College of Communication Master of Arts Theses

Date of Award

Fall 9-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Media and Cinema Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Kelly Kessler

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael DeAngelis


This thesis considers how the depictions of masculinity in the films of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn function as a critique of mainstream Hollywood cinema’s perpetuation of the notion that violent male behavior represents a heroic ideal for men to emulate. In films such as Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Drive, Refn constructs and presents his male characters by drawing upon recurring archetypal figures such as the gangster, the gangsta, the gunslinger, and the samurai. These figures recur throughout popular culture and across genres, and they perpetuate and reinforce a specific version of masculinity that emphasizes individualism, stoicism, and violence. Mainstream Hollywood films in general and male action cinema in particular often present this narrow and rigid vision of masculinity as a heroic manly ideal, and this, in turn, can inform how male viewers construct their own masculine personae. The male characters in Refn’s films serve to critique and destabilize this ideal by demonstrating how an insistence on appropriating or conforming to this sort of violent masculinity results in negative consequences for both the individual and the society around him.

Included in

Communication Commons