This course is discontinued

NORAM4575 – Film and the Tragic Sense of (American) Life

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

This course deals with American culture and society from the 1930s to the 1970s as reflected through films of the period. Hollywood is the great dream machine that sold a seductive image of American life to the world, but it also helped to reproduce the national identity around iconic images of cowboys, frontiersmen, and sturdy yeomen farmers and through the themes of self-making, new beginnings and pastoral re-creations. In the same period of time the USA underwent fundamental change. The rise of the great cities of the new industrial America had many different effects, but one of them became very important to American popular culture: the rise of the criminal underworld. Ruled by gangsters and populated by hoodlums, pimps and prostitutes, the underworld was also an expression of the poverty and alienation of large segments of the American working class. These conditions helped give birth to the American naturalistic novel, “hard-boiled” popular fiction, and photo-journalism.

From these sources came the crime film; with the influence of German expressionist cinema, film noir developed. In some sense crime films countenanced an oppositional sociology to American life, while the gangster hero exhibited many of the characteristics of the classic tragic figure whose suffering requires the audience to reflect critically on accepted social ideals. In film noir the tragic theme was embedded in a kind expressive realism that played on the all-too-real nightmares of the groundlessness of being in modern life. Gender roles and social behavior were subject to acts of transgression and re-coding.

The organization and experience of space in cities, highways and public venues provided powerful visual support for the themes of noir films, while space and environment became in themselves central themes of late noir and neo-noir films. These oppositional elements worked their way through the conventions of Hollywood, into an era (the 1960s and 1970s) characterized by greater sexual freedom, youth rebellion and the achievements and limits of political change. These events provided opportunities for new oppositional themes and a new experience of the tragic sense.

Learning outcome

To develop a critical perspective on popular culture. Learn to analyze film as an art form, and a cultural, political and mythical expression. Written tasks are designed to enhance students’ ability to think critically, imaginatively and clearly. M.A. students will be expected to write analytically and reflectively on material not discussed in class.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

Admission to the North America Area studies Master program, LAP or other relevant Master program.

Recommended previous knowledge

The course assumes a good proficiency in written and oral English. Grounding in one of the following disciplines is helpful: literature, the history of ideas, media studies.

Overlapping courses

This course overlaps with NORAM2575 – Film and the Tragic Sense of (American) Life (discontinued).


The course is taught throughout the semester with two hours per week (28 hours in all). There will also be a number of two hour film-viewing sessions in order to view films. Regular attendance is expected. Students are expected to use the mid-semester teaching break for study and writing. Graduate students are held responsible for an expanded reading list and must submit a five-page paper in order to qualify for the exam.


The final exam consists in a 3-day take-home examination on which the course grade is based. In order to qualify for taking the exam, the students must have submitted a five page qualifying paper. Once the course requirements have been fulfilled, they remain valid for the current and the two consecutive semesters when the course is given.

Previous exams:

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

The results will be published on the Studentweb within three weeks after the exam.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2009


Autumn 2009

Teaching language