Losing Face: Francis Bacon's 25th Hour

Arne De Boever

Abstract


Spike Lee’s film 25th Hour begins with an act of violence that it does not show: instead, the viewer hears the sounds of a dog being beaten. The dog’s menacing growl is then transformed into the growling image of Montgomery ‘Monty’ Brogan’s car speeding through New York. Monty spots the dog, and stops. It is only then that the viewer witnesses the results of the film’s ‘foundational’ act of violence: the bloody body of a dog beaten to pulp. When Monty approaches the dog, it turns out the animal ‘still has some bite left in him’. Perhaps because the dog is a fighter, Monty decides to save him. Although the dog resists, he ultimately manages to get the dog in the trunk of his car. But Monty does not emerge from the rescue operation unscathed: blood is trickling from a cut in his neck. This scene can be read as a pre-figuration of a stomach-turning scene towards the end of the film, in which Monty’s friend Francis ‘Frank’ Slaughtery will beat up Monty’s face beyond recognition so that Monty will not be raped on his first night in jail. Monty’s face recalls the dog at the beginning of the film. It is through the bloody mess of their bodies that Monty and the dog begin to communicate, to enter into communion. This essay explores how this communion, this communication between Monty and the dog, comes about. I am interested, specifically, in what the significance of such an exploration might be for contemporary conceptions of community. The essay initially approaches this topic against the background of Emmanuel Levinas’ work on ethics, in which the notion of the face has played a crucial role. But its aim is really to situate the film, through the references to the work of Francis Bacon that it includes, in a more contemporary, post-Levinasian debate on an ethics of defacement. I am  particularly interested in exploring the significance of such an ethics in the post-September 11 era, which is explicitly evoked at the beginning of Lee’s film. My argument is that Monty and the dog begin to communicate, to enter into a communion, and thus to form a community, through a process of defacement that simultaneously strips them from their ways of life and propels them into a shared ethical and political becoming.

Keywords


Spike Lee; 25th Hour; Defacement; Francis Bacon; Gilles Deleuze; Giorgio Agamben; J.M. Coetzee; Emmanuel Levinas; Politics

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Film-Philosophy | ISSN 1466-4615