Skip to main content

The poetics of obsession: understanding Kathryn Bigelow’s characters.

Van Raalte, C., 2021. The poetics of obsession: understanding Kathryn Bigelow’s characters. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 19 (3), 256-276.

Full text available as:

The Poetics of Obsession - CvR - as submitted.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.


DOI: 10.1080/17400309.2021.1957629


The work of Kathryn Bigelow is more often thannot discussed in terms of her technical and stylistic achievements. Critics have focused on her knowing experimentation with genre and aesthetics, and the way in which story-telling devices such as point of view and surveillance become the subject matter of her films. Laura Rascaroli has described her early work as ‘a discourse on vision’, while Caetlin Benson-Allott has identified the way in which the later work is dominated by a relentless, ‘slow burning’ intensityii. Relatively little has been written about her characterisation, arguably because her protagonists tend to be less than sympathetic – enigmatic to the point of illegibility and driven in ways which can be hard to fathom. Arguably, however, it is precisely their detachment and single-mindedness that makes them so watchable. What Bigelow’s protagonists – and indeed her villains – have in common is an obsessive quality that also haunts her filmmaking. In this paper I will draw connections between some common themes at the heart of her films and the aesthetic and structural strategies she employs. In particular I will explore how her use of point of view and closeup highlights her characters’ obsessive qualities; how her use of surveillance and mediated vision creates a recurring atmosphere of paranoia; how an uncanny stillness at the centre of her jumpy, frenetic camera work emphasises the single-minded focus of her protagonists; and how framing and narrative structure work with performances to create the fascinating, if at times infuriating, inscrutability that characterises so many of them. I will also look at how her rare engagement with out-and-out villains creates variations on these themes. I will thus seek to define the grammar of obsession that pervades Bigelow’s filmmaking, connecting visual language, thematic content and characterisation.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Issue 3: Kathryn Bigelow: A Visionary Director
Uncontrolled Keywords:Kathryn Bigelow; character; sympathy; identification; obsession; paranoia; the drive
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:35289
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:18 Mar 2021 15:02
Last Modified:02 Mar 2023 01:08


Downloads per month over past year

More statistics for this item...
Repository Staff Only -