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Some women attack and harm men who abuse them. Social norms, law, and films all participate in framing these occurrences, guiding us in understanding and judging them. How do social, legal, and cinematic conventions and mechanisms combine to lead us to condemn these women or exonerate them? What is it, exactly, that they teach us to find such women guilty or innocent of, and how do they do so?
Through innovative readings of a dozen movies made between 1928 and 2001 in Europe, Japan, and the United States, Orit Kamir shows that in representing “gender crimes,” feature films have constructed a cinematic jurisprudence, training audiences worldwide in patterns of judgment of women (and men) in such situations. Offering a novel formulation of the emerging field of law and film, Kamir combines basic legal concepts—murder, rape, provocation, insanity, and self-defense—with narratology, social science methodologies, and film studies.
Framed not only offers a unique study of law and film but also points toward new directions in feminist thought. Shedding light on central feminist themes such as victimization and agency, multiculturalism, and postmodernism, Kamir outlines a feminist cinematic legal critique, a perspective from which to evaluate the “cinematic legalism” that indoctrinates and disciplines audiences around the world. Bringing an original perspective to feminist analysis, she demonstrates that the distinction between honor and dignity has crucial implications for how societies construct women, their social status, and their legal rights. In Framed, she outlines a dignity-oriented, honor-sensitive feminist approach to law and film.
Every Breath You Take traces the evolution of notions of stalking and stalkers from ancient mythology through medieval folklore and nineteenth-century literature to contemporary film and social science. Critically analyzing stories of stalking within a wide range of historical and cultural discourses, the book suggests that such stories serve social functions, enforcing traditional gender roles within the patriarchal social order. It reveals how stories of stalking have facilitated moral panics that have fueled the persecution of “stalkers” as social deviants. It argues that a contemporary “stalking moral panic” led to America’s anti-stalking laws, laws that actually address mythological images and stereotypes and are therefore inadequate in their treatment of the actual social phenomenon of stalking. It concludes by suggesting an alternative legal treatment of stalking, one that relies on an informed, critical reading of both moral panics and culture.
The study shows how Lilith—Jewish mythology’s Queen of Demons—as Western culture’s archetypal female stalker, eventually inspired the construction of the images of the medieval witch and nineteenth-century prostitute. Similarly, the vampire—our culture’s archetypal male stalker—can be seen in Frankenstein’s creature, in Mr. Hyde, and in Dracula, as well as in more contemporary images of male stalkers (such as Robert DeNiro’s taxi driver and Halloween’s Michael). Orit Kamir posits that in the twentieth century, film was the major force in developing images of male and female stalkers, leading to a moral panic that resulted in the 1980s anti-stalking laws. Careful reading of these laws reveals that they address cultural images of archetypal stalkers rather than the actual social phenomenon of stalking, which involves ordinary men and women, not mythological monsters.
The book is unusual in its combination of cultural studies with a sociological perspective and legal analysis. It argues that legal analysis can be greatly informed by close, critical textual reading of both relevant stories and social phenomena. It will be of keen interest to those in critical legal studies as well as scholars in film, literature, and folklore.
This chapter offers a perspective on the status of Israeli women in 2014. Rather than present the standard review of women’s rights in the public and private spheres, the extent of their sexual victimization and their status in politics, the workplace and academia, the chapter explores Israeli women’s contemporary cinema and follows the themes and critiques raised by it. This way I introduce you, simultaneously, to Israeli women’s realities, as experienced and critically portrayed by Israeli
women filmmakers, as well as to women’s cinema in contemporary (2014) Israel. Finally, I offer a theoretical feminist perspective on Israeli gender construction that may frame the movies’ portrayal and critique of Israeli women’s lives.
“Women’s movies” were never a significant constituent of Israel’s movie industry; at least not until 2014. In the course of this year, audiences were introduced to six new Israeli feature movies written and/or directed by women, focusing on Israeli women’s lives and expressing powerful feminist critique: Six Acts, Zero Motivation, She Is Coming Home, That Lovely Girl, Self Made and Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem. Four of the six enjoyed very high public visibility as well as critical acclaim. Written in 2014, this chapter presents and discusses five of these movies, offering a conceptual framework that may illuminate and enhance their social critique.
Any non-Israeli watching these six feminine-feminist movies would likely suppose that they reflect two distinct societies. One (depicted in That Lovely Girl, Six Acts, Zero Motivation, She Is Coming Home and Self Made) is a 21st-century liberal society, in which women enjoy formal equality and liberty and struggle with Israeli versions of gender predicaments typical of contemporary Western societies (sexual abuse; insidious employment discrimination, such as sophisticated glass ceiling; persisting patriarchal gender stereotypes; and, in Self Made, the double burden of being a woman and a member of a conservative Muslim minority in a liberal Western state). The other society (depicted in Gett) is one that adheres to bluntly traditional, patriarchal norms, interpreted and upheld by explicitly conservative, all-male, religious institutions. For an innocent onlooker, it is hard to grasp that the women portrayed in all six movies are members of a single society; that the two seemingly distinct social realities not merely exist in Israel, but both apply to the very same Israeli women. For most Israelis, this extreme duality is so obvious that it is completely transparent; they cannot imagine a different socio-legal reality.
This inconceivable duality and the schizophrenic existential condition it imposes on Israeli women is, in my mind, Israel’s greatest gender predicament. Through Israel’s 2014 women’s movies this chapter presents this conundrum, pointing to the underlying national-religious socio-cultural structure that upholds it. I rely on the six mentioned movies to illustrate my argument and reinforce it. I begin by
addressing the specific gender concerns that each of the movies portrays and calls attention to, and continue to discuss the deep rift presented by the aggregate, between the liberal and the patriarchal aspects of Israeli society; the free and the subordinated aspects of Israeli women’s existential condition.
This paper was completed in November 2014.
Law movies typically feature champions of justice—archaically dignified, like Gregory Peck’s 1962 Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird, Pakula 1962) or bitterly disillusioned, like George Clooney’s 2007 Michael Clayton (Michael Clayton, Clooney 2007), these champions are often what I have labeled “hero-lawyers” (Kamir 2009; 2012). Cinematic hero-lawyers embody natural justice combined with the law of the land. Often reluctantly, they come to the rescue, serving the law by doing “the right thing”
at any cost. Their crusades are heroic, lonely, against all odds; but inherent integrity, loyalty, superior professional legalism, and unconditional devotion to the cause secure their moral victory, personal growth, and sometimes social acknowledgment. The hero-lawyers’ terrain is the adversarial
world of the Anglo-American common law.
While hero-lawyer movies are by far the most familiar and popular law-films, this chapter explores a different, non-Anglo-American format. Its focus is A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s (2011) Iranian movie—a powerful, Oscar winning law-film that does not even feature a lawyer. While following and presenting legal proceedings—in fact, two court cases—it exhibits none of the familiar law-film motifs. It portrays no victims or villains, no reluctant, reclusive heroes, or dramatic, adversarial courtroom
battles. No one comes to the rescue; no justice is procured. It is very hard to assess whether any personal growth may be detected.
A Separation was warmly acclaimed and achieved great success including winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film[AQ1]. And yet, when I asked law students about their impression, they admitted to have found it difficult to follow or decipher. While touching them, the movie had left them puzzled and frustrated. They seemed to lack a key to access it. In response to that lack of access, in this chapter, I suggest that A Separation follows a path unexplored by most American law-films, but famously paved by Akira Kurosawa’s renowned 1950 Japanese law-film, Rashomon (Jingo 1950). I propose that reading A Separation against the backdrop of Rashomon highlights an underlying structure shared by both films, revealing their unique “multifocal judgment” and “intersecting legal proceedings.”
The second part of this chapter considers what I refer to as “multifocal judgment.” Both Separation and Rashomon offer judgmental perspectives and engage their viewers in judgment in complex ways. In both, judgment focuses on the characters of “husband” and “wife.” These characters judge each other, are both judged against another, parallel couple, and most importantly, viewers are explicitly invited to partake in passing judgment in their cases. Many law-films engage in what I have referred to in previous works as socializing audiences to judgment (Kamir 2005a, 268); Separation and Rashomon share uniquely sophisticated structures of judging marital partners. Yet both films also undercut their judgmental zeal with equal sophistication and success.
The third part of this chapter unravels the “intersecting legal proceedings” of both films. Each presents two legal or legal-like proceedings. The intersection of these proceedings reveals much of the film’s jurisprudential insight. In Rashomon, the intersection of criminal and lay proceedings (one held in a courtyard and the other at the Rashomon gate) highlights the advantages of the latter, social, informal proceeding. The lay “tribunal” of citizens reviews the evidence that was earlier examined by the
criminal court, but, in the process of making social sense, relies on additional evidence (that was not available in the official proceeding) and resorts to common sense. Besides passing judgment, this procedure leads to redemption and rectification. Separation intersects criminal and family law proceedings, demonstrating the limited capacity of the criminal proceeding to grapple with the messy realities of human psychology and relationships. Concomitantly, the clear-cut accusations formed by
the criminal law define and clarify the muted, sometimes suppressed grudges and resentments that muddle the waters of the more loosely formed family law procedure.
The fourth part of this chapter reveals the disguised (conservative) gender politics that underlie both movies, their silent acceptance of traditional honor norms (at the expense of full embrace of equal dignity), and the universalistic (rather than concrete political) nature of their social
Finally, in the conclusion, I map this chapter in terms of the three focal themes of my larger law-and-film endeavor: the analysis of law-films as social devices that induce audiences to engage in judgment; the exposé of popular jurisprudence suggested by law-films to their audiences; the illustration of law-films’ mirroring of some social functions carried out by legal systems (Kamir 2005a).
With worldwide success, both Rashomon and Separation have become part and parcel of an international culture. It is in this context that the chapter examines them as remarkably influential law-films.
Hollywood’s hero-lawyer movies are a distinct group of American feature films. Typically, they each depict a lawyer who unwittingly finds himself at the heart of a moral drama involving a client and/or a community in distress, gross injustice, the rule of law and powerful, obstructive forces that must be overcome. Alone with nothing at his side but his professional legal skills, courage, and integrity (and sometimes a good friend and a good woman), the lawyer reluctantly comes to the rescue, often at great personal sacrifice. In the process, he must balance individuality and social commitment, and loyalty to friends, to the law, to the spirit of the law, to the legal community, to justice, and to himself. This chapter argues that Hollywood’s hero-lawyer is the symbolic “champion of equal liberty” as well as a liminal character on the frontier edge of society. This chapter claims that the hero-lawyer’s frontier based liminality is inseparable from the moral-legal principle of equal liberty that he personifies. This chapter considers the ways in which Hollywood’s hero-lawyer’s liminality is linked with the character’s role as champion of equal liberty. This chapter follows the nuances of the hero-lawyer’s liminality and moral heroism in 15 films, focusing on the classic cinematic formulations of these points and tracing their variations in contemporary film. Presenting the classic Hollywood hero-lawyer films, this chapter demonstrates how contemporary cinematic hero-lawyers (such as Michael Clayton, from 2007) are modeled on their classic predecessors. Yet, in contradistinction to their mythological forerunners, they seem to encounter growing difficulty when coming to the rescue out of the liminal space on the outskirts of society. Contemporary hero-lawyer films present a world in which personal identity is acquired through membership in and identification with a professional elite group such as a corporation or a big law firm. The social world, according to these films, is no longer made up of individuals and their relationships with society but of closed elite groups that supply their members with their social needs. In return, these elite groups exact their members’ absolute adherence and loyalty. Further, despite their liminal personas, the new hero-lawyers often lack a frontier. They are trapped on the edge of an “inside” with no recourse to an “outside,” a Sartrean no-exit hell, if you like. This predicament undercuts the classic construction of the “liminaly situated champion of equal liberty,” questioning both the significance of equal liberty and the meaning of liminality.
This article offers a film analysis of Israeli films which, it claims, embrace or critique Israel’s Zionist and Palestinian perceptions of honor, as compared with universal human dignity. The article groups together and examines six acclaimed Israeli feature films that, it argues, present and comment on Zionist and Palestinian perceptions of honor, as well as human dignity. The Israeli-Zionist Kazablan (1973) and the Israeli-Palestinian Wedding in Galilee (1987) each construct an ideal version of Zionist and Palestinian honor codes and mentalities, respectively. More critical and recent films, James’ Journey to Jerusalem (2003), Attash (2004) and Ajami (2009), suggest that these happy ideals conceal monstrous shadow images that undermine the reverence and promotion of human dignity. Finally, Bethlehem (2013) is read as portraying both Zionist and Palestinian mentalities concerning honor as macho, adolescent, insensitive and hurtful. According to this reading, Bethlehem demonstrates how both honor codes preclude the adherence to and cherishing of universal human dignity, locking the two nations in an eternal blood feud.
“Human dignity” is the foundation of the human rights discourse that evolved around the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In recent decades, the concept of human dignity has been vastly over-extended, gradually becoming a vague, nearly meaningless “catch-all” phrase. In the 21st century’s pluralistic and multicultural world, this development has played into two worrisome trends. One is the formulation of any cultural-specific identity-based claim as involving a human dignity-based human right; such over-extension of human dignity and human dignity-based rights breeds growing scepticism regarding the usefulness of the whole human rights discourse. The second trend is the erroneous portrayal of cultural specific honor-based claims as involving dignity-based human rights. Such misleading portrayal blurs the boundaries between the universalistically humanistic dignity-based human rights discourse, and culturally specific, often separatist and conservative honor-based mentalities.
Attempting to address these troubling trends, this paper defines a tightly knit human dignity, which marks the absolute value/ worth of the common denominator of humanness in all human beings. This human dignity gives rise to universalistic and absolute – yet minimal – fundamental human rights. It is conceptually distinguished from what I refer to as “respect”, which assigns tentative value/ worth to the uniqueness of each and every concrete, specific expression of human existence. In this conceptualization, respect is the basis of tentative, secondary human rights – including those that address many specific identity claims in a pluralistic, multicultural world. Whereas “human dignity-based rights” derive from and protect the very essence of humanness, “respect-based rights” protect and enhance exclusive personal choices that manifest an individual’s uniqueness, including each person’s self-expression in lieu of his or her multiple affiliations. Such affiliations are often related to race, gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and/ or culture. Respect-based rights thus refer to most issues arising from pluralism and multiculturalism. Both dignity and respect are carefully distinguished from the very different notion of honor, which marks tentative, comparative human value/ worth that is intertwined with esteem and prestige within a specific (typically conservative and separatist) normative cultural context. Honor-based claims do not necessarily constitute either dignity or respect-based human rights.
Such re-conceptualization yields a clear distinction between the absolute and universal fundamental dignity-based human rights, and the tentative, often cultural-specific respect-based rights. This allows to preserves the distinction between absolute, universal fundamental dignity-based human rights, and secondary, tentative, sometimes clashing respect-based rights. It highlights the difference between these two categories of human rights and any culturally-specific honor-based claims. These distinctions are important if we are to maintain the discourse of human rights and adjust it to a world which is ever more pluralistic and multicultural.
This article claims that Israeli collective memory often adheres to a narrative pattern that is highly compatible with the frame of mind best titled “national honor”. The following is a dominant narrative pattern in Israeli collective memory: “the villainous enemy shamed and humiliated us; we remember the shame and humiliation, the honorable duty to avenge them, and the brave heroes who sacrificed their lives to cleanse our national honor”. Very few documented legal proceedings can be interpreted to fit this narrative formula; hence the minor role played by the legal discourse in the Israeli collective memory. The 1961 Jerusalem Eichmann trial qualifies as one of these rare legal proceedings.
Moreover, Israelis subconsciously assume both “the villainous enemy” and the “brave heros” to be men. Consequently, only three types of legal proceedings have paved womens’ entree into the Israeli collective psyche: those that claim recognition for women as “brave heroes” (as in the case of Alice Miller, a young woman who demanded to be given a chance to serve as an IDF pilot); those which claim that women are victims and their assailants “villainous enemies” (as in the case of Rachel Heller, a woman soldier who was raped and killed); and those that were understood to challenge the established categories of “brave heroes” and “villainous enemies”. However, most women participate either in family-law proceedings (such as divorce and child custody), or in criminal proceedings regarding their sexual victimization (such as rape and sexual harassment). These women’s legal stories do not follow the paradigmatic commemorative pattern. Furthermore, the women are “protected” in the name of “privacy” (i.e., “personal honor”) in the criminal context and “family honor” in the family-law context, and their names are concealed. In conclusion, for more women to be commemorated through the legal discourse, Israel’s honor-based mentality must give way in the context of commemoration, as well as in the context of paternalistic “protection” of women.
North Country is a powerful Hollywood depiction of one woman’s painful yet triumphant struggle to establish sexual harassment in the workplace as “class action” and to compel a workplace to stop its harassing practices. The article compares the cinematic version to the historical event on which it relies but focuses on reading the film in the context of two prolific and popular, yet very distinct, Hollywood genres: “the woman’s film” (including the woman’s/maternal melodrama, battered wives films, sexual victims films, blue collar activist women films) and “the law and lawyers film.” Reading North Country along this complex cinematic context reveals how, by implementing unconventional references to familiar Hollywood formulas, the film opens up an innovative possibility, constructing a blue collar woman who, through her war on sexual harassment in the workplace, becomes a social activist and a community leader and prevails on all fronts: in her legal suit, in transforming her community’s values, and in regaining her family. By subverting traditional cinematic expectations, the film conveys some very “radical” feminist arguments, including that rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment in the workplace are means of patriarchal domination and oppression of women and that a woman suffering abuse is not necessarily either a victim or an agent: she can be both. The article poses the question whether the film’s intriguing new statement, which yielded some box office success, will turn its formula into a Hollywood “sub-genre.”
This paper calls attention to “honor” and “dignity” as two fundamental, antithetical values, both firmly rooted at the heart of social orders and legal systems in the contemporary western world. An antithetical analysis of these concepts has long been suggested, in an anthropological context, by Pierre Bourdieu (1966: 228); I argue for its relevance to contemporary western societies, their cultures and laws. I suggest that honor that manly basis for behavior codes in cultures throughout history and around the world, is incorrectly misjudged and underestimated as an archaic, irrelevant remnant of antiquity; it is thus improperly neglected and ignored in socio-political rhetoric as well as in the legal context. Dignity, on the other hand, though officially hailed and embraced by national and international authorities around the world, is mostly left unspecified and amorphous. It thus remains ineffective or, worse, a potentially manipulatable basis for arbitrary decision-making. I believe that comparatively viewed as fundamental yet potentially competing, adversary, fundamental notions, honor and dignity emerge as two antithetical bases of two distinct value systems. Such comparison will enable us to better detect and understand the persistence of the honor-based value system in western societies, cultures and legal systems; it will further make it possible to contemplate a shift to a different, dignity-based one.
Examining the manifestations and implications of western legal systems’ underlying honor-based values, and suggesting their replacement with alternative, dignity-based ones, is a monumental task. In this paper I merely wish to outline the described line of thought, and offer a preliminary “taste” of its gist. For this purpose, I prefer to not refer to any particular legal system, looking, instead, to culture. Following a basic, antithetical presentation of “honor” and “dignity”, I look to a single contemporary film, and read it in a manner that, I believe, demonstrates the theoretical, jurisprudential, “law-and-society” argument presented above. More specifically, I read Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven as revealing the honor-code that underlies social and legal norms, calling to substitute it for dignity-based ones.
