See For Yourself: A Rhetoric of Ambiguity in Gus van Sant's Death Trilogy
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By analysing Gus van Sant’s ‘death trilogy’, which included the films GERRY (2003), ELEPHANT (2005) and LAST DAYS (2006), with regard to the rhetorical divisions of invention, style and arrangement, this study offers extensive insights into those filmic principles that govern the films’ construction of both meaning and truth. In utilizing David Bordwell’s precise method of analysis in conjunction with Zygmunt Bauman’s theory on ambiguous post-, or liquid-modern art and fiction, the analysis explains how ambiguity is constituted and regulated in all three of the films. Departing from the notion that docudramas offer a particular view or position upon the historical events they depict, it is made evident that the prevalence of this ambiguity in each of the three films constitutes the very 'end' of their rhetorical address. On this basis, each 'death trilogy' film can be seen to function as a rhetoric of ambiguity. As this study indicates, this rhetoric of ambiguity constitutes the core essence of the films’ unconventional take on the docudrama. While a conventional docudrama is out to suade its audience of particular answers and explanations with regard to the actuality it depicts, the ‘death trilogy’ films subtly propose that such answers will never be found, let alone be grasped within a medium as film.