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What does it take to justify scenes of torture?

by Critical Commons Manager

In this brutal montage of scenes from Marathon Man, Laurence Olivier plays the Nazi SS dentist Dr. Christian Szell, known as "Der weisse Engel" (The White Angel). Olivier's character was inspired by Josef Mengele (known as the "Angel of Death"), infamous for leading human experimentations at Auschwitz. Hoffman is a graduate student in History at Columbia and, although he is haunted by his father's persecution and suicide under McCarthyism, he knows nothing about the diamonds that motivate his torture by Szell, an innocence that leads to increased brutality. Director John Schlesinger was criticized for the graphic intensity of the torture scenes, which pale by comparison with the routine depictions of torture that have appeared in American commercial media since the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings in 2001. Even in the wake of the Vietnam War, a protracted scene of explicit torture in 1976 required the historical spectre of a Nazi war criminal to explain the actions of Szell, ensuring among other things, that audience sympathies remain unwaveringly on the side of Hoffman, an implicit surrogate for Jewish innocence during the Holocaust. How might we contrast the construction of subject positions for the viewers of Marathon Man with television audiences for Fox's 24 or the Showtime series Sleeper Cell, in which torture is routinely justified in the name of anti-terrorism and carried out by protagonists who are agents of the American government?

Montage of torture scenes from Marathon Man

A graduate student played by Dustin Hoffman is tortured by Nazi dentist Laurence Olivier

from Marathon Man (1976)
Creator: John Schlesinger
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Posted by Critical Commons Manager