Memory Trauma and Fantasy in American Cinema

Thomas Elsaesser and Boaz Hagin, Memory Trauma and Fantasy in American Cinema (Zikaron, ṭraʼumah u-fanṭazyah ba-ḳolnoʻa ha-Amqriḳani [in Hebrew] (Ra’anana: Open University of Israel, 2012), 382 pp ISBN 978-965-06-1341-9

 Book coverWhat hides behind the “coolness” of the character played by actor Samuel Jackson in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction? What trauma underlies Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River? Is there a deep, secret motive for actor Jodie Foster’s character in Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs?

Written by Dr. Boaz Hagin, this book is based on a series of lectures on trauma, memory and fantasy, both on the individual and the collective level, given by Professor Thomas Elsaesser at Tel Aviv University and The Open University.

The authors posit that trauma, memory and fantasy can be used effectively as tools in researching and gaining a more profound understanding of popular culture. The method is applied to selected contemporary Hollywood films, analyzing three core traumas in American culture: the trauma of the “enemy within” (the “paranoid” style of American politics, violent dissent, free speech, the limits of freedom) the trauma of “empire” (is the US a neo-colonial power or the world’s only policeman) and the trauma of “race” (the legacy of slavery, the stigma of being black). The cinematic representations of trauma and their relationship to contemporary American culture are remarkably sensitive barometers and accurate indicators of how America is coping with the economic and social changes sweeping its society.

  • Thomas Elsaesser is an internationally known film historian and professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Amsterdam.
  • Boaz Hagin teaches in the Department of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University

“There are interesting and complex connections between the collective memory and a group of individuals. The individual cannot remember without the group which gives meaning to his memories; as such, the collective memory is not only an expression of the need for a specific collective, but can take part in creating the collective itself; by uniting groups of immigrants from different places into a single nation, the American nation, is one such example.”


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