Interrupting Cinematic Narratives of the First World War

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Minbiole, John Francis
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 18, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Jeremy Engels, Dissertation Advisor
  • Thomas Walter Benson, Committee Member
  • Stephen Howard Browne, Committee Member
  • Dennis Schmidt, Committee Member
  • rhetoric
  • narrative
  • cinema
  • film
  • war
  • first world war
  • ethics
  • Heidegger
  • Gadamer
  • interruption
Contemporary rhetorics of war are increasingly characterized by narrative, visual representations – war films, video games, and documentaries – that invite their audiences to rhetorically identify with and participate in the military endeavor. Persuasive appeals for the justification of war, furthermore, increasingly rely not on positive assent, but rather on tacit acquiescence to the idea that war is best deliberated and prosecuted by the state. These conditions, in my view, can be traced to cinematic narrative texts that proliferated during and after the First World War. In this dissertation I analyze how three films – Battle of the Somme, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The 39 Steps – narratively normalize the idea of war. In viewing the way these films “think” about war and existence, I also analyze how their narrative normalizations can be interrupted – either by the audience, or from within the text of the film itself. I conclude that although these cinematic narratives engage their audiences in a confidence game, they nonetheless articulate a “real” in which we see the primordial ethical claim of narrative emerge.