Human versus where? : navigating the survival space in the 21st century American survival film

  • Cassice Last

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis navigates the contents, patterns, limitations and renegotiations of the filmic
survival space in 21st century American film. Defined as the audio-visual wilderness
environment in which the human becomes trapped, the survival space withers the human
body, and prevents communication and escape. In interrogating this survival terra incognito,
the thesis identifies ‘survival’ as a distinct, contemporary, and uniquely American, genre,
one that extends beyond cinema and across several media platforms. This thesis necessarily
traverses media forms, placing a variety of survival media in dialogue with film. Beginning
with Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000), the influential, benchmark hit that established a
model for the survival space in the 21st century, I examine how subsequent survival films,
television shows, video games and internet spaces respond to, update, and adapt this model
and, in so doing, position survival as a multi-media phenomenon.

This genre – and the spaces within it – require critical attention today, not least because
they function as a highly visible cultural response to questions and anxieties within 21st century America. These spaces, which are developed in the post 2000s American survival
film, respond to, and articulate, common cultural anxieties whether concerning the fragility
of our bodies in the technological era, our agency in and outside a rapidly progressing
capitalist society or the fraught relationship between humankind and the natural
environment. In working through what survival means today, the contemporary American
survival film popularises a discourse of survival; one that questions not only how to survive,
live and thrive today, but also where this can take place, ultimately making survival a spatial
Date of Award2 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorLucy Fife Donaldson (Supervisor) & Tom Rice (Supervisor)


  • American cinema
  • Survival film
  • Space
  • Setting
  • Body
  • Multimedia

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 30th September 2025

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