Towards a Theory of Law-and-Film: A Case Study of Hollywood's Hero-Lawyer and the Construction of Honor and Dignity
73 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2004
Date Written: February 2004
This paper tackles some of the fundamental questions posed by the emerging, interdisciplinary, academic discipline of law-and-film, presenting one theoretical conceptualization of the new field through both theoretical analysis and close, comparative reading of two law-films.
The paper portrays "law-and-film" and discusses it as a discipline comprising three fundamental premises: that some films' modes of social operation parallel those of the law; that some films perform viewer-engaging judgment; and that some films contain popular jurisprudence.
The two films analyzed are celebrated and significantly influential Hollywood law-films, the 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder and the 1991 western Unforgiven. Although seemingly wholly unrelated, a law-and-film reading of Anatomy of a Murder and Unforgiven reveals their analogous - if very distinct - treatment of social, normative, and jurisprudential matters. Their comparative reading further implies possible, implicit cultural-legal dialogue that may testify to socio-cultural undercurrents regarding the conceptualization of law and justice, the legal actor, honor and dignity and socio-legal gender roles.
This paper suggests that in the middle of the 20th century, Anatomy of a Murder appropriated some of the western genre's significant features in the making of Hollywood's hero-lawyer, the highly professional - yet intuitively honorable and pure - champion of both law and justice. Towards the end of the century, Unforgiven substitutes the western-like hero-lawyer with transformed version of the non-legalistic moral hero, commenting on the image of integrated law-and-justice, the honor code, the rule of law and transcendence of genres. Each of the films conveys a very different treatment of women's sexuality, victimization and standing in reference to the law and its representatives.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation