Spring 2009

Film, Myth, and the Law

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-25

Faculty

Austin D. Sarat (Section 01)
Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)

Description

The proliferation of law in film and on television has expanded the sphere of legal life itself. Law lives in images which today saturate our culture and have a power all their own, and the moving image provides a domain in which legal power operates independently of law’s formal institutions. This course will consider what happens when legal events are re-narrated in film, and examine film’s treatment of legal officials, events, and institutions (e.g., police, lawyers, judges, trials, executions, prisons). Does film open up new possibilities of judgment, model new modes of interpretation, and provide new insights into law’s violence? We will discuss ways in which myths about law are reproduced and contested in film. Moreover, attending to the visual dimensions of law’s imagined lives, we ask whether law provides a template for film spectatorship, positioning viewers as detectives and as jurors, and whether film, in turn, sponsors a distinctive visual aesthetics of law. Among the films we may consider are Inherit the Wind, Call Northside 777, Judgment at Nuremberg, Rear Window, Silence of the Lambs, A Question of Silence, The Sweet Hereafter, Dead Man Walking, Basic Instinct, and Unforgiven. Throughout we will draw upon film theory and criticism as well as the scholarly literature on law, myth, and film. Requisite: LJST 01 or 10 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Sarat. Professor Umphrey.