copyright 2002, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Cinema
issue no. 45 <>

Apt PupilŐs misogyny, homoeroticism and homophobia--
sadomasochism and the Holocaust film

by Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart
and Jason Grant McKahan

That sadomasochism and homoeroticism often accompany the depiction of Nazism in the Holocaust film has long been recognized. Ilan Avisar, in Screening the Holocaust, traces what he calls the connection of Nazism and “sexual deviance” to Rossellini’s Open City.[1] Gerd Gemünden suggests that in 1942, “the association of male homosexuality with sadism and perversion [as in the effeminate portrayal of Heydrich in Hangmen Also Die] … anticipates postwar films such as The Damned (Visconti 1969) and Night Porter (Cavani 1974).”[2] Richard Plant in The Pink Triangle indicates that the Soviet film, The Fighters (Wangenheim 1936), depicted Nazis as effeminate perverts.[3] The goal of this article is to examine the depiction of sexuality in the Holocaust narrative film in general, and in specific, in the adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, Apt Pupil, into film (dir. Brian Singer, Phoenix/TriStar Pictures, 1998). As we aim to show, the novella’s construction of the Nazi-as-monstrous takes place against the backdrop of misogyny; in the film, it’s against an ambivalent fluctuation across homoerotic and homophobic registers. Apt Pupil presents a test case to analyze theoretically the frisson that lures us into watching and reading Nazi iconography and torture in Holocaust narratives as sexual.

Anti-Nazi propaganda in World War II portrayed Nazis as “perverted, sadistic, and homosexual,” which remarkably parallels Nazi rhetoric condemning Jews and contragenics as “pestilence, plague, social sickness, and aberration from the normal” and “sexually deviant,” usually either hyper-masculinized monsters who preyed on innocent German girls or sexually impotent pseudo males who were never quite as human as the Germans. Yet there is also a tension in the typical depiction of a male Nazi since it hypermasculinizes him beyond the bounds of normality into the realm of the Nietzschean Übermensch. As Jean-Pierre Geuens remarks:

The fullness of the historical facts shrinks into a few iconic scenes... : the shiny boots, the skull and bones on the black cap, the impeccable military uniform, the leather coats of the Gestapo men, the cold, blond SS officer, the Heil Hitler, the heel clicking, the burning of the books, “the glory of the Third Reich,” and the classical music with which the guards welcome the deportees. In these images, problematically, the Nazis are presented almost as they themselves would have liked to have been seen at the time: cool, perfect, efficient, an irresistible force operating in a world whose history is preordained.[4]

In terms of film, this type of ideological shorthand or caricature persists and is often packaged as part of what makes contemporary Gothic-inspired portraits of Nazis sell.

What has often been underestimated in well-meaning fictional denunciations of fascism is the tendency of sexualized villainy to excite and fascinate the subject. Sexualized images can undermine authorial intent because they always present the possibility of triggering a number of emotional reactions in spectators, ranging from horror to desire. Propaganda, in its attempt to establish one united voice, fails to take full account of the shifting spectatorial identification and the ways in which sexual representations metaphorically and literally “move” the human body. However, in order to evaluate the interests Western culture has in recounting and representing the Holocaust in part as related to sexual practice, we believe that prior to proceeding to a particular test case, it is necessary to consider the larger issues of sadomasochism as a sexual practice and as generally used to depict torture in drama, fiction, and film.

Sadomasochism has been portrayed widely in mass culture: in advertisements (Calvin Klein, Obsession), music (Rock, New Wave, Punk, Heavy Metal), books (Europa, Under the Hill, Confessions and Experiences), films (Crash, 9 1/2 Weeks, Blue Velvet) and television programs (Twin Peaks, Favorite Son).[5] In terms of its analysis in the psychological literature, there has been much written on sadism and masochism since Krafft-Ebing coined the two neologisms in Psychopathia Sexualis (1885). Krafft-Ebing then framed sadism and masochism as mutually exclusive, opposing “sexual perversions,” but he also recognized that displays of sadism were found in normal sexual practice. As he defined the terms, sadism consisted of “sexual pleasurable sensations produced by cruelty, bodily punishment inflicted on others,” and masochism, “the wish to suffer pain and be subjected to force.”[6] Freud later linked sadism and masochism into a single complimentary “perversion,” sado-masochism.[7]

In his essay, “A Child is Being Beaten,” Freud described beating fantasies in terms of three conscious and unconscious “moments,” in which beating fantasies take on fluctuating sadistic and masochistic positions – beater, beaten, onlooker.[8] Freud recorded the first moment of the beating fantasy, according to his female patients, with the following phrase (sections in brackets were either elicited or inserted by Freud):

My father is beating the child [whom I hate].

The second moment is phrased:

I am being beaten by my father.

And the third moment is phrased:

Some boys are being beaten [by a paternal representative. I am probably looking on].

Freud explains that the first moment is really an unclear recollection, and that fantasy really begins with the second moment, which substitutes the child herself for an anonymous child. Positive Oedipal desire intercedes between the first and second phase as the child punishes herself for her desires and satisfies desire through a regression to anal sexuality. However, the second phase is so deeply repressed, it is recoverable only as a “construction of analysis.” The third phase takes the place as a conscious and erotogenic fantasy, in which a group of boys stands in for the female child as the recipients of punishment as the child looks on, now masculinized by the fantasy. (Freud noted that male subjects imagined boys, rather than girls, as standing in for themselves during the third phase, which means that the objects of beating in the third phase are always sexed as male.)

In short, Freud ascribes sadomasochism to sexual repression in the Oedipal phase as the child fears punishment for acting out sexual desires. Lynn Chancer concludes,

Freud did not develop his analysis into a full-blown historical criticism of social institutions that are sexually repressive (such as, in many cases, the family).[9]

In attributing sadomasochism to the Oedipal phase, Freud intimates but never clearly states that rather being than a biological sexual instinct, sadomasochism is a social phenomenon imbedded in a culture based on male dominance and female submission and on sexual repression and aggression in literate societies.[10] In this vein, we may look to the social domination of institutions for answers to our questions about the popularity of sadomasochism in mass culture.

