Cinema has been an object of study for the social sciences for some time now. The relationship between law and cinema has been the subject of a certain number of reflections by jurists who work essentially within a national legal framework, and from the true genre that courtroom movies have become. One can point also to studies linking cinema and international relations. In short, the relationship between international law and cinema has never been the subject of a specific book. The objective of the present book is to show what image of international law and its norms is conveyed in films and series. Beyond a strictly legal analysis, the ambition is to take into account, in a broader perspective marked by interdisciplinarity, the relations between international law, cinema and ideology. The volume is aimed at a readership made of scholars, researchers as well as practitioners, in the field of international law, and related fields, all of whom will benefit from being introduced to a variety of perspectives on core international legal questions present in movies and TV series. Further, the volume can also be used with advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students studying international law, politics and international relations because it will provide the possibility of introducing students to a variety of perspectives on key issues in international law present in movies and TV series.
This chapter analyses the cinematic representations of the principle of distinction, one of the cornerstones of the law of armed conflict. In general, the view presented in these films and TV series is that it is extremely difficult or even impossible to effectively apply the principle of distinction in the field. Law is depicted as being ill adapted to properly regulate armed conflicts, too burdensome and out of touch with the dictates of the realities on the ground. In most cases, legal norms are submitted to the viewers’ scrutiny, either implicitly, or explicitly. Cinematic productions convey a specific stance as to the relevance, usefulness and applicability of the law of armed conflict. Sometimes, the principle of distinction is applied very flexibly and the rule is interpreted very (sometimes too) extensively. In other cases, the rule is simply put aside in the name of (military) necessity. Other productions, rather than focusing on the applicability or interpretation of the rule, use the legal framework as a broader narrative to (de)legitimize an armed conflict or a specific State-led operation.
Exploring the intersection of legal science and science fiction is hardly a novelty. Many publications have used beloved genre classics as a gateway to discuss topics as varied as cloning, climate change and criminal justice. In contrast to their colleagues at international relations departments, international lawyers seem less inclined to boldly go in this direction. This is unfortunate, as major themes can fruitfully be debated through sci-fi movies and television series, such as ‘intergalactic’ legal orders, the law of treaties, environmental law and so on. In an effort to fill this gap, the present chapter will delve into this world of speculative fiction and in so doing presents the following central thesis: future worlds portrayed in science fiction reproduce the tensions underlying contemporary theoretical approaches to the international legal order. This includes illustrations of constitutionalism, idealism and realism. The basic tenets of each doctrine will be outlined, after which movies and television series will be dissected that best convey the approach in question. In the final part, the chapter will seek to explain why contemporary approaches have come to be reproduced in science fiction and highlight some factors influencing the choice of certain theoretical approaches over others.
The aim of this introductory chapter is to provide some reflections with regard to methodologies that are used when analysing films and TV series from an international law perspective. Different tendencies may be distinguished in the existing literature. Among them, critical studies focus on the connection between cinema and ideology, both from legal scholars already associated with critical schools of legal thought and from specialists in international relations or political science. This approach has been shared by all the authors of this book, with a double objective: first, to identify representations of international law in cinematographic productions; and, second, to try to determine some of the functions of these representations in the (international) society. In doing so, the authors will contrast the narratives of international law depicted in film and TV with the corresponding narratives advanced by legal scholars. This will lead to the identification of a cognitive dissonance between them and an assessment of its implications for general perceptions of international law.
On Earth, interspecies relationships are mainly based on one rule: the fittest species (the human being) has the right to exploit other species at its own discretion. It can hunt, imprison, enslave and kill them. This is at the core of international trade law, which considers non-human animals as mere products destined to fulfil human needs. While dominant, this model of interspecies relationships is not exclusive. Other regimes provide for obligations either to protect certain weaker species from extinction or to foster their general well-being. Currently, however, these models are underrepresented. This chapter aims to understand if and to what extent science fiction movies convey a representation of interspecies relationships similar to the one embodied by current international law. Relying on non-existent models of alterity these movies often question the relations the fittest species should entertain with the weaker one. Based on the study of various mainstream science fiction movies, this chapter concludes that they often offer an alternative vision of interspecies relationships, based on an obligation of coexistence and respect. The chapter provides some insights as to the factors that could explain the difference between the existing legal models of interspecies relationships and the fantasized version offered cinematic productions.
Cinema has devoted increasing attention to international criminal justice, especially in the last two decades. Viewers of films and TV series related to the prosecution of international crimes note that cinema can be very supportive of what international criminal justice is and how it works, either by conveying romanticized images about its aims and achievements, or by explaining – not to say justifying – its weaknesses. In some movies, it is depicted as an adequate and efficient tool to fight the impunity. It is also frequently pictured as a mechanism requested by victims, or at least called for in their names. Movies also show the fragility of international justice in the face of politics, underlining and condemning the reluctance of States and international organizations to cooperate, have suspects arrested and evidence collected. These films, however, do not fundamentally undermine the legitimacy of international criminal justice as we are frequently left with the impression that prosecutors and judges do their best to fight impunity and often succeed in overcoming political obstacles. Fundamental scepticism is also sometimes voiced suggesting that international justice is but a spectacle, a diversion, or subject to instrumentalization. These critiques, however, do not override the heroic role with which cinema generally entrusts international criminal justice.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inspired an abundant filmography, which traces the main events and addresses many aspects of the conflict. Based on a material composed of about eighty feature films and television series, the chapter studies the way international law with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is represented on screen. Three major themes emerged in this regard, which are analysed successively: the creation of the State of Israel and its consequences on the Palestinian people; the Israeli occupation; the peace process in the Middle East and the ways to achieve it. The chapter concludes with a broader reflection on the place occupied by cinema in the conflict, as a means of struggle, as the object of controversy or as a symbol.
This chapter deals with the way movies approach and depict international law. Both cinema and law belong to an imaginary realm. The methods of law are conceptualization and action. The methods of movies are representations and dreams. It is therefore difficult for the cinema to dramatize international law, with the notable exceptions of criminal trials and war. It is noteworthy that the way a particular movie depicts international law will often depend on the country of production. For instance, American movies frequently resemble propaganda – soft or hard – but, at the same time, American cinema is also able to severely criticize US policies. British movies often convey a kind of imperial nostalgia, even in a parochial way. French ones are willingly self-deprecating, sometimes in a farcical way.
The imagination of new worlds represented in science fiction cinema is a fertile ground for reflecting on the nature of international law. Assumptions of international law can be further tested by stretching their conditions of operation. International law’s argumentative structure makes it quite flexible, maybe more flexible than first appears. Concepts such as State, territory or even humanity seemingly central to the nature of international law can be fundamentally altered or even removed; a recognizable form of international law continues to operate. Still, fidelity to some features of the liberal ethos is needed for international law to continue being relevant. What sci-fi cinema proves is that the ideology of international law is embedded not in States, not even in humanity, but in the equality of rights of groups displaying enough anthropomorphic features. The disappearance of these features marks the end of the explanatory power of the international law analogy. In-between these extremes, science-fiction cinema can further provide relatable materials to make us think radically about international law.
Do films take rights seriously? This chapter argues that answering this question requires first examining underlying assumptions about what films do and the role of popular culture in the construction of socio-legal narratives. It moves on to argue that, rather than advocating the setting aside of humanitarian principles in pursuit of some vitally important ends, many films are best understood as depicting the moral dilemmas raised by the implementation of rights in extreme conditions and reflect some of the profound shifts that have recently occurred in the law and ethics of warfare. The chapter concludes with some thoughts on the danger of 'sanitizing' warfare and the role of films in unsettling the liberal intuition that war can be fought humanely.