Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Jennifer L. Peterson

Second Advisor

Melinda Barlow

Third Advisor

Paul Gordon


This thesis examines examples of character archetypes in films of modern war. War films throughout the history of the genre have relied on a particular characterization of the American soldier/warrior to garner support for various war efforts, and to create and maintain a myth of America at war. Since the 1920s war films have met with considerable critical and commercial success. The representation of soldiers fighting for the nation was most consistently defined in the post-war years following World War II. Decades of filmmaking established American soldiers as morally right. This trend continued through the Vietnam War as war continued to see representation on film. The films of contemporary war present character archetypes that contradict those of previous wars, particularly concerning soldiers and their enemies. Three attributes of a modern archetype appear: the revised soldier/warrior, the representation of American hegemonic masculinity, and the Arab "enemy." Each of these aspects of modern war films critique, complicate or revise entirely the conventions established by previous decades of war films. New soldier/warrior archetypes subvert the myth that was promoted by soldier representation during and after World War II by presenting soldiers as morally ambiguous and ethically questionable. Masculinity has always been among cornerstones of the American military foundation, and these films often problematize the necessity of that construction of the military masculine. Finally, racial representation of America's enemies has been reductive in order to differentiate between Americans and their enemies, whether or not they are white Europeans, Asians from the Far East, or Arab Middle Easterners. Films made since Operation Desert Shield/Storm offer characterizations of the enemy that are not so one-dimensional as the films of World War II and Vietnam, and sometimes draw parallels between the ideologies of Americans and American soldiers and the enemies that they fight. Films of modern American warfare are experiencing an aberrant reception history compared to the war films of the past, because these films refute the American National Myth concerning the U.S. military, its soldiers, and the wars that they fight.