Images of the End. Hollywood and the Medieval Iconography of the Apocalypse

Images of the End. Hollywood and the Medieval Iconography of the Apocalypse

By Lucas Burkart

Histoire, Images, Imaginaire, edited by Pascal Dupuy (University of Pisa, 2002)

Introduction:  The struggle between Good and Evil is a basic pattern in American movies; this pattern has gained an enormous popularity especially in Hollywood films. In different genres – from Western, adventure movies, thrillers and fantasy up to science fiction – motion pictures are based on this pattern and many film scripts are inspired by it. Beside the love movie in all its nuances the eternal struggle between Good and Evil can be considered the most important narrative plot of the Hollywood film. The success of the single movies that follow this underlying plot, however, is due not so much to the basic plot itself as to the way it is illustrated, to the original and unexpected turns in the storytelling.

This chapter discusses an example and shows how significant the use of specific images for the successful telling of a well-known pattern like the struggle between Good and Evil can be. For this purpose these pages focus on the iconographical tradition of the movie’s imagery. By doing so our text emphasises the importance of images – the term needs to be understood in its broadest sense, including much more than material images or art – for historical analysis.

The movie Face/Off (1997), on which the chapter concentrates, is to be considered one of the best examples of how old image traditions are used in the modern American film; at the same time Face/Off can represent a whole series of movies of the end of 20th century that employ similar images; it is really a example among others. Face/Off, however, remains until today the absolute highlight of the cinematic adaptation of the Apocalypse according St John and its medieval exegesis.

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