Monday, 31 October 2011

Notions of Body Ownership in Cinema

The likes of John Locke and Emmanuel Kant propagated one’s authority over one’s body, the right which is earned by being its first owner and having used it per se. They substantially upheld the owner’s channelization of the body which, they believed, justified one’s monopoly over it. These notions of body ownership, though part of common parlance, have been challenged and deconstructed time and again in Cinema. Multiple films across cultural and temporal barriers have consistently raised an existential question – is my authority over my body really beyond negotiation? Who, for example, owns a prostitute’s body or an infant’s and what would be the yardsticks to determine that ownership?

While on one hand, Chandni Bar (2001) and similar films reflected upon capitalistic arrangements concerning the body through the fabric of a prostitute-client nexus, on the other hand, movies like Being John Malkovich (1999) and Identity (2003) explored one’s body through the manipulation of someone else’s mind. In the former, characters travelled through actor John Malkovich’s (playing himself in the film) mind; in the latter, a single character designed the rest of the characters in the film in his head and manipulated them as per his whims and fancies in parallel with the “unreliable narrator”. More familiar examples in the same vein in the contemporary mainstream context would be The Butterfly Effect or even the Final Destination series where the bodies of the characters submit to an omnipotent unseen force called Death.

What Descartes believed to be the mind-body dualism is then opposed by Freud’s reinforcement of the hidden inner forces of the mind that influence the body. While Descartes preferred to ignore the sub-conscious and consider that the mind and the body are two independent entities which are not related to one another, Freud was inclined towards reinforcing the sub-conscious and stressing on its influence in not just the mind but also in physical attributes of a person. Interestingly, in cinema, these repressed desires have found agency as the faceless heroes or famous anti-heroes, as depicted in the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) or the dystopian V in V for Vendetta (2006) where both hang in a middle-ground with the dilemma of body-ownership as a periphery.

We call for contributions that would enhance boundaries of explorations in the realm of body ownership. Original and annotated academic papers and/or semi-academic articles and commentaries of not more than 2,500 words respectively are invited by the 24th of December, 2011. Also, from this issue onwards, Literophile will be open to all students wishing to research on our themes regardless of their academic and institutional affiliations. Please mail contributions and queries to