The role of sadomasochism in media and popular culture has been articulated by some feminist film theorists. According to critics such as Laura Mulvey, sadism is the ruling perversion in cinema, which is complicit with the male gaze. Women are thus controlled within film narratives by male-oriented narrative trajectories of investigation and punishment or by a visual regime of sadistic fetishism, “fetishistic scopophilia.”[11] Gaylyn Studlar notes that what is left out of this model is masochism and proposes an alternative model in which visual pleasure is not sadistic, but rather masochistic. In this version, cinema’s visual pleasure is related to viewers’ pre-oedipal pleasures of oral merger and fusion with the mother as opposed to separation and identification with the father.[12] However, Linda Williams questions the “either/or oppositions” of Mulvey and Studlar’s models by emphasizing the pleasure of sadomasochistic fantasy in its non-fixed, interrelated, oscillation “between masculine/feminine, active/passive, sadistic/masochistic and oedipal/preoedipal” positions.[13] Quoting Studlar, Tanya Modleski and Teresa de Lauretis, Williams attempts to describe a model of “bisexuality,” in which more “fluid” interactions allow both male and female viewers to move across masculine and feminine identifications. She warns, however, that such a theory would only be effective if the masculine and feminine identificatory positions “are not considered apart from larger relations of power that devalue femininity and ultimately repress male masochism.”[14]

Williams’ remarks are particularly fruitful for evaluating Apt Pupil’s transformation from novella to film because the grounds for establishing the monstrosity of Nazi sexuality in the two versions shift from misogyny to homoeroticism-homophobia. Yet ultimately, in both cases, there is a similar narrative pattern, which can also be seen in many other works that do not necessarily have an overt connection to the Holocaust but partake of the same Gothic horror-psychological thriller-sexualized torture coding (e.g, Carrie and Blue Velvet). That narrative pattern may be schematized in the following way: sexual awakening, followed by fascination with power, costume and ritual; an overwhelming desire to find out more, leading to danger; an attempt at power/mastery, which is reversed by events in a dramatic way; and an overturning of power relations in which the victimizer becomes the victim.[15] By looking closely at the fantasized relations in one particular film, Apt Pupil, we shall examine the frisson and fascination of this type of narrative and analyze its implications in terms of spectatorship, gender, and power.

The novella

In the novella, Apt Pupil, homophobia is a sexual “problem” associated with monstrous Nazism. Todd expects to find in Dussander the hypermasculine “fiend of Patin,” but those hopes are initially dashed by Dussander’s appearance at the door as a decrepit old man in a squalid bathrobe.[16] Todd’s desire for Dussander is associated with longing to reconstruct the old man to look the part of his infamous name and make him (sexually) attractive again:

He was really going to have to do something about the way Dussander dressed when he was at home. It spoiled some of the fun.[17]

Thus, Todd decides to buy Dussander an S.S. uniform, which Dussander does not want to wear[18] but Todd insists firmly.

Dussander let [his] robe fall to the floor and stood naked except for his slippers and boxer shorts . . . but the uniform, Todd thought. The uniform will make a difference. [19]

When Dussander appears in the uniform, Todd is “pleased . . . for the first time Dussander looked to Todd as Todd believed he should look.”[20] Thus, Todd’s masculine idealization of Dussander as a “war criminal” corresponds to Dussander as a pleasurable object of a homoerotic gaze. By blackmailing Dussander, Todd not only secures the authority that allows him to control Dussander as an object of the gaze whenever he desires, but also in the process of “remaking” Dussander, he has the pleasurable sensation of manipulating Dussander to fulfill his fantasies of sexualized power. Thus, for Todd, Dussander as a homoerotic object is a monstrous variation of “normal” heterosexual desire. Though Todd’s demands to remake Dussander in the image of his fantasies concerning the perfect Nazi killing machine initially seem non-sexual, the narrative’s sexual dimensions become more overt as the story’s momentum picks up.

As the novella progresses, Dussander increasingly begins to appear as a homoerotic object in Todd’s nightmares; yet the dreams immediately signal homoeroticism’s closeness to homophobia within heterosexuality. In one dream, Todd is in a selection line of camp deportees and Dussander chooses him: “Take this one to the laboratories.” [21] By no coincidence, in another dream, the laboratory turns out to be the same one in which the young Jewish woman is bound to the table—and Dussander is also present. “Dussander was assisting him. Dussander wore a white butcher’s apron and nothing else. When he pivoted to turn on the monitoring equipment, Todd could see Dussander’s scrawny buttocks grinding at each other like misshapen white stones.”[22]

In the novella, Todd’s monstrous sexual drives appear to fluctuate between paradigms of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Despite the grotesque erotization of Dussander’s buttocks, at this point Todd’s conscious “object-choice” is a 16 year old Jewish virgin whom he rapes with a metal-tipped dildo under Dussander’s “scientific” mentorship.

Dimly, far off, he could hear Dussander reciting: ‘Test run eighty-four. Electricity, sexual stimulus, metabolism. . .’ She cried out when the tip of the dildo touched her. Todd found the cry pleasant, as he did her fruitless struggles to free herself, or, lacking that, to at least bring her legs together.[23]

In contrast, in the film this nightmare sequence gets replaced by three “shower-gas chamber” scenes, in which it is now the male body that emerges as simultaneously eroticized and terrorized; in the film this is what codes these scenes as “nightmarish” and “monstrous.”

Repeatedly in the short story, Todd and Dussander’s relationship is coded with homoerotic undertones, which recur whenever the two speak of their relationship. Dussander tells Todd he is “mixed up” with him, that their “fate[s] are inextricably entwined,”[24] and they “are in this together, sink or swim.”[25] Todd continually wishes to break off the association and asks Dussander, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?” To which Dussander replies, “My boy . . . we are fucking each other—didn’t you know that?”[26] As their relationship evolves, Dussander gets an equal hold on Todd and the boy fears that those around him will detect the sexual “abnormality” of their liaison. Todd grows angry when his father complains that he “is spending a little too much time with Mr. Denker.”[27] Todd imagines having to explain this relationship to his friends:

Guys, I got mixed up with this war criminal I got him right by the balls, and then—ha ha, this’ll killya, guys—then I found out he was holding my balls as tight as I was holding his. I started having funny dreams and the cold sweats.[28]

Both Dussander and Todd strive to reinforce their heterosexual masculine identities by feminizing and victimizing homeless men.

