This article juxtaposes two 2011 Hollywood films—Shame, directed by Steve McQueen, and Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn—that in their mutations of narrative time and cinematic montage demonstrate the ongoing salience of Fredric Jameson’s Marxist analysis of postmodern culture for the aesthetic and social form of contemporary Hollywood cinema. What Jameson in Postmodernism called the atemporal “waning of affect” is hyperbolically exposed in both films, which are linked by their formal emphasis on accumulation, repetition, and looping. This late capitalist regime of accumulation and excess takes the form of a cinematic drive that no longer hews to a narrative temporality but, rather, appears as exactly the hallucinatory intensity of an overwhelming present that Jameson described. For this reason, the films dispense with beginnings and endings; through modulations of filmic time, they return to the stasis of an eternal “posthistorical” present. Drive and Shame both end with montage sequences in which flashbacks and flash-forwards are rendered indistinguishable. Exploring this emphasis on sameness and repetition, the article takes up the psychoanalytic notion of the drive in relation to Jameson’s argument about the waning of affect.
From Shame to Drive: The Waning of Affect; or, The Rising of the Drive Image in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema
Sulgi Lie is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California after teaching for many years in the Division of Film Studies at the Free University Berlin. He is the author of The Exteriority of Film: On Political Film Aesthetics (2012) and coeditor of Jacques Rancière’s film critical writings. Currently he is working on a book on slapstick comedy.