimistic tendency in current European cinema, which is countered by the comical lesson on political emancipation given by the Indian protagonist of Jarmusch’s film. The two films thus embody two opposing possibilities in today’s critical cinema: to reveal the destruction of the political subject or to find ways of re-constructing it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in Eastern European Cinema
Pages (from-to)181-197
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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