The Journey of a Dead Hero. Death in the film "Lucky Number Slevin"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2021

41 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents



2.1 On Thrillersand Gangster Films
2.2 Deathand Social Life


4.1 The Systemic Deathof Henry
4.2 The Non-Existenceof Slevin
4.3 The LiteralDeathof Nick




Table of Figures

Fig. 1: Henry is threatened with a gun. Screenshot. 2021. Source: Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Fig. 2: Slevin is threatened by the henchmen of The Boss. Screenshot. 2021. Source: Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Fig. 3: Nick is killed by GoodKat. Screenshot. 2021. Source: Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

1 Lucky Number Slevin: The Journey of a Dead Hero

The traditional hero's journey, according to Vogler, follows a relatively strict pattern. The characters met during the story can be classified as different archetypes and play a specific role in guiding the hero towards their goal. However, while the principle can be applied to almost every story, some criteria must always be fulfilled for the concept to work. One of the main aspects is that the hero of the story must be alive.

Death plays a crucial role in many cultures and hence in many films and other forms of media. When death is presented in a film, it always plays a vital role in the narrative. In this term paper, I will analyze the importance of death in the film Lucky Number Slevin (McGuigan, 2006). While an initial killing is the trigger for the story itself, the film also features a complex main character who is already dead or, more specifically, never existed. I will argue that the trinity of Henry's systemic death, the symbolic death/non- existence of Slevin, and Nick's literal death, who are all unified as one person in the body of Henry, affect and represent the archetype of the hero and the hero's journey. Through the non-existence of the hero himself, the story deviates from a traditional hero's journey and functions as the introduction to a tale of a hero that needs to be created and freed of his past first to be able to set out on his own journey.

2 State of Research: Evil Heroes and their Deaths

Social discourse is always characterized by what is considered taboo and what can be an acceptable part of a conversation. Some taboo topics commonly found in western cultures are adultery, addiction, sex, and death. However, while it is not acceptable to publicly discuss these topics, their display in visual media such as film is all the more common. As film is a medium that creates and represents society and its norms, the inclusion of taboo topics and their often controversial display is a frequent occurrence. While films ofthe Golden Age of Hollywood and the corresponding Star Cult ofthe 1930s focused, among other things, on the display of sexuality through actresses like Marlene Dietrich, today death has replaced sex as the "the great Western social taboo" (Horne, 2015, p. 127) featured in film. While old Hollywood films featured sexual fantasies, "violent death has played an ever growing part in the fantasies offered to mass audiences'" (Gorer 1985: 20-21 in Horne, 2015, p. 127).

As sex, death and violence are sensual physical experiences. Apart from traditional Hollywood genres such as the Western or Slapstick Comedy, "[tjhere are, of course, other film genres which both portray and affect the sensational body - e.g., thrillers, musicals, comedies" (Williams, 2007, p. 4). Thrillers as a genre are defined as:

Films that rentlessly [sic] pursues a single-minded goal - to provide thrills and keep the audience cliff-hanging at the 'edge of their seats' as the plot builds towards a climax. The tension usually arises when the main character(s) is placed in a menacing situation or mystery, or an escape or dangerous mission from which escape seems impossible. (Dirks, n.d.)

Additionally, the genre Thriller prominently features the threat of someone's life. This threat is one of the aspects that makes Thrillers so enticing. Through the different levels of filmic identification, the spectators associate and identify themselves with the main character. Their threat to life is hence also a threat to the spectators' life. The suspense created is projected onto the spectator who has "no safe position from which to watch" (Horne, 2015, p. 129). In addition to that, the spectator is also forced to reevaluate their morals. Like taboos, morals are socially constructed and hence and ingrained into the individual as a member of society. In Thrillers, "[t]he spectator to both is engaged in an act where he or she is 'looking on' at the suffering of another, which surely raises 'questions of personal and social response and responsibility'" (Aaron 2007: 122 in (Horne, 2015, p. 136).

2.1 OnThrillersandGangsterFilms

"Audiovisual fiction that shows us death by violence is embroiled in a curious contradiction. By presenting death as a violent form, the film violates - or, rather, curtails - its own act of representation "(Grpnstad, 2008, p. 80). By watching the film, the spectator, on the one hand, feel responsible for the death of characters; on the other hand, the death of a character violates the spectator through cinematic identification.

