Screening Male Images: Masculinity, Myth, and Meaning

Yana Hashamova, Ohio State University

Today the study of masculinity is a multifaceted field bridging disciplines and discourses such as social studies and film studies, queer theory and ideas of performativity as well as Lacanian inspired paradigms of screen masculinities. Exploring the relationship between film representation of male images and the workings of patriarchal ideology (developed theoretically by Richard Dyer and Steve Neale), I trace screen representations of masculinity in post-Soviet cinema focusing on action thrillers that produce male stars as well as films probing father-sons relationships. I employ Lacanian enthused reading of the function of the Father as a metaphor and an organizational principle that structures fantasies and desires.

The post-Soviet Russian screen exhibits synthetic characters—an unusual blend of killers with ideals, aggressive yet castrated young men, and strong, yet tender and feminine, women. This blend simultaneously reflects and permits changes that challenge the traditional gender dynamics and the rule of the Symbolic Father. In this paper I concentrate on the masculine side of gender and explore the conditions under which the male figure is mythologized, uncover the perception of the male body as the signifier of the phallus, tackle the relationships between the film images of men and the discourses of sexism and racism, and finally pinpoint the ambiguities that mark male representations in Russian film.

I argue that the populist discourse structuring the Brother films, the Antikiller films, and the Brigade TV miniseries proffers a construction of masculinity perceived beyond physical strength and privileging moral qualities as a key site for the resurrection of national pride and identity. The second group of films, Father and Son, The Return, and Koktebel problematize the symbolic paternal function and yet (nostalgically) unveil desire for a miraculous return of the Father, and promote homosocial unions. Dominant discourses of Russian cinema are structured around aggressive masculine justice, homosocial affiliations, and marginalization of women reflecting popular aesthetics and cultural priorities of Russian viewers at the turn of the century.

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