They both dreamed of murder . . . Todd awoke with the now familiar stickiness of his lower belly. Dussander, too old for such things, put on the SS uniform and then lay down again, waiting for his racing heart to slow.[29]

Todd first meets a wino, who offers him sexual favors:

For a buck I’d do you a blowjob, you never had better. You’d come your brains out, kid you’d—[30]

Later, he begins a killing spree on the homeless and masturbates afterward. Dussander, in the role of a “well-to-do old faggot,” similarly tempts winos back to his house with the promise of money for sex, then murders and buries them in his basement.[31]

Thus the spectatorial points of identification between Todd and Dussander are understandably mixed: the two are both victims and victimizers and therefore simultaneously sympathetic and alienating characters. Since King paints both portraits in such large stereotypical and caricatured patterns, with Todd as the all American, apparently all too normal, perfect boy next door, and Dussander as the All German, apparently all too abnormal, perfect monster next door, there is a sense in which we, the audience, maintain a confused relation to them. Like Todd, we listen voyeuristically to Dussander’s graphic descriptions of the unmentionable; yet we do not feel too sorry when the tables are turned and it is now Todd’s turn to be victimized (particularly as his “punishment” is studying hard). There is a sense in which, though we fluctuate in our allegiances to Todd and Dussander, we remain at the level of Freud’s first stage; we spy on either the Dussander or Todd figure being “beaten” into submission (each of whom we love to “hate”—precisely because they are caricatures). We remain spectators looking in from the outside. Or we feel justified that such a beating is necessary to the narrative and thus identify with the beater rather than the beaten. These responses are encouraged precisely because the novella plays upon stereotypes so thoroughly that it invites the possibility of an ironic read.

Though this type of complex relationship to the main male characters is possible, the audience relationship with the women in the novella is far more conventional and linear. Although Todd exhibits misogynistic tendencies from the beginning of the novella,[32] his degradation of women chiefly reflects an attempt to reaffirm his masculinity. Thus, Monica Bowden and Betty Trask are objects of misogyny in Apt Pupil, but are by no means the only disparaged female characters.[33] Todd’s relation with his mother, Monica Bowden, is just one instance of misogyny. Initially, his mother’s body is consigned to incestuous objectification.

His mother wasn’t a bad-looking chick for thirty-six, Todd thought; blonde hair that was streaked ash in a couple of places, tall, shapely, now dressed in dark red shorts and a sheer blouse of a warm whiskey color—the blouse was casually knotted below the breasts, putting her flat, unlined midriff on show.[34]

They converse as though age-mates in affectionate idioms such as “Toddy-baby” and “Monica-baby.[35]

Todd becomes increasingly hateful in his treatment of Monica. When his mother develops suspicions concerning the purpose of Todd’s visits to Denker’s house, Todd suddenly detests her, “hating the half-informed intuition he saw swimming in her eyes.”[36] Shortly thereafter, Denker has a heart attack and Todd calls his parents in a panic, aiming to rush to the old man to the hospital. When Monica’s “soft, cultured voice” answers the phone, Todd sees himself “slamming the muzzle of the .30-.30 into her nose and pulling the trigger into the first flow of blood.”[37] King treats this shift in Todd’s attitude concerning his mother as emblematic of a larger sexual abnormality cultivated by Todd’s perpetual descent into the degenerate universe of the Nazi Dussander.[38]

Todd’s relation with his girlfriend, Betty Trask, is also portrayed in misogynistic terms. Initially, Todd’s sexual exploits with Betty are successful, but Todd’s prowess figures more as a proof of his masculinity in the eyes of his friends than a testament to any emotional bond with her. When at the breakfast nook Dick Bowden inquires about the progress of his dates with Betty, Todd is annoyed by the mere mention of Betty’s name. Todd thinks to himself, “Oh, by the way, did you know your good friend Ray Trask’s daughter is one of the biggest sluts in San Domingo? She’d kiss her own twat if she was double jointed... she’d fuck a dog if she couldn’t get a man.”[39] Betty is portrayed as a hypocrite (and oversexualized Untermensch or Unmensch) who tells her girlfriends she doesn’t “put out” when in reality, “[she] was the kind of girl who fucked on the first date.”[40]

As Todd is increasingly caught up with Dussander, he explicitly begins to despise Betty; not managing to get an erection, he utilizes misogynistic fantasies to “get hard.” In one episode, Todd imagines forcing a crying Betty to strip naked in front of his friends, yelling to her,

Show your tits! Let them see your snatch, you cheap slut! Spread your cheeks! That’s right, bend over and SPREAD them![41]

Given that such sexual control in this film reverberates with the similar Nazi domination of Jews, it is no surprise that on another occasion, Todd invokes the fantasy of raping the young Jewish woman to reach an orgasm. Todd’s misogynistic view of Betty is also expressed in racial terms, most likely prompted by his commerce with Nazism. He begins to wonder if she is a “sheeny” and if the Trasks are “passing for white.”[42]

One look at her nose and that olive complexion—her old man’s was even worse—and you knew. That was probably why he hadn’t been able to get it up. It was simple: his cock had known the difference before his brain.[43]

Finally, Todd begins to wonder if he can’t just dump Betty and boast to his friends that he “fucked ‘er out.”[44]

Todd also defends his masculinity through rape.[45] For instance, in an incident briefly characterized earlier, Todd’s first wet dream takes place after a continual series of nightmares instigated by Dussander’s vivid storytelling: In one dream in a concentration camp laboratory, a young and attractive Jewish woman is bound to a table with clamps. As a “reward” for bringing up his grades at high school, Todd is permitted sexually to assault her with a hollow metal dildo, which is fitted with an electrical cord and placed over Todd’s penis.

The lubricated interior of the dildo pulled and slid against Todd’s engorgement. Delightful. Heavenly.[46]

The narrative’s identificatory structuring clearly places the reader in the position of Todd, who is aroused by the encounter and attains pleasure as he violently penetrates the Jewish woman, but the narrative does not identify with her torment of being violently assaulted. Thus, King’s telling of this incident is all the more misogynistic because it is constructed from the perpetrator’s position, in which the presupposed white masculine reader engages with Todd in “guilty pleasure,” which is characterized by simultaneous repugnance and sexual gratification.[47]

Unlike the descriptions of the relations between Todd and Dussander, where fluctuations across the realms of victimizer (masculinized) and victim (feminized) are allowed, Todd’s and Dussander’s relations to women and to drunk vagrants are aggressively hypermasculinized. The structure of the narrative seems to demand this hypermasculinization in order not to imperil Todd’s and Dussander’s masculinities. This is despite their homoerotic-homophobic interactions which we as spectators look in on, like the child in Freud’s first phase. Such spectatorial interaction grows more complex in Brian Singer’s film version because of the film’s shift in emphasis from misogyny to intermingled registers of homophobia and homoeroticism.

