The Desertion Plot: A Moral of the Story and a Moral of the Dispositif

Giorgio Avezzu'

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroChapter


A study of cinematic narrative models can usefully serve the purpose of sketching a history of cinema without names. While, on the one hand, tracing the success and the evolution of specific structural patterns in film history drops the focus on authorial figures, on the other hand the notion of narrative model is also transgeneric, allowing the analyst to work across traditional generic boundaries. Taking into consideration the broad appeal of particular narrative models in the history of cinema does not simply mean to linger over similar structural and textual features, but it requires to interrogate the deep cultural significance of those models – indeed, a plot design always corresponds to a certain way of organizing the meaning and justifying a vision of the world (Brooks 1984). For example, the importance of the “captivity plot” in American cinema has already been discussed, and its pervasiveness in some decades of post-classical Hollywood films of different genres, from The Searchers to Taxi Driver, has properly been connected with the cultural anxiety of the time (Mortimer 2000). Moreover, as we will try to illustrate, cinematic narrative models can tell us about both the cultural identity of the society that produced those narratives and, more self-reflexively, about the cultural role of the medium throughout its history. A recurrent narrative pattern of contemporary cinema culture is the “desertion plot”, which can be found in seemingly very different mainstream Hollywood films, from The Bourne Identity to Body of Lies, from Gladiator to Valkyrie, from The Last Samurai to Minority Report, from Robin Hood to Avatar. An “agent” takes position against the (corrupt, violent, ineffective) behavior of its own “agency”, deciding not to serve anymore and often proposing a different way of acting in the world. The “agency” the inefficacy and violence of which contemporary cinema insistently uncovers may vary considerably from film to film, but it can be always considered as an allegory of the visual ambitions of the cinematic medium. Being in a sense connected with the fundamental myth of “melodrama” as described by McConnell (1979), the desertion plot links a moral of the story to a moral of representation: the ethical gesture of desertion performed by many characters of contemporary films is indeed a way to comment on the efficacy of the scopic regimes of cinema in the new millennium, and to inscribe in the filmic texts an anxiety about the obsolescence of a certain way of looking at the world and giving it a disciplined shape. In the face of the emergence of alternative discourses and ideologies about the empowered gaze promised by new dispositifs, the desertion plot is a powerful cultural style of contemporary cinema metadiscursively interrogating its very role in the present mediascape.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteA History of Cinema Without Names: A Research Project
EditorD. Cavallotti, F. Giordano, L. Quaresima
Numero di pagine8
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016


  • Contemporary cinema
  • Desertion


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