Date of Award

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Film Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Nam Lee

Second Advisor

Dr. Leah Aldridge

Third Advisor

Dr. Sean Heim


This thesis explores critical responses to American-ness, American identity, and most significantly American myth, in independent films about America in cultural terms, and their attempts to deconstruct the myths of nation and culture. The independent films about America analyzed in this thesis range from the 1960s to the 1990s, made by filmmakers across movements and cultures, but they all contain in some measure three key concepts: the “outsider,” the “search,” and a narrative “non-arrival.” Easy Rider (1969) will be explored as the prototype for this paradigm, contrasted with films that reinterpret the road-movie structure away from existential angst and toward richer ambiguities: Alambrista! (1977), Gummo, Stroszek, Chan is Missing, and The Watermelon Woman (1996). Transnationality reflects in the content and production of many “outsider” films; therefore my study replaces the category American films with films in and about America. These films about America are threaded together by the outsider as a position relative to social acceptance and unified identity (the “inside”), and the search as a yearning, a desire for peace, happiness, meaning, etc. molded by transience and instability. The search never yields the result or object the characters intend to find, and within this non-arrival the denial of resolution informs us about the unsurety of life for the outsider, and the elusiveness of the nation as a mythic construct. The unsettling of myth is interpreted as a kind of hauntology, as the ‘haunting’ or persistence of violence and myth is analyzed.

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