Spring 2015

Film, Myth, and the Law

Listed in: Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-371  |  Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-225

Formerly listed as: FAMS-51  |  LJST-25  |  LJST-52


Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


(Offered as LJST 225 and FAMS 371.)  The proliferation of law in film and on television has expanded the sphere of legal life itself. Law lives in images that 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.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Umphrey.

If Overenrolled: We aim to admit a mix of students with background in LJST and/or film studies in order to foster a rich interdisciplinary conversation.

Cost: $15.00 ?

LJST 225 - L/D

Section 01
Tu 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM CONV 108
Th 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM CONV 108

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Law in the Domains of Culture Austin Sarat and Thomas Kearns Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2021