On the Unwatchable

Asbjørn Grønstad

in The New Extremism in Cinema

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780748641604
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651221 | DOI:
On the Unwatchable

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This chapter explores the notion of the ‘unwatchable’ in relation to a roughly decade-long cycle of art films that compel us to rethink the notions of spectatorship, desire, and ethics. The films of the new extremism are films that compel us to look away — that constitute a ‘fork in the eye’ — an intensive visual assault on the film audience. In elaborating the concept of the unwatchable, this chapter focuses on two films notable for their prolonged and ‘excessive’ scenes of sexualised violence, and for their deliberate attempt to inflict pain on the spectator: Gaspar Noé's Irréversible and Lars von Trier's Antichrist. It concludes by suggesting that we need to consider how the films themselves generate theories of spectatorship, and to acknowledge that sometimes a film opens up spaces of reflection that are more vital than the film itself. Ultimately, the chapter contends that the films of the new extremism do nothing less than require us to reconsider existing ways we have in film studies for thinking about the ethics and the phenomenology of watching images.

Keywords: Gaspar Noé; Irréversible; Lars von Trier; Antichrist; unwatchable; spectatorship; desire; ethics; new extremism; sexualised violence

Chapter.  6858 words. 

Subjects: Film

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