Concurrently, this modern day, immensely popular western exposes the true face of the honor-based value system at the heart of the western film genre; further, it subversively undermines this value system, replacing it with a dignity-based one. In so doing, the film calls on to “real world” social and legal systems to follow in its footsteps and apply the same critical analysis and reformative activism to western law and society at large.
The reading of Unforgiven offered in this paper demonstrates the workings, scope and nature of the study of “law and film”. In this sense, the paper offers an exploration this novel, evolving type of scholarship, suggesting how “law-and-film” is a sub-genre of “law-and-society”. Let me say a few words about “law-and-film” for the uninitiated. While law is a system of organized power, commercial film is constituted by the economics of pleasure. Nevertheless, law and film are two of contemporary society’s major discourses, two prominent vehicles for the chorus through which society tells and creates itself Law and film both create meaning through storytelling, performance and ritualistic patterning, envisioning and constructing human subjects and social groups, individuals and worlds. Each is a dominant social discourse constituting “imagined communities”. Furthermore, films, much like judicial decisions and legislative rhetoric, can – and do – constitute communities (of viewers) that are often engaged in judgment, “legal-like reasoning”, the pursuit of justice, and self-creation- through-judgment-and-justice. Judgment is often an activity not merely portrayed but actively performed by films, together with their (constructed and/or actual) viewers; it is often a function of film’s constitution of a community-of-viewers and its engagement in social constitution of primary values, institutions and concepts.
An interdisciplinary approach to these two disciplines is, thus, potentially fraught with intriguing insights. Indeed, over the last decade, the combination “law and film” has been increasingly visible in lectures, law-school course titles, academic conferences and popular culture websites.
“Law-and-film”, a sub-category of the evolving “law-and-culture” perspective, can be seen as a recent offshoot of more established and familiar interdisciplinary scholarly genres, particularly “law-and-society” and “law-and-literature.” Still in its nascent stages of development, law-and-film scholarship eludes precise “scientific” definition and cannot yet be characterized by a distinct methodology or worldview. Law-and-film scholarship does, however, reflect certain shared fundamental assumptions regarding the central role of law and film in society. The connections, similarities, and analogies that can be drawn from these two discourses – and their respective socio-cultural functions – engender unique insights that can be gained from an integrated analysis of these two spheres. Writers who explore this new field emphasize different aspects and interpretations of this common ground.
My own work in the field reflects an understanding of “law-and-film” that comprises three fundamental premises: that some films’ modes of socio-cultural operation parallel that of the law; that some films perform viewer-engaging judgment; and that some films contain popular jurisprudence. The study of films’ performance of these functions, is at the heart of my study of law-and-film. In reference to the three basic premises, law-and-film studies may sometimes be distinguished on the basis of their primal focus, and labeled accordingly as examining “film paralleling law,” “film as judgment” and/or “film as jurisprudence.” Law-films, films that treat legal issues as their subject matter, often operate in two or three of these dimensions, offering a complex and powerful combination of these cinematic-legal functions. Their study may often require an integrated examination of two or all three of their cinematic-legal functions.
This paper’s study of Unforgiven is in line with the said theoretical framework. Having presented this framework in detail elsewhere, here I rely on it, while demonstrating its workings and further exploring it.
This article’s modest goal is to introduce uninitiated readers to the emerging, interdisciplinary field of law-and-film, while presenting them with the framework of one formulation of this new area of research. The article’s first part opens with a brief overview of law-and-film scholarship and proceeds to outline my own suggested conceptualization of the law-and-film terrain. This framework defines three distinct perspectives on law-and-film that, I believe, capture much of the law-and-film enterprise. These perspectives rely on three fundamental premises: that some films’ modes of social operation parallel those of the law and legal system; that some films enact viewer-engaging judgment; and that some films elicit popular jurisprudence. Parts B, C and D of this article present and explore these perspectives in more detail, illustrating them with specific law-film examples. The paper concludes with a brief reference to the benefits of using law-and-film in teaching.