Novella into film

Boyce’s script and Brian Singer’s film adaptation of Apt Pupil predominantly diminish the novella’s misogynistic threads. In particular, the screenplay excises the novella’s worst misogyny, that in the treatment of Monica, Betty (Becky in the film) and the young Jewish woman.[48] Instead, the film shifts the focus to an ambivalent fluctuation across homophobia and homoeroticism in order to signify monstrosity. The primary source of homoeroticism in the novella— the relationships binding Todd, Denker (Dussander in the film), and the homosexual derelict—remain prominent in the film. In addition, the film intensifies the connection between homophobia and homoeroticism through the visual juxtaposition of Todd’s young and desirable body and the scarred, emaciated and geriatric cadaver-like bodies of male Holocaust victims.

One factor that accentuates homoeroticism in the film adaptation is the proximity between male bodies within both the storyline and imagery. Todd and Dussander are the central characters in the novella, so it is not astonishing that they remain prominent in the film adaptation. In fact, Singer saw this as one particular challenge with Apt Pupil:

The most difficult part of making this film is basically that unlike Usual Suspects, you’re given only two characters... So there aren’t many places to go with the camera and storytelling. [49]

Despite its wide screen format, the film restricts most of the development of Todd (Brad Renfro) and Dussander’s (Ian McKellan) relationship—framed mostly in close-ups[50] —within a crepuscular, dimly lit and claustrophobic bungalow, in which the hidden Nazi lives in obscurity; exceptions are a bus ride, dinner at the Bowden home, and hospital scenes.[51]

This close proximity, framed in close-ups every time Dussander touches Todd,[52] intensifies a homoerotic tension, punctuated by dread of contact with the monstrous, which cannot be attained visually in the novella. Paul Emmons notes the intimidating effect of Dussander’s proximity to Todd:

Kurt slowly approaches Todd as though to embrace [or caress] him, only at the last second turning the gesture into a reach for an object behind the boy.[53]
Homoeroticism in the film is further created by the camera’s gaze on Todd’s body, imagery conveyed in the novella (e.g. the focus on the “moistness” of Todd’s genitals and lower abdominal region)[54] but further explored in the film. Jake Wilson draws attention to a memorable “pin-up shot,” in which, “teenage hunk Brad Renfro [is] sprawled on his bed in his underwear, gazing up at the hovering camera...” [55] Yet the image has another implication: this “pin-up hunk” is very close to an eronemos (beloved)—the “beautiful” boy-man who apprentices under the tutelage of the erastes (lover), and whose mentorship includes sexual initiation. Such a relation, within contemporary mainstream notions about male-male homoerotic relationships, is often construed as dangerously homosexual.

Repeatedly throughout the film, the lighting and ever-encroaching camera fetishize Todd’s youthful body in a way usually used to depict the female body (See Figure 1—overhead shot of Todd, lying naked save for his shorts). Similarly in other scenes throughout the film, Todd’s white face with its mild complexion is fetishistically shot in close-up. In addition, he is given to wandering about without a shirt on.[56] Wilson does not miss the implication of this structuring: “At times it’s hard to say whether deviant sexuality is meant as a metaphor for evil or vice versa, given the film’s fixation on Renfro’s muscular body, pale fine skin, and rosebud lips (held vacuously open, like an actress playing a bimbo).”[57] Stuart Klawans writes in a similar fashion in The Nation:

Apt Pupil devotes a lot of time to hinting that its clear-eyed hero, with his sensitive lips and lithe, hairless torso, might desire something other than the standard-issue girlfriend.[58]

We understand the homoerotic fetishization of Todd’s body as one instance in a trend which depicts Nazism for an assumed white masculine spectator; it is complicit with a looming fear of homophobia, here conflated with the evil of Nazism.

It is interesting that through this depiction, however, that Todd enters the space of Mary Russo’s “monstrous feminine.”[59] That is, far from being the haughty unimperiled predator, he is now simultaneously dangerous and endangered. This is evidenced visually when he dreams that he is looking through a porthole at several naked male Holocaust victims, who stare accusingly at him (See figures 2 and 3—porthole and victim looking at Todd).

Whereas the novella describes Dussander’s transformation from a decrepit old man to a genteel SS officer, the film furnishes an image all too familiar from “imposed make-over” scenes, where one character sadistically coerces another character to dress up/play a part to fulfill his fantasies, seen in such films as Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) or Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961).[60] In the film version of Apt Pupil, Todd’s attempt to transform Dussander is more dominating and voyeuristic than it was in the novella; there Todd solicits Dussander to put on the uniform and when Dussander resists, Todd grumbles about how he has saved all summer to afford it and shakes his head at Dussander’s pleas. By contrast, in the film, Todd threatens to betray Dussander to the Israelis and shouts,

I tried to do this the nice way, but you don’t want it. So fine, we’ll do this the hard way. You will put this on, because I want to see you in it. Now move!

Note that the editing style here creates juxtaposition, so that we view Dussander in the SS uniform and then anticipate Todd’s reaction. A mobile camera is employed to show Todd’s emotional response to Dussander’s arousing appearance. Whereas Todd as a subject is lit with an apparently natural light source, Dussander as the object of the gaze is side-lit with an expressionistic blue lighting. Finally, a comparison of camera angles between shots reveals that Todd’s reaction shots are predominantly from a low-angle, which make him look more powerful. These visual choices enhance sexual difference between the characters in a way that is parallel to the heterosexual, institutional cinematic construction of sexual difference between men and women. The composition of the images (Todd as looker, Dussander as fetishistic object) and the relation of camera angles renders the scene as sadomasochistically homoerotic. This effect occured despite Singer’s claim that,

For some strange reason, some weird reason, shooting him from the lower angle, where normally you would think the character would be empowered, up on high, made Brad weaker.[61]

