Girls on the Borderline: Rewriting the Rite of Passage Film

Esther Steiner

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Girl protagonists in rite of passage films regularly come to be burdened with a sobering maturity that sees them acquire a dysphoric subjective position under an oppressive patriarchal paradigm. According to Oedipal logics, both genders, in extricating themselves from the imaginary fullness of the maternal bond, come to be subjects of lack, but culturally entrenched patriarchal fictions concur in fostering masculine narcissism at the expense of the feminine. This practice-based research asks how the Oedipal narrative structure, which has defined twentieth- century mainstream cinema, can be re-appropriated and re- imagined for the purpose of writing a screenplay that highlights the girl’s active and constructive engagement in the project of selfhood.
My reading of seven films, which are all at the low-budget end of the mainstream (studio-financed as well as independent), details parallel structures and discourses within the proposed genre. Victor Turner’s rite of passage model is used as a template for understanding rite of passage plot structure and transformative symbolism, while key concepts in Lacanian psychoanalysis serve to throw light on the adolescent girl’s psychosexual development.
My reading of Girlfight, which follows Luce Irigaray’s critique of phallocentrism and concept of intersubjective dialogue, provides a key insight into how the narrative aspects of film can provide a propitious environment for resolving cultural impasse and catalysing understanding and change.
I have written my screenplay Lullaby, which accompanies the thesis as Appendix IV, in accordance with my research goals. It serves as a blueprint for a feature film that will hopefully, one day, go into production.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Media Arts
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Clayton, Susan, Supervisor
  • Merck, Mandy, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


  • girl
  • adolescence
  • rite of passage
  • youth film
  • feminist film

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