Cinematic Discourse Notes 11 (Outline):
The Problem of Identity in Cinematic Discourse

A) The importance of identity

  1. An important consideration in the study of cinematic characterisation is identity
  2. Identity is a two-way traffic:
    1. We characterise ourselves
    2. We are, in turn, characterised by others
  3. In spite of its importance, it is not easy to pin it down
  4. However, the importance of identity comes to the fore when a character is under threat of losing it, or believes that he or she is going to lose it

B) Naming and identity

  1. In a sense, the name of a film character identifies the character
  2. A film character's name usually has a clear relationship with the character's
    1. sex,
    2. social status
    3. geographical origin.
  3. It may also have a bearing on the character’s
    1. attributes or
    2. tendencies.
  4. Characters' names may change, or they may use pseudonyms, during the course of a film's discourse
  5. On the other hand, the same name may be shared by two characters
  6. Not all film characters have names, or names that are known to us
  7. Some film characters take other characters' names, and pretend, either wholly or partially, to be the characters whose names they carry
  8. Some film characters are known by their nicknames,
  9. But are names – or nicknames for that matter – all that important for establishing a film character's identity?

C) Identity: lifestyle and possessions

  1. Identity and the lifestyle of a film character are inter-related
  2. Identity in film – perhaps more clearly than in other narrative discourses – may be established by the characters' clothing
  3. Sometimes, film characters can be identified by the furniture they have in their homes
  4. One important question to ask: do your possessions really define your identity?

D) Identity: the past, and projection of the future

  1. The film character's past may be important
  2. Self-identity may also involve the projection or planning of the film character's self-narratives
  3. With regard to childhood ambition, we may want to ask: to what extent is the film character's identity shaped by it?
  4. If the ambition is realised, it may be a defining force for self-identity

E) Memory and identity

  1. The past has a definite connection to memory:
  2. But one question here is whether long-term memory is sufficient for the film character's realisation of self-identity
  3. Is short-term memory also needed for the more complete realisation of self-identity?

F) Sex, gender, marriage and identity,

  1. Are sexual and gender identities important in film?
  2. Is sexual identity significantly less important than gender identity?
  3. Marriage, or being unmarried, defines, in some ways, the character's sense of self
  4. Occasionally, the problem of identity may revolve around sexual fulfiment, rather than marriage per se
  5. The ability or – more often – the inability, to procreate may have an effect on the film character's perception of his or her identity

G) Acting and characterisation: conflict of identities

  1. Will there be a conflict of identities if an actor plays the role of an actual person?
  2. When the character and the person acting the role are supposed to be the same person, a neat and complete convergence of identities does not necessarily occur
  3. On the other hand, if the actor and non-fictional character are different, the actor may face a real challenge if he or she wants to faithfully depict the character

H) Representativeness of cinematic characters

  1. A cinematic character is quite often representative of a group, or a set of moral attributes or habits associated with a group
  2. Their sense of belonging contributes to their sense of personal identity
  3. The discussion on the representativeness of cinematic characters can be associated with cinematic character types and related conceptions, such as the archetype and typecasting.

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Last revised: 06 July 2011.