The term “sadomasochistic” is appropriate only if the “bottom,” in this case, Dussander, consents to his humiliation by the “top,” in this case, Todd. As Williams and several sociologists analyzing masochism argue,[62] the pleasures of sadomasochistic pornography (in which Apt Pupil partakes) depend on its contractuality—that is, the top somehow never exceeds the boundaries set by the bottom. Through “careful timing, the suspense and anxiety of prolonged suffering, delayed consummations, surprise gestures of either cruelty or tenderness..., frequent role-playing, and inversions of hierarchies,”[63] actually aids the bottom to achieve the erotic peaks s/he desires, thus leaving open the issue of who really controls the situation. Williams cites Robert Stoller’s psychoanalysis of a masochistic female patient, whose recurring fantasies of hyper-dramatized pain and humiliation during sex Stoller diagnosed as a camouflage which she used in order to justify to a fantasized (superego) audience her apparent protests against this kind of relation. Yet the hyperbolic nature of the fantasy for Stoller, which Williams adopts in her analysis of spectatorial relations in particularly aesthetic sadomasochistic films, unveils how the bottom’s apparent helplessness in entering into this relation allows her (since the bottom is fantasized as feminized, even if it is a male body) to maintain the integrity of the “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy while ultimately attaining the pleasures of the “bad girl.”[64] Williams also astutely points out that such a staged gesture of utter submission becomes subversive or a “devious act of defiance” more easily for a male body than a female body, because submissiveness within a patriarchal context is configured as the “natural” stance of femininity.

In relation to Apt Pupil, therefore, we can argue that Todd’s coercion and humiliation of Dussander are the means through which Dussander realizes his secret desires. Later when Dussander reverses these power relations by posing as Todd’s compassionate grandfather, Todd reveals his complicity when he refuses to confide the truth to Edward French, the guidance counselor—who the film hints may also be drawn homoerotically to Todd. Todd seems to acknowledge that his fantasies of power and eroticism can only be hetero-cosmically envisaged through Dussander’s hypermasculinity, as opposed to the figure of French, who seems effete. That is, Todd, consents to becoming the “bottom” only to Dussander’s “top” because it is Dussander who can best fulfill his fantasies. Todd and we the audience, looking predominantly through his eyes, desire not only to be the beaters (Freud’s first stage) but also to be the beaten (Freud’s second stage), which explains the frisson and fascination of the film’s homoerotic-homophobic liaison in which we vicariously and visually partake.

Interestingly, this same scene in which Todd displays unrelenting command over Dussander is also the scene in which Todd begins to lose his control over the monstrous Nazi machine he has awakened. As Todd cries, “Stop,” Dussander marches more fervently as if possessed by an innate force that goads him on. What follows is a rapid series of shot/reverse shots between Todd and Dussander in which both characters are framed in close-up, thus radically rupturing the visual structure of power. By the end of this scene, Dussander in close-up warns Todd, “Boy, be careful, you play with fire!” Todd is finally rendered powerless as the scene ends with his baffled and apprehensive face in reaction shot. (See figures 4 & 5—final close ups of Todd and Dussander in the “dress up” scene). This scene once again visualizes pure, inherent evil as Nazism—embodied in Dussander’s aging body, now reanimated by the simulacrous force of a costume masquerading as a uniform. Yet that embodiment of evil is also somehow constructed as glamorous, desirable, and intoxicatingly powerful.

This inversion of the power relation affects Todd’s sexual and academic life. As Todd McCarthy explains,

For his part, Todd is now so preoccupied by Nazi evil that he can no longer perform sexually and shortly sees his outstanding grades decline to a level that threatens his chances for college.[65]

However, the novella and film differ about what constitutes Todd’s sexual abnormality. In the novella, Todd begins to have misogynistic dreams, one of which includes the rape of a restrained and tortured Jewish woman, described earlier. The film replaces the rape scene with a shower scene, in which Todd witnesses his schoolmates transforming into homoerotically-homophobically coded Holocaust victims. The beginning of the shower scene looks like the homoerotic shower scenes in the sports film genre (part of the “masculine” sports subplot for ToddŐs all American boy persona). The scene frames the boys mostly frontally, above the waist and from the back, in medium longshot. It is precisely in the transition to the Holocaust fantasy that the cinematic style moves into fetishism and horror.

Using blues and darker tones in digital colorization, now older Holocaust victims are shot in the way women in showers are usually shot with the camera panning, in close-up, across erotically charged parts of their bodies, such as their chests, which they rub as they gaze upon Todd through the shower’s “night and fog.” The scene turns into horror, given that the victims’ bodies are coded as monstrous with emaciation and scars. The background music immediately signals to the audience that an encounter with the Holocaust victims is just as terrifying and fascinating as an encounter with the Nazis. Thus, we observe a sexualized past and present here represented in not only different colorization and style in a manner comparable to Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955) but also with shifting registers across sports genre, “acceptable” homoeroticism, Holocaust imagery, and homophobia.

This second shower-gas chamber scene is ripe with references to both the gas chambers of the Holocaust and Marion’s lethal shower in Psycho as well as Carrie’s shower scene—shower scenes being staples in Holocaust and horror films. It is described in the following way in Boyce’s script:

Writhing bodies, thin, malnourished. These are bodies he has seen before. The room is darker, concrete. The steam rises. Or is it steam? Smoke, thick smoke, surrounds him. The voices of the boys are more like screams.[66]

Significantly, there are no overtly naked old men who are described in the passage cited above, only “thin and malnourished” ones. Yet the film visualizes the grotesque geriatric body under a prominently lustful gaze. Once again, as in the earlier shower scene, the camera shots, musical motif, and background sounds repeatedly link Todd to the old man—as monstrous gazers and victims of the voyeuristic gaze.

The production of this scene resulted in a lawsuit, which alleged that Singer and his crew forced teenage actors, who play Todd’s classmates, to perform in the nude.[67] Though the case was eventually dismissed due to insufficient evidence, the charge of pedophilic exploitation haunted the film’s release when the Women’s Coalition, an organization representing some of the teenage actors involved in the case, staged a press conference in order to exert public pressure on the Screen Actors Guild to arbitrate the case.[68] Christian Leopold Shea comments,

This [shower scene] coupled with a statement by Dussander, in which he hisses that he and Todd ‘are fucking each other’... has led some, including the attorneys for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against director Singer and the production company, to allege that Singer deliberately turned the story into one with a strong homosexual subtext. [69]

The last of the film’s gas chamber/shower sequences establishes a subtle but significant departure from the novella and the script. The novella describes Todd’s murderous anger at having been blackmailed by Dussander posing as his cunning “grandfather” into slaving over books in an attempt to save his plummeting grades . As he bikes home, Todd is described as “washed out, hot-eyed, drained, impotently angry.”[70] The film script envisages a scene in which the obsessively angry Todd slips from his bike and flails wildly at thorny, whip-like vines that appear to threaten to consume him.

