Father Trouble: Staging Sovereignty in Spielberg's War of the Worlds
By Joshua Gunn
Gunn discusses Steven Spielberg's 2005 adaptation of War of the Worlds as a representation of the events of 9/11. In particular he explores Ray, the film's protagonist, as a "paternal sovereign," saying that the film teaches us that in states of emergency we look to a political father figure to lead us. Both Hollywood films and philosophers suggest that without government (a "state of nature"), we would naturally pick a leader to follow. In War of the Worlds, the inability of the State is emphasized, making it clear that they need Ray to lead them. However, Ray's own children question his proficiency as a father. According to Jaques Lacan, there are three versions of a father figure: the symbolic (there is no higher authority), the imaginary (the ideal of father we have early in life), and the real (the actual person who is the father). The father is most symbolic when dead. When Ray protects his children by being closer to death, he becomes more symbolic. He also says that the father functions to intervene in the connection between mother an infant, introducing the child to the social world by saying "No."
Lacan also argued that the father has to fill two contradictory positions as both protector, who must sometimes break the law, and the maker of law. The role of sovereign is similarly contradictory in that they set the laws but must also break them when necessary. Sovereignty is defined during states of emergency, since this is when certain laws might be broken for the greater protection of the people (Gunn later cites the Bush II administration post 9/11 as a specific example of this). Ray, for example, commits a murder in order to protect his daughter. Gunn then raises the question of the non-benevolent paternal sovereign, saying people love him because the transgressions and exceptions he allows. Violence and scopophilia bring up this love for Ray in The War of the Worlds.
This article was useful for getting more background knowledge about the nature of fatherhood. Lacan's theories may be a good thing to look into further. I have decided to focus primarily on the father figure as monster in horror films (rather than simply fathers that are present in them). I think this concept of the paternal sovereign will be key in moving forward and developing a specific thesis. The contradictory roles of both father and sovereign may help in particular in exploring the dual personalities of Nathan and Nix in Repo and Raising Cain (if these are the two films I choose to focus on).