Screen Studies - Abduction
The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations
The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

Mike Figgis

Mike Figgis is the renowned musician/film-maker whose career began with the People Show in the 1970s. His film credits include Stormy Monday, Internal Affairs, the award-winning Leaving Las Vegas, as well as the innovative digital films Timecode and Hotel. His photographs have been displayed at galleries, and he has created installations for gallery spaces. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Faber & Faber, 2017


Content Type:

Book chapter


Figgis, Mike

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DOI: 10.5040/
Page Range: 60–62

Abduction: the action of forcibly taking someone away against their will.


Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1996)

A businessman arranges for his wife to be kidnapped and held to ransom to solve his financial problems.

Polti’s 19th-century book focuses mainly on women as the abducted, and as such it invariably falls to the man to respond, recapture the woman and then possibly take revenge on the abductors in order to save the woman’s honour.

Much of this concept remains in contemporary cinema, often taken to new heights of horror and brutality. Women are raped, mutilated and tortured with stunning regularity in various film genres. Men step in and solve the crime, find the perpetrators and deal out justice. There are exceptions (e.g. The Silence of the Lambs ), but for the most part we continue with this situation and the genre remains male-dominated, tying in with all the biblical stereotypes about gender and sexuality.


The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

A female FBI agent tracks down a serial killer who abducts and skins his female victims.

In Polti’s book the categories were:

  1. abduction of an unwilling woman;

  2. abduction of a willing woman;

  3. the rescue of an abducted woman, followed by the killing (or sparing) of the abductor.

In early pre-cinema drama these situations would have been part of a larger social context – a war, for example, a conflict between two or more rival groups, the idea of a hostage to bargain with. But cinema, with its use of the close-up, immediately began to exploit the intimacy of this situation, the sexual charge of the dominant male and the female prisoner, the potential for complex emotions and danger.

In contemporary cinema we have a choice as to how to deal with ABDUCTION and the gender issues that are inherent within these situations:

  1. with restraint, while at the same time acknowledging the intimacy and eroticism of the situation;

  2. exploiting the baser instinct and allowing the male to capitalise on his power. Sadly, an excessive number of films choose this second route and the lines between pornography and exploitation become extremely blurred.


This raises important questions about who is controlling and influencing the way in which we make films. Following the film industry’s transition from celluloid to digital, it is now very simple and relatively cheap to make a film, and the influence of the porn genre is very clear. Within extreme porn, the concept of Abduction is a dominant theme. It is no longer possible to discuss cinema without including porn as part of the equation. Male attitudes towards women (and vice versa) are tied into the sex-film industry, and these values have become assimilated into the mainstream. As film-makers we have a responsibility to be aware of this when we deal with volatile situations like Abduction. Clearly, it is a useful device within storytelling: it motivates action and creates drama that everyone can relate to.