The body of the terrorist in contemporary cinema

Paraic Finnerty, R. Duggan

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This article will explore the presentation of the body of the terrorist in a range of British and American films with a particular emphasis on how these films combine political and romantic plotlines. As part of a broad consideration of how the terrorist is presented, this essay will concentrate in particular on Cal (1984), The Crying Game (1992), The Dancer Upstairs (2002) and The Quiet American (2002). Rather than fully engage with the more complex discourse of politics, often these films ask audiences to conceptualize the transgressive figure of the terrorist through the very familiar vocabulary of love and sexual desire. Some accounts of this process have tended to underestimate the significance of the body in relation to political contexts and this essay will seek to redress this imbalance. In all of the above films, the terrorist has a complex and uncanny identity; he or she is a dangerous, shape-shifting and seductive figure that first infiltrates and then attempts to undermine the culture he or she politically opposes. Building on recent work by film critics and queer theorists, this article analyses how each film engages in a reciprocal movement whereby the threatening body of the terrorist itself becomes subject to unforeseen threat or challenge in erotic and romantic scenarios. The threatening and threatened body of the terrorist is also a queer body for which personal, gender and sexual identity are fluid and performative. While appropriating the versions of the traditional romantic plot as a means of humanizing the terrorist, these films create a vision in which normative heterosexuality is a sphere of confusion, failure and destruction. We conclude with a discussion of how The Siege (1998) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) follow different but related trajectories to the dominant model explored in this essay.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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