Ecological Film Theory and Psychoanalysis : Surviving the Environmental Apocalypse in Cinema book cover
1st Edition

Ecological Film Theory and Psychoanalysis
Surviving the Environmental Apocalypse in Cinema

ISBN 9780367373412
Published July 13, 2021 by Routledge
288 Pages

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Book Description

This book applies ecolinguistics and psychoanalysis to explore how films fictionalising environmental disasters provide spectacular warnings against the dangers of environmental apocalypse, while highlighting that even these apparently environmentally friendly films can still facilitate problematic real-world changes in how people treat the environment.

Ecological Film Theory and Psychoanalysis argues that these films exploit cinema’s inherent Cartesian grammar to construct texts in which not only small groups of protagonist survivors, but also vicarious spectators, pleasurably transcend the fictionalised destruction. The ideological nature of the ‘lifeboats’ on which these survivors escape, moreover, is accompanied by additional elements that constitute contemporary Cartesian subjectivity, such as class and gender binaries, restored nuclear families, individual as opposed to social responsibilities for disasters, and so on. The book conducts extensive analyses of these processes, before considering alternative forms of filmmaking that might avoid the dangers of this existing form of storytelling. The book’s new ecosophy and film theory establishes that Cartesian subjectivity is an environmentally destructive ‘symptom’ that everyday linguistic activities like watching films reinforce.

This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of film studies, literary studies (specifically ecocriticism), cultural studies, ecolinguistics, and ecosophy.

Table of Contents


1. Environmental crisis and epistemological crisis: Ecologically-destructive Cartesian subjectivity

2. Cinema spectatorship as an illusory Cartesian ‘symptom’

3. Realist film as cogito-centric film

4. Surviving environmental disasters in film ‘lifeboats’

5. Surviving environmental apocalypse in film ‘lifeboats’

6. Survivors in post-apocalyptic environmental dystopias

7. The possibilities of non-Cartesian film


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Robert Geal is a Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, UK, where he teaches classes on film spectacle, representation, adaptation, psychoanalysis and Japanese cinema. He is the author of the monograph Anamorphic Authorship in Canonical Film Adaptation, as well as numerous articles and chapters on topics including science fiction spectacle, sexuality and gender in animation, race in television comedy, adaptation studies and film theory.


"Robert Geal’s meticulous and wide-ranging discussion seeks to understand why despite the heavy presence of environmental issues in film … things are getting much worse. Rather than promoting action, Geal argues, contemporary … films … reinforce the Cartesian separation between the human and nonhuman, what Geal calls the "epistemology we live by." This timely book is refreshing and original, persuasive and accessible, complex and provocative." — Simon Estok, Professor, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul. Author of The Ecophobia Hypothesis (Routledge, 2018).

"This is an engaging and compelling analysis of how various filmmaking traditions express, reinforce, and normalize our dominant dualistic Cartesian worldview grounded in a subjectivity of human separation from and domination over nature. Robert Geal productively applies various theoretical strands to the study of cinematic form and content, revealing how films both repress and resurface our awareness of the "ecological precipice at which we stand." This eye-opening study concludes with a cautiously optimistic exploration of a potentially non-Cartesian cinematic practice that, if embraced, could offer an alternative form of spectatorship, one that might be capable of meaningful action in the face of ecological disaster." — Paula Willoquet-Maricondi, Champlain College. Editor of Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film (2010).

"This accessible, interdisciplinary and carefully argued book contributes to ongoing environmental theories about the impact of dystopian films on spectators. Geal argues that realist dystopian Hollywood films construct the spectator as mastering environmental devastation—a mastery that prevents our taking responsible action. An important book that should be required reading in Environmental Media Studies and beyond."E. Ann Kaplan, Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Gender, and Sexuality, Studies at Stony Brook University. Author of Climate Trauma: Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Literature (Routledge, 2015).

"In Ecological Film Theory and Psychoanalysis, Robert Geal brings psychoanalysis to bear on our response to the oncoming environmental disaster. This approach enables him to see the ideological forces responsible for our inability to act in a way adequate to the disaster. This urgent book is necessary for gaining our bearings today and for understanding the reasons why we can’t."Todd McGowan, Professor, University of Vermont

"Ecological Film Theory and Psychoanalysis addresses the urgent question: What cultural biases might explain our lack of action in response to ongoing ecological destruction? Looking at how a broad range of films deal with non-human beings, ecologies, disasters, and environmental crises, Geal ultimately discovers, like Lacan, that "this lack is beyond anything which can represent it." The challenge of this book lies in the very lack of cinematic solutions it finds to the symbolic hold of Cartesian subjectivity, which reinforces human alienation from the biosphere with every monocular turn of the camera."Thomas Lamarre, Professor, University of Chicago

"In this timely book, Geal contributes to the field of ecocriticism and ecocinema studies by developing a new Lacanian psychoanalytic ecocritical methodology. This book convincingly explains why a rationalistic, Cartesian response to eco-crisis fails. The potential cure, Geal argues, lies in a radical, non-Cartesian turn in aesthetic and cultural practices. A must-read for environmental humanists!" — Chia-Ju Chang, Professor, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Brooklyn College

"An ambitious and daring work distinguished by a rare clarity of expression that adds force to its argument about the psychological alibis enabling our ecological crimes. This is a study of the separation ideologies of our time. … Geal’s theoretically surprising, even bracing, approach illustrates that the "ecological unconscious" glimpsed and obscured in contemporary cinema is the very terrain of the frightening unknown that governs our collective impotence in responding to our ecology crisis."Anil Narine, Professor, University of Toronto, Editor of Eco-Trauma Cinema (Routledge, 2015)