Todd is freaking out. The music builds. Voices we have heard before come in... The thorns cut into him. The more he flails, the more the briars slap against him. Finally, he tears free of the briars. He climbs back up the treacherous hill and retrieves his bike. Exhausted and bloodied, Todd rides away.[71]
Though the final film stays true to the emotional temperament and many of the details of the script, it adds one significant detail. In this scene as Todd looks up, seen from his point of view, the overhanging arc of the tunnel that he has crashed into appears mist-filled, like a gas chamber. Then an extreme close-up reveals the Nazi swastika. Todd scrambles off with his bike in a frenzied manner. In the scene as filmed, Todd moves unambiguously into the victim position, unlike in the earlier “shower-gas chamber” scenes in which there is a fluctuation across the roles of victimizer and victim.

But the dynamics of the narrative soon move Todd out of that utterly feminized position. In another change from novella to film, ToddŐs continual encounters with Betty Trask are reduced to a single rendezvous with Becky (Heather McComb) in which he cannot perform sexually.[72] In King’s novella, the reader can actively recognize a cause and effect relationship between Todd and Dussander’s homoerotic liaison and Todd’s progressively impotent interactions with Betty. In the novella, Todd ameliorates his impotence through misogyny, imagining that Betty is a Jewess, a concentration camp inmate whom he can rape and torture.

However, in the film adaptation, there can be no mistaking the connection between sexual abnormality and Nazism because of the crosscutting between kinds of scenes. In addition, sexual abnormality is now more generally coded as homoerotic (fascinating) and homophobic (monstrous or aberrant). In the film, Todd merely claims he is not in the mood and lets Becky assume he “doesn’t like girls.” The film then provides an implied answer to why Todd cannot perform “normally” by crosscutting to show Dussander shoving a cat into an oven—a rather trite metonymic reference to the thirteen million humans who were slaughtered in concentration camps and cremated in ovens.[73] Later, the film implies Dussander’s eventual success when a poster showing that the cat is missing becomes part of the mise-en-scene. Similarly, Todd’s killing of a wounded bird by crushing it underneath a basketball he viciously dribbles is construed as mimicking Dussander’s monstrous impulses and venal crimes. Denerstein remarks:

He tries to throw a stray cat into his oven, thus proving that the old instinct to gas living creatures dies hard. Bowden develops a sadistic side, too. At one point, he crushes a pigeon with a basketball.[74]

Again, these scripted incidents show how the novella’s misogynistic structure is transformed one based on a combination of homoeroticism and homophobia.

Late in the film Todd and Dussander have a drink to the “beginning and the end of their relationship.” It seems that everything might return to “normal” heterosexuality for Todd. Now follows a “Hollywood montage” time-lapse sequence, which reveals the following details: 1) Todd is successful in pitching a shutout baseball game, in which the editorial inter-cutting shows Becky encouraging him with applause. 2) Todd competes like a professional at basketball practice and once again gains the admiration of his coach. 3) Todd enjoys himself thoroughly on a date at the movie theatre with Becky where they enjoy each other’s company and share a box of popcorn. 4) This indulgence of “normality” becomes destabilized by the presence of a man seated a few rows in front of them who resembles—and cackles like—Dussander. 5) The inescapability of Dussander’s curse lingers throughout the sequence as coded by the background score, “Das ist Berlin.”

In the meantime, Dussander has begun to recapture a sense of identity that he has lost for quite some time. Whereas in the novella it is clear that Dussander is too old for sex,[75] the film directly shows a correlation between his wearing the SS costume and expressing a homosexual identity. In one scene, at nighttime Dussander stands before the mirror in the SS costume fingering the buttonholes. (See Figure 6: Dussander in front of the mirror.) In close-up, he puts on his hat and begins caressing his face, then his neck; the camera tilts on his hand as it progresses down the jacket and his other hand moves down below his waist. In medium shot, Dussander stands narcissistically in front of mirror, grasping at his crotch. This moment is disturbed when he hears a derelict, Archie (Elias Koteas), outside rummaging through a trashcan.

If the succession of murdered gay derelicts presented in the novella serves to reaffirm Todd and Dussander’s masculine heterosexuality, the single derelict in the film, Archie (who appears in the second or extended shower sequence), serves a similar purpose. However, in its visual structuring of eye-line matches the film evokes homoeroticism in a more powerful way. A further scene that uses eye-line matches in a similar way is the bus scene, in which Dussander is returning from the liquor store and again notices Archie, who is amorously gazing at him. Curiously, that scene is not in Boyce’s original script. In the script’s scene 62,

Dussander emerges from a liquor store carrying two bags.

Then in the scene immediately following, 63,

Dussander steps off the bus and plods down the sidewalk with his sacks of groceries.[76]

Thus, the final bus scene has been fashioned in keeping with the homoeroticism of an omitted scene from the script in which Archie sits uneasily near to Dussander on a bus stop bench.[77] (See figures 7 and 8: Archie making eye contact with Dussander; Archie offering to help Dussander.)

In this scene in the film, the shot/reverse shot editing, eye-line match and rack focus implicate Dussander and Archie in a homoerotic division of glances in which a presumed male heterosexual spectator might identify with Dussander’s homophobic discomfort. Singer recognizes this as a potential reaction,[78] but we believe that he minimizes the extent to which Archie is meticulously coded as gay. Indeed, both the scene in which Archie approaches Dussander in the street and the one in which they drink in Dussander’s bungalow are designed to emphasize Archie’s homosexuality. In the street, Archie assures Dussander,

You don’t... There’s no reason to be rude. I know something about you. I know you're a nice guy. I'm nice too. Just like the boy.

He then invites himself in for a drink and offers,

Maybe you’ll let me use your shower, but first a drink. And then I’ll do anything you say.

As Dussander shifts his eyes and motions towards his bungalow, the Liebestod motif from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde enters on the sound track. The use of Wagner, of course, alludes to Nazism, but the motif of Liebestod—a love death—ties this sequence to a Romantic tradition of tragic love, of which WagnerŐs Tristan und Isolde is a major expression. The music thus emphasizes more intensely the implication of a monstrous homoeroticism between Dussander and Archie than the “soft music” suggested in Boyce’s script.[79]

The strains of Liebestodmotivate a cut to the interior of Dussander’s bungalow, where the two share a drink of bourbon. Soon, Dussander begins to stroke Archie’s face and hair with his hand as he asks, “Do you mind?” “No, not at all,” replies Archie. Archie solicits,

You know maybe in the morning, after everything goes o.k., you can let me have ten dollars... Maybe even twenty... You can relax, you know. I’ve done this before.

