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Animal Deaths on Screen: Film & Ethics

Barbara Creed


Do animals understand death? How does the cinema represent death? The concept of death has played a crucial role in anthropocentric discussions of the representation of human/animal relationships in cultural practices. This paper will explore the representation of animals and death in the cinema from its beginnings to the present in relation to questions of ethics, and the cinematic representation of human/animal intersubjectivity. It will argue that while some individual filmmakers have attempted to represent animal death ethically, this topic remains largely unexamined in theoretical writings on the cinema. This paper will suggest that the spectator frequently seeks ways to displace fears about the death process onto the animal and images of animal death. Finally, I will argue that the space created between spectator and the image of actual animal death on screen is an ethical space that gives rise to a creaturely gaze with the potential to break down boundaries, and to affirm communicability between human and non-human animals in a non-anthropocentric context. 


animals; death; cruelty; film; documentary; creaturely; gaze; vulnerability; ethics; anthropocentrism; emotions

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2014-001-cree

Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196

Executive Editor: Francesco Allegri
Associate Editor: Matteo Andreozzi 
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Vilma Baricalla - Luisella Battaglia - Rod Bennison - Matthew R. Calarco - Piergiorgio Donatelli - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Luigi Lombardi Vallauri - Christoph Lumer - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Alma Massaro - Barbara Muraca - Serpil Oppermann - Simone Pollo - Paola Sobbrio - Kim Stallwood - Sabrina Tonutti - Jessica Ullrich - Federico Zuolo