Developments in revenge, justice and rape in the cinema

Robson, Peter W. G. (2019) Developments in revenge, justice and rape in the cinema. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law. ISSN 0952-8059 (

[thumbnail of Robson-IJSL-2019-Developments-in-revenge-justice-and-rape-in-the-cinema]
Text. Filename: Robson_IJSL_2019_Developments_in_revenge_justice_and_rape_in_the_cinema.pdf
Final Published Version
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 logo

Download (760kB)| Preview


The index to the 2018 VideoHound Guide to Films suggests that under the broad heading of “revenge” there have been something in excess of 1000 films. This appears to be the largest category in this comprehensive guide and suggests that this is, indeed, a theme which permeates the most influential sector of popular culture. These films range from influential and lauded films with major directors and stars like John Ford (The Searchers (1956) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant (2015)) to “straight to video” gorefests with little artistic merit and a specific target audience (The Hills Have Eyes (1977)). There is, as the Film Guide numbers suggest much in between like Straw Dogs (1972) and Outrage (1993). The making and re-making of “revenge” films continues with contributions in 2018 from such major stars as Denzel Washington in The Equalizer 2 and Brue Willis in Death Wish. Within this body of film is a roster of films which allow us to speculate on the nature of the legal system and what individual and to a lesser extent community responses are likely where there appears to be a deficit of justice. One of the sub-groups within the revenge roster is a set of films which focus on revenge by the victim for rape which are discussed for their rather different approach to the issue of justice. Most unusually, the award winning film Elle (2016) has been described as a “rape revenge comedy”. Given the thriving nature of the overall sub-genre this causes pause for thought and justifies a closer look at what seems unlikely in an era of enhanced awareness of the trauma and damage of this kind of brutal criminality. This essay seeks to examine this film and locate it within the wider world of revenge films, notions of justice and assess it in context.