Now Dussander, knife in hand, moves behind the wino and rubs the unsuspecting Archie’s head, responding, “ThatŐs all right, so have I.” Richard Scheib correctly observes,

The sensual pleasure with which McKellan caresses and then slits KoteasŐs throat [is] something that Koteas takes to be a homosexual caress.[80]

In this way, the poor man Archie is viciously circumscribed as sexually promiscuous and abnormal and therefore designated as a justified victim of Dussander, who plunges the knife into the wino’s back. First, as a homoerotic object, wearing what appears to be a woman’s sweater and scarf and offering sexual favors,[81] Archie serves as a scapegoat for Dussander’s gender anxiety, a victim through whom the old Nazi can reaffirm his masculinity. Second, Archie’s class status as a transient renders him an Untermensch, which makes his death both justifiable and insignificant. When Todd arrives, Dussander manipulates him into finishing off Archie, actualizing Todd’s fantasy of knowing “what it feels like.” Now not only are the two joined vis-à-vis the apparently vehement embrace of a traditional homophobic injunction, but also by the justification of their continuing their solidarity, confirmed by this secret and subversive blurring of the boundaries between homoeroticism and homosexuality.[82]

Hunter and hunted

There is one apparently minor character whose role in the narrative we must examine in order to understand our own viewing pleasures in the film’s unfolding of its sadomasochistic tableaux of rituals within rituals. This character, the Israeli school teacher-agent who relentlessly hunts down Nazis, gives our superegos a narrative entry point. His perspective seems to promise objectivity and the transcendence of the guilty and reflexive moments in the film in which we are haunted by our identifications with Todd and Dussander.

However, a closer analysis of the film reveals that the Israeli hunter is just as coldly determined and charmingly ruthless as Todd and Dussander. In his interrogations of the victimizers turned (potential) victims, it is clear that he relishes Todd’s discomfort at finding himself under the scrutiny of not only an agent but more importantly of a discerning school teacher used to the tricks of “naughty boys.” Similarly, the agent enjoys the dread he fans in the bedridden and drugged Dussander by refusing to identify himself overtly or the agency for which he works. He allows the visual iconography of the small star of David that he wears on his lapel and the power of the unstated to strike greater fear in the captured Nazi. (Figures 9 and 10: the Israeli agent interviewing Todd and Dussander). Yet another appealing figure to whom we are initially strongly drawn becomes unmasked as yet another aspect of the monstrous. His “righteousness” lies in such proximity to his vengefulness that it becomes yet another expression of masked sadism. And this civilized sadism is a thin veneer for the sublimated masochism that rules how he lives his life; as he ruefully hints to a colleague, he now spends his time obsessively and sacrificially (albeit not without its peculiar pleasures) “chasing old men” as opposed to the girls he could pursue in his younger days.

A Jewish camp survivor is the person who realizes that the grandfatherly figure in the cot next to his at the hospital is the “monster of Patin,” but that character, too, is both frightening and sympathetic. His eyes widen and an expression of cunning pervades his face as he sneaks over to peer down at the sleeping Dussander; the background music codes this as a moment of building tension. (See Figure 11: the Jewish survivor looking at the sleeping Dussander) For a moment, we consider that this other grandfatherly figure may be out to kill the unsuspecting sleeper but that moment passes swiftly. The camera then reveals the sick man’s subjective point of view as he stumbles away in horror from Dussander’s bed; the camera also shows his arm in a close-up, revealing the tattooed number and the necessary facts of his identity. He collapses unsteadily into a nurse’s arms, clutching at her and crying desperately. Though he has not succumbed to the temptation of killing his former tormentor and the murderer of his family, he has even if only for a moment shared the voyeur’s and killer’s gaze.

The line between victimizer (sadist) and victim (masochist) is thin for the film’s male characters. Todd, Dussander, the derelict, and the guidance counselor, Ed French all negotiate fluid borders between power and powerlessness—one minute authorized by the potential for blackmail and then in the next instance rendered vulnerable, even expendable. All of these characters move through the narrative pattern of sexually charged fascination with power; a desire to probe more deeply; a situation of danger, which the character tries to overcome through a bid for total mastery; and then the reversal of a dramatic gambit which leads the victimizer to become a victim.

In contrast to the film’s narrative structure, the novella ends differently. There Todd does not graduate as the class valedictorian; after killing Ed French, he goes on a shooting rampage until the SWAT team guns him down. In the film Todd triumphantly graduates as valedictorian and successfully blackmails his former guidance counselor, Ed French, whom he threatens to accuse of pedophilia (thus rendering overt the homoerotic possibilities hinted at in both novella and film). The film’s final scenes crosscut between Dussander’s escape from his captors by suicide and Todd’s escape from French by blackmail, in which he repeats some of the lines Dussander himself had used in order to counter-blackmail Todd into submission earlier: “[A scandal like] this will never go away, not for you.” The film ends with a dimly lit close-up of the dead Dussander’s steely-eyed gaze; it is clear that Dussander’s spirit lives on through Todd. In other words, while the novella ends like a classic horror film in which the monster has been successfully vanquished (at least until its next reincarnation), the film ends like a contemporary or “postmodern” Gothic narrative in which the monster lives and is unveiled as part of ourselves rather than an alien force out there.

This postmodern Gothic ending is crucial to understanding the complex and ambivalent spectatorial pleasures a film like Apt Pupil may enable us to indulge in as vicarious participants in the action. If we reflect on those pleasures, we might conclude that our identifying with Todd and Dussander as alternating victims and victimizers let us occupy the emotional positions of beater and beaten. That is, as with Freud’s voyeuristic child, part of the strange pleasures a film like Apt Pupil affords us is the recognition that we can vicariously occupy both the feminized space of the child being beaten and the masculinized space of the beater.

