Prison ﬁlms are beset by a fundamental paradox. Because mainstream ﬁlmis reliant on a combination of the pleasure of the visual and the dramaticstructuring of narrative, institutionalised incarceration based on the loss ofliberty, extended temporal control and physical spatial restriction would seemto be fundamentally atodds with ‘the cinematic’. Prison as depicted on-screen istherefore aspace inwhich visibly enactedretribution isforegrounded in amodemuch more akin towhat Foucault calls thepre-modern ‘theatres of torture’. Theroutinised banality of day-to-day life behind bars is eschewed in favour of thespectacle of the masculine body punishing or being violently punished. Britishcinema is replete with ﬁlms set in prison, however, as the ﬁrst part of this articleexplores, and academic analyses of such ﬁlms are formulated around threediscursive strands: debates around the constitution of the prison ﬁlm as agenre,discussions of the potential relationship between cinematic representations andthe ‘real-world’ sociology of punishment, and assertions about how nationalidentity is reﬂected. The second part of this article deploys a comparativeanalysis of NicolasWinding Refn’s Bronson (2008) and Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), examining what is often taken for granted in previous work, namelyhow the environment of incarceration is produced as an aesthetic, social and even ontological space that contextualises and materialises a link between masculinity, violence and spectacle. I argue that the microcosm of the prison,on the one hand, reasserts the male body as the root of physical ‘being-ness’, yeton the other, reveals masculinity as a constructed performance determined bythe social context of incarceration and ampliﬁed through cinematic aesthetics.
- British cinema
- prison films