Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

“Ding Dong The Witch is Dead”: The Celebratory Death Scene

Elena Woolley


In day to day life, death is often considered a loss—a thing of great sadness and grief, or at least something to be approached respectfully. And yet this is not always so in cinematic representations of mortality. Indeed, filmic examples of celebratory death scenes are as diverse as the deaths of the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937), Fuad Ramses in Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963) and even the shark in Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975). This paper, therefore, will explore film’s capacity to represent the death of the antagonist as a positive thing which terminates the dis-order they represent without any particular remorse or compassion. The formal composition that such depictions might take in order to dissuade the audience’s sympathetic or empathetic relationship with the death of these characters is key to examining this topic, as is the extent to which these films (do not necessarily) engage with the suffering of the dying character. Essentially, the relationship the spectator has with the death of the onscreen antagonist is mediated by the attitude and presentation of the text—which, in encouraging a disdainful, antipathetic, apathetic and ultimately celebratory reception of an antagonist’s demise forms an ethical attitude towards death that potentially runs counter to ideas concerning “respect for the dead.” As such, these films encourage audiences to engage with their contents in a manner that potentially differs from the average conception of acceptability and ethicality when dealing with death. This paper will take a cognitive approach to the ethical treatment of the celebratory death scene.

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About the Presenter

Elena Woolley
<p>King's College London.</p>
United Kingdom

I am a doctoral candidate in the Film Studies department at King's College London. My current research is looking at the spectatorship of death in American cinema, considering how different genres represent mortality.