This act of sadomasochistic film viewing is also enabled by the ritualistic nature of vicarious role-playing, with which we may dramatize, use, or interpret historical/social reality. Just as the subject status is substituted with another subject in beating fantasies, so too can the relations and conditions of the present enter into our sexualized fantasies. Citing Theodor Reik’s work on masochism, film theorist Kaja Silverman notes how within the beating fantasy, role-players often participate in the disavowal of national, racial, and historical settings, usually in the guise of sacrificial scenes of “primitives” in which the male sees other men offered up for castration and sacrifice to the gods.[83] This process of disavowal is the hetero-cosmic impulse with which the subject fleshes out the contours of his/hersexual fantasy, unconsciously taking into account either the essential concern in such fantasies with subject-positioning and gender “roles”[84] or the person’s need “to segregate the S&M situation from everyday life [by] … keying … culturally general resources.”[85] In employing the costumes and mise-en-scene of Nazism, the world in which the beatings occur becomes an “other,” a “barbaric” universe of regalia, concentration camps and gas chambers.[86] Thus, not only can we participate and witness torture imagining ourselves next in line; we also can transform our own age, historical moment and cultural subjectivity into a Nazi masquerade.

In the film’s ambiguous ending, the monstrous not only runs free but is also part of us. One could argue that part of the frisson of watching films like Apt Pupil and The Night Porter which juxtapose Grand Guignol with the Holocaust and sexualized torture narratives is that these visualize “the problematic acceptance of the ‘enemy,’ meant at once as other than ourselves, as a psychological reality in itself and as a specular image of the heart of darkness within us.”[87] Yet it is important to note that such an argument seems effective only in so far as it applies to the white male heterosexual point of view (as it does in both the novella and film versions of Apt Pupil). As Williams notes:

Male masochism reflects oedipal law and subverts it at the same time. To Silverman . . ., an important aspect of this subversion lies in its construction of a ‘feminine’ yet heterosexual male subject.[88]

It is more difficult to construct masochism as a subversive gesture when one employs a female body because masochism’s stance of passivity and vulnerability is “naturalized” as feminine.

The pattern Williams describes certainly fits Apt Pupil, with its construction of monstrosity from the porous perspectives of two feminized yet heterosexual male subjects, who alternate between victim and victimizer, against the backdrops of misogyny and homoeroticism-homophobia. That claim is harder to make of a movie like The Night Porter, over which a furious debate rages as to whether or not this is a film from a woman’s point of view.[89] The director Liliana Cavani is a woman and therefore may be trying to present deeper and unsettling truths about the female human condition), or the narrative focus may still be primarily about Max’s fantasy-nightmare (Max, played by Dirk Bogarde, is Nazi officer turned hotel night porter) and that Lucia (Max’s former “little girl” at the concentration camp, played by Charlotte Rampling, turned bourgeois wife to a famous conductor) is problematically constructed by the narrative as complicit with him.[90]

Ultimately, the narrative and spectatorial dynamics in Apt Pupil, the film, seems best described in the following way. The script tries to construct yet another clear binary between characters who are perpetrator and victim, linked to the heterosexual binary of masculine (perpetrator) and feminine (victim). Yet, this attempted construct is itself fraught with tensions. The male characters move across sadistic and masochistic positions (a movement denied to female characters) and across homophobia and homoeroticism (also denied to female characters). Thus, the film wrestles with the all too familiar theme of endangered masculinity. To cover over this problematic, in a move parallel to making women in slasher films hysterical so that men can be allowed to be terrified or feminized without the narrative’s threatening their masculinity, as theorized by Carol Clover, Apt Pupil constructs femininity as passive in order to form the right backdrop for this narrative of masculine endangerment. Yet what is unique to Apt Pupil is that hypermasculinity (both Todd and Dussander have to possess properties of the Übermensch to be able to get away with what they do) is constructed as covert identification with the feminine—and emerges as an instantiation of the monstrous which is not out there but resides within us.


[1] Ilan Avisar, Screening the Holocaust: Cinema’s Images of the Unimaginable (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 134-48

[2] Gerd Gemünden, “Brecht in Hollywood: Hangmen Also Die and the Anti-Nazi Film,” TDR 43 (4) (Winter 1999): 65-7. The earliest book in English to conflate Nazism with sexual perversion was Samuel Igra’s GermanyŐs National Vice (London: Quality Press, Ltd., 1945).

[3] Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1986), p. 16.

[4] Jean-Pierre Geuens, “Pornography and the Holocaust: The Last Transgression,” Film Criticism20 (1-2) (Fall-Winter 1995-96): 119.

[5] Gerhard Falk and Thomas S. Weinberg, “Sadomasochism and Popular Western Culture,” in S and M: Studies in Sadomasochism, Thomas S. Weinberg and G. W. Levi Kamel, eds. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983), pp. 137-144; Lynn S. Chancer, Sadomasochism in Everyday Life (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1992), p. 21.

[6] R. von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis (New York: Stein and Day, 1965), pp. 53-86.

[7] Sigmund Freud, The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (New York: Modern Library, 1938), p. 570.

[8] Sigmund Freud, “‘A Child is Being Beaten’—A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversions,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: The Hogarth Press, 1919), vol. 17, pp. 175-204.

[9] Lynn S. Chancer, Sadomasochism in Everyday Life (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), p. 86.

[10] Paul H. Gebhard, “Fetishism and Sadomasochism,” in Dynamics of Deviant Sexuality: Scientific Proceedings of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, Jules Masserman, ed. (New York: Graune and Stratton, 1969), pp. 71-80.

[11] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16 (3) (Autumn 1975): 6-18.

[12] Gaylyn Studlar, “Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema,” in Movies and Methods, Volume II, Bill Nichols, ed., (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1985), pp. 602-21.

[13] Linda Williams, Hardcore: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 204.

[14] Williams, p. 206.

[15] We are grateful to the editors, Chuck Kleinhans and Julia Lesage, for this insight.

[16] King, Different Seasons, 112.

[17] Ibid., 133.

[18] Ibid., 141.

[19] Ibid., 142.

[20] Ibid., 142.

[21] Ibid., 146.

[22] Ibid., 189.

[23] Ibid., 189-190.

[24] Ibid., 163.

[25] Ibid., 165.

[26] Ibid., 197.

[27] Ibid., 139.

[28] Ibid., 178.

[29] Ibid., 206.

[30] Ibid., 199.

[31] Ibid., 207-210.

[32] Todd first visiting Dussander is particular interested in hearing about scenes of German soldiers torturing and “raping all the women they wanted” (Ibid., 130). He asks the old man, “Did you spank any of them? The women? Did you take their clothes off and—” (Ibid., 117).

[33] Dick Bowden denigrates Monica’s mother and grandmother as “Polack[s]” (Ibid., 183). Morris Heisel’s wife, Lydia, is depicted as a “nag,” (Ibid., 230) who cooks “