In a move that strengthens the political and normative power of the Israeli courts, and especially that of the Supreme Court, the Israeli judiciary has construed the statutory definition of murder in a manner that allows the courts, while determining criminal responsibility, to conduct an additional, disguised procedure of labeling and normalizing. Courts have construed “lack of provocation,” which in Israel is an element of the offense, as requiring the defendant to convince the court that he killed while provoked, and that the reasonable person would have been likely to act similarly. Since the courts never, in fact, find that the reasonable person would have killed when provoked, this dual standard allows courts to determine that any defendant, who killed under provocation, whether or not he is convicted of murder, is not a reasonable person.
Through this labeling and normalizing process, the legal system develops its own quasi-psycho-social discourse of normalcy, titled “reasonableness,” with which it evaluates and labels defendants’ personalities, acting much like a (Foucauldian) disciplinary institution. However, unlike other disciplinary institutions, the judiciary labels, normalizes and disciplines through its judicial decisions.
This paper demonstrates these theoretical claims through the close reading of one case decided by the Supreme Court (in which one gay Palestinian man had killed another who publicly accused him of collaborating with the Israeli authorities), and proposes an alternative doctrine of provocation (one free of reasonable people and labeling processes).
Hollywood’s Hero-Lawyer movies are a distinct group of American feature films. Typically, they each depict a lawyer who unwittingly finds himself at the heart of a moral drama involving a client and/or a community in distress, gross injustice, the rule of law and powerful, obstructive forces that must be overcome. Alone with nothing at his side but his professional legal skills, courage and integrity (and sometimes a good friend and a good woman), the lawyer reluctantly comes to the rescue, often at great personal sacrifice. In the process, he must balance individuality and social commitment, and loyalty to friends, to the law, to the spirit of the law, to the legal community, to justice and to himself.
This article argues that Hollywood’s hero-lawyer is the symbolic “champion of equal liberty” as well as a liminal character on the frontier-edge of society. The article claims that the hero-lawyer’s frontier-based liminality is inseparable from the moral-legal principle of equal liberty that he personifies. The article considers the ways in which Hollywood’s hero-lawyer’s liminality is linked with the character’s role as champion of equal liberty. The article follows the nuances of the hero-lawyer’s liminality and moral heroism in fifteen films, focusing on the classic cinematic formulations of these points and tracing their variations in contemporary film.
Presenting the classic Hollywood hero-lawyer films, the article demonstrates how contemporary cinematic hero-lawyers (such as Michael Clayton, from 2007), are modeled on their classic predecessors. Yet, in contradistinction to their mythological forerunners, they seem to encounter growing difficulty when coming to the rescue out of the liminal space on the outskirts of society. Contemporary hero-lawyer films present a world in which personal identity is acquired through membership in and identification with a professional elite group such as a corporation or a big law firm. The social world, according to these films, is no longer made up of individuals and their relationships with society, but of closed elite groups that supply their members with their social needs. In return, these elite groups exact their members’ absolute adherence and loyalty. Further, despite their liminal personas, the new hero-lawyers often lack a frontier. They are trapped on the edge of an “inside” with no recourse to an “outside”. A Sartrean no-exit hell, if you like. This predicament undercuts the classic construction of the “liminaly situated champion of equal liberty,” questioning both the significance of equal liberty and the meaning of liminality.
This Essay contains a close reading of a contemporary film, Pedro Almodvar’s High Heels, as offering a radical and feminist alternative to that of Solomonic justice, which dominates our Judeo-Christian heritage. The Essay explores the imagery of a newly developing legal-feminist concept, “caring justice,” employing the inter-disciplinary methodology of feminist law and film. This approach suggests that the postmodern cinematic imagery presented here transcends the apparent dichotomy between “radical” feminism focused on patriarchal oppression and dominance, and feminist thought focused on an ethic of care. The approach invites a multiplicity of judicial imagery that is differently responsive and responsible. Creation of such a judiciary pantheon radically challenges contemporary concepts of justice.