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ENGL 102: Composition II - Hess

Research Essay Assignment

English 102 Summer 2020

Research Essay Assignment: Cinema, Self, and Society


When we began this section of the class I asked you to pick a favorite movie, say why you like it so much, and then ask what your choice might say about you and about our society.  That is, I wanted you to reflect on yourself as a self that exists in a social context or nexus.  So, I am asking you to write a six (or more) page essay on the movie you have chosen.  I am absolutely not asking you to simply write a movie review.  I am asking you to make a deeper reflection, using the readings and also doing some research and using sources you find in your research in your essay.  Reference Librarian Teresa Maceira has set up our Research Guide page, which will be of great use to you.  You must find and quote at least two peer reviewed (or a close equivalent) sources in your essay, in addition to the readings I have provided (should you wish to use them).  You must quote from a minimum of three sources in your essay.

The readings make a number of important observations about cinema and ways of interpreting the “meaning” or “social significance” of a film, and I expect that you will want to identify, explain, and use some of the points raised in the readings as guides to understanding you film choice.  The section on Batman discusses movies as signs (plus archetypes, repetitions with a difference, and metaphors) that reflect a wider social context. Ray speaks of the thematic paradigm of Classic Hollywood (and American Cinema) that was “particularly designed to appeal to a collective American imagination steeped in myths of inclusiveness,” relates that to a much wider and deeper understanding of American culture (“mythology”), and uses the outlaw/official hero dichotomy to draw some fascinating claims about “the general pattern of American mythology: the denial of the necessity for choice. . . . By discouraging commitment to any single set of values, this mythology fostered an ideology of improvisation, individualism, and ad hoc solutions for problems depicted as crises.”   Ray establishes the importance of the formal paradigm: the ability to disguise the fact that film is an “’intensely decision-based’ medium as an apparently natural one, concealing the pattern of choices that constitute style in any art form,” and the ideological implications of that disguising, especially concealing “the necessity for choice.”   He emphasizes that one mechanism for this concealment is “the conversion of all political, sociological, and economic dilemmas into personal melodrama.”  

So, using the readings and your research, write a 6 (or more) page analytical essay about your chosen film.  Obviously part of that essay will be a description of the movie (Cinema), of its impact on you and why you chose it (Self), and then your understanding of the wider social implications/context/reflections/meaning of the movie (Society).  Please type the essay double spaced and use the MLA format.  The Works Cited page does not count as one of your 6 pages.    The essay is due July 16, earlier if you can.  If you need my advice or assistance, want to send me a draft, you know what to do. 

Some words of advice.


  • Settle quickly on your movie.
  • If you cannot find enough sources for your movie, you should do two things:
    • contact a Reference Librarian for assistance and advice
    • quickly find another movie
  • Choose any movie you wish, but make sure you can say something significant about that movie.  If you cannot say something significant, choose another movie.
  • Remember: though the movie is one you love (or hate), the assignment asks you to write about much more than just yourself and why you love (or hate) the movie.  You must also situate your movie in the wider social context and discuss how your movie fits into (or doesn’t) that wider social context.
  • For example, in the past I have had students who chose a movie about a tough breakout.  They loved it in part because they had just gone through a brutal breakup.  But the essay merely spoke about how the character in the movie had the same experiences as the student writing the essay (for example, “That happened to her in the movie and the same thing happened to me too”), and never situated the movie in a wider social context.  This writer could have done research on breakups and how people cope (or don’t) , for example, and then applied that research to the movie and themselves.
  • Another example.  A student whose family had a long history of generations of military service wrote about the movie American Sniper.  But the student used the essay to do little more than praise our wonderful soldiers, especially the sniper who killed so many of the enemy.  The student made the major error of thinking that a movie “based on a true story” was in fact a true story.  IN addition, the student ignored the controversy that surrounded the film; avoided any and all questions about the correctness, both strategic and moral, of the involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq; and never discussed the dreadful toll the killing took on the sniper and his family.  That is, the student completely ignored the social context, especially the controversy that erupted over this immensely popular and very influential film.
  • Don’t let this type of problem happen to you.  Remember, the assignment is titled “Cinema, Self, and Society.”  You should especially emphasize the latter two.


Secondary Research Resources

Healey Library | University of Massachusetts Boston | 100 Morrissey Blvd | Boston, MA | 02125-3393 | 617-287-5900