Decapitation and deconstruction: The body of the hero in Robert Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


I will emphasize Bresson’s fragmented representation of the body because the representation of the body in the visual arts has been the most important symbol of Western European humanism since the Renaissance. Bresson’s film begins forcefully with a decapitation, a knifing, and skeletons in armor hanging from trees in rapid succession. The bodies in the film are decentered by the camera’s continuous focus on feet, knees, backs, and hands. Such a shift toward the body’s appendages and away from the head or face interrogates the traditional mind-body relationship. Drawing on the nineteenth-century roots of French realism, Bresson blends a fragmented metonymy of the body (Brooks 46-52) with deconstruction’s interrogation of humanist representation. In a 1974 interview Bresson explained his purpose: “En ce qui concerne l’image: Fragmentation, faire voir les choses dans leurs fragments separes comme nous les voyons quand nous sommes le plus realistes” (Baby 15). The irony here is that the apparent reality of images resides in their fragmentation, not their wholeness, which is never reconstituted by the fragments. For Bresson the stoiy of Lancelot is comprised of only fragments, “nee de la parole plutot que de l’ecriture” (Baby 15). Ecriture, in deconstruction’s lexicon, is the product of an orderly system of language, while parole is the irrational, random individual utterance. In Bresson’s film the legend, usually symbolic of historical and national systems of value, is defined as irrational and discontinuous. In this way Bresson is using the legend to demonstrate the deconstructive revision of history as a desperate fictionalizing attempt to resist language’s endless and shifting meanings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Arthurian Revival
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on Form, Tradition, and Transformation
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781317656715
ISBN (Print)0815300603, 9781138785458
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Decapitation and deconstruction: The body of the hero in Robert Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this