Nicholas Winding Refn’s Abject Male: Inhibiting Spectator-Identification in Bronson (2008) and Drive (2011)


Nicholas Winding Refn regularly appears to offer men as his audience’s main point of identification. Yet these men are predominantly transgressive characters who frequently, if not constantly, frustrate spectator-identification and consequently linger on the periphery of cinematic paradigms. In three stages, this article analyses how Refn’s violent male characters affect spectatorship. First, it considers the unstable subject mechanisms for spectator-identification afforded by classical Hollywood cinema. Second, it examines Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytical theorization of the abject and outlines the relevance of her concepts to Refn’s narratives. Third, it conducts a close textual analysis of Bronson (2008) and Drive (2011), arguing that the disregard for symbolic order demonstrated by Refn’s male protagonists and their concomitant embrace of the death drive inhibit spectator-identification. This analysis ultimately aims to demonstrate the import of Kristeva’s theories to a more comprehensive understanding of the abject’s complex relationship to Refn’s œuvre and to spectator-identification in cinema.

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