Death additionally represents the end of a unit of meaning. With ending a life, death puts closure onto an individual's struggle. While comedies and melodramas, for example, provide the spectator with a form of catharsis by lifting the taboo of sex through marriage, thrillers and gangster movies often do not provide the spectator with this positively connotated form of closure. The mostly violent deaths of characters are not only embedded into the narrative style and genre-related components of the film alone.

They also possess narrative components, albeit of a different kind. Because violence is embedded in their narrative structures, films such as those examined here seem essentially concerned with narrating death. They both arise from and produce a kind of thanatographical consciousness, an awareness of finality, of the unrepresentable. The styles of violence give the process of dying a spatial and temporal form; the narration of violence confers a sense of causality upon death in the figuration of moral meaning. Style and narrative combine to generate what I shall call narrathanatographical film form. (Grpnstad, 2008, p. 83)

This does not mean that characters who kill do not have any morals per se. As genres play by their own rules, the characters depicted in them do as well. "Although practically all movie gangsters end up killing someone ..., these killings are incidental to the laws they set out to break "(Leitch, 2002, p. 113). The rules and laws the gangsters put onto themselves vary from what is generally perceived as morally correct; however, the fact that they do have established laws in the first place indicates that morals and taboos are cultural phenomena and hence flexible and connected to the individuals' upbringing and social background.

"The tradition of thanatographic violence in film and fiction exhibits one central quality that is possibly so obvious that it fails to register: violence in the arts is an almost exclusively male prerogative "(Grpnstad, 2008, p. 90). Female characters are either victimized by male violence or act as the feminine counterpart to an overly masculine character who is supposed to be grounded and balanced by her traditionally gender characteristics. Women in thrillers and gangster films hence do not play a part in bringing the narrative forward. They do quite the contrary as the beauty of women stops narrative time and creates a rapture in the storyline of a narrative. Women depict a distraction for the male main character without any agency.

The "forms of film violence can be understood as tropes which resignify particular constellations of masculinity, "(Grpnstad, 2008, p. 90), femininity, and gender in general. While women are traditionally associated with emotions, men are traditionally associated with physicality. "Thus ... the fascination with fictional violence can be attributed to the need of the modern subject to re-connect with the realm of physicality "(Grpnstad, 2008, p. 158).

2.2 DeathandSocialLife

While the male violence in thrillers and gangster films is a representation of physicality, death itself is neither connotated as feminine or masculine. "[T]he representation of death and dying [roots] within a truth of human vulnerability and an ethics of spectatorship "(Aaron, 2014, p. 183). All cultures have specific death rituals and correlating festivities to provide closure. As a cultural taboo, however, these practices are often not talked about. Hence why many people struggle with the concept of death and the understanding ofthe correlating consequences such as pain and grief.

Films provide a special circumstance when it comes to taboo topics like death. Through the coming together of fictional storytelling and real physical reactions such as pain, shock, and grief, the "intermediary state between presence and absence, dead and buried, resonates ... with the politico-ethical 'threshold' of bare life "(Aaron, 2014, p. 196). In this context, the genre plays an important role. It allows the spectator to decide what physical reaction might be adequate to the death portrayed in the narrative. The death of a villain or opponent creates a different relation than the death of a figure of identification. "Genre is crucial but not crucial enough: though it determines the function and frequency, if not method, of death in film "(Aaron, 2014, p. 127), it does not provide a predetermined interpretation ofthe death.

3 Method: Sociological Film and Television Analysis

Due to the social importance of death in everyday life and the impact it has on the real world, the analysis of death in the film Lucky Number Slevin allows a unique inside into the personal struggles as a result of the death of others. For this analysis, the film has been assessed as a whole, and different sequences, namely 07_02, 08_02, ll_06, 12_04, 15_04,19_02, and 22_03, have been chosen to compare the three parts ofthe broken identity of the main character of the film. The sequences selected show how all three parts of the main character's identity deal with death and loss on the one hand. On the other hand, the sequences show how all three parts are non-existent dead to begin with, or die during the story. Additionally, the way all three parts intertwine and benefit one another will be shown.

4 The Dead Hero - Results of the Film Analysis

While genres have an important influence on the narrative and the resulting interpretations of the spectators, the narrative itself is what defines who the spectator identifies with and how they react to what is shown on screen. The most common form of storytelling is the Hero's Journey.

"The repeating characters of world myth such as the young hero, the wise old man or woman, the shapeshifter, and the shadowy antagonist "(Vogler, 2007, p. 4) do not only define the role of the character in the narrative but also how we react to them. In the film Lucky Number Slevin (McGuigan, 2006), a young man by the name of Slevin Kelevra sets out to revenge the death of his family. As a child, when he was still named Henry and was growing up as the son of Max and his wife, he was taken out of his "mundane world and into a Special World, new and alien "(Vogler, 2007, p. 10) when he is taken in by the professional killer GoodKat in sequence 22_03. The challenge Slevin is provided with is how he and GoodKat can revenge Slevin's family (Vogler, 2007, p. 10). As a child, Slevin cannot grasp the dimensions of the task or the death of his parents in general. When GoodKat spares his life and takes him away to safety, all Slevin wants to do is go home and not on a big adventure, refusing the call he will eventually follow (Vogler, 2007, p. 11). GoodKat, as Slevin's mentor, however, takes it upon himself to teach the child all he needs to know to become a professional killer and eliminate the men who took his family away from him (Vogler, 2007, p. 12). During Slevin's training, he gets rid of the name Henry to free himself of the past slowly. He then finally commits to the task as the last step to strip himself of what remains of Henry. GoodKat introduces him into the lives of the two gangsters who have killed his parents: The Boss and The Rabbi. At this point, Slevin enters the first threshold where there is no going back (Vogler, 2007, p. 12). At this point, the act GoodKat was initially hired for, namely killing Henry, so the whole family is eliminated, is finally completed. Henry is systemically dead, and Slevin has taken over as the main character. This, however, is only accessible to the spectator, and at the end of the film, Henry and Slevin are established as the same physical body, not as the same identity, though.

It is made clear at the end of the film that Slevin can only enter the new world by taking on yet another identity. By killing Nick Fischer and taking on his identity, he can become a believable member of the new world, learn the rules, and find allies and enemies (Vogler, 2007, p. 13). The spectator is introduced initially to Slevin, who then is forced to take on Nick's identity as the henchmen of both villains, The Boss and The Rabbi, who are meant to pick Nick up and only encounter Slevin. By acting upon the quests given to Slevin impersonating Nick by the villains, Slevin needs to kill the son of the Rabbi, in which he succeeds with the help of his mentor (Vogler, 2007, p. 14). Having achieved the quests, Slevin can return to the villains and has to face the consequences of his success (Vogler, 2007, pp. 16-17). Before Slevin can return from his impersonation of Nick, he has to finish his hidden task set out by Henry of eliminating The Boss and The Rabbi. Eventually, he returns to a world outside of crime which he has only known as a child (Vogler, 2007, p. 18).

The narrative of Lucky Number Slevin features Slevin as the hero of his story. The characters Slevin encounters on the way are facets to what he has been, currently is, pretends to be, and could become in the future (Vogler, 2007, pp. 24-25). "At the root the idea of Hero is connected with self-sacrifice" (Vogler, 2007, p. 29), which is not the first aspect of Slevin's character that comes to mind. However, Slevin's behavior, while self-destructive, also includes him saving Lindsey. Additionally, after all, his plan to revenge his family could go wrong and kill him. He is willing to sacrifice his life, his relationship with GoodKat and Lindsey, Lindsey's life, and GoodKat's reputation to revenge his parents. However, "at first, Heroes are all ego: the I, the one, that personal identity which thinks it is separate from the rest of the group" (Vogler, 2007, p. 29). The hero is on the search for his identity. Slevin's identity has many facets, which is why he is working towards his goal. Only then can he achieve "wholeness" (Vogler, 2007, p. 39). It is unclear which of the many facets of his identity Slevin is working to grow into. There is no final decision whether he fully becomes Slevin or returns to being Henry; it is clear, however, that he leaves Nick's identity behind.


Excerpt out of 41 pages


The Journey of a Dead Hero. Death in the film "Lucky Number Slevin"
University of Mannheim  (Philosophische Fakultät)
Narration im Film/Narration in Film
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Kommentar Dozentin: ausgezeichnete Analyse, überzeugende argumentative Struktur mit einem angenehmen Lesefluss, ausgezeichnete Interpretation der impliziten und symptomatischen Ebene, prägnante Synthese der Interpretation im Fazit.
Hero's Journey, Vogler, Filmwissenschaften, Filmanalyse
Quote paper
Sarah Weichbrodt (Author), 2021, The Journey of a Dead Hero. Death in the film "Lucky Number Slevin", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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