This essay examines Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (Denmark/Belgium/France/Germany, 2013) and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (UK/US/Switzerland, 2013) as instances of an aesthetic trope described here as “inanimism.” Both films depict inanimate representations of human beings as more defining of who they are than their minds and bodies. Rejecting aliveness as an intrinsic human quality, Nymphomaniac and Under the Skin reconceive of their characters as bags, rocks, and projectiles—and also, meta-reflexively, as beams of light. Invoking thinkers such as Jacques Rancière, Edward Said, and Stanley Cavell, this essay proposes that these films pessimistically comment on the changing phenomenology of our cultural relationship to our minds and bodies, fantastically depicting them not only as commodifiable but as made out of lifeless, object-like entities in the first place. This fantasy reflects a fear that the technologies we use to store data about and images of ourselves have effectively become more exhaustive and reliable sources of self-knowledge than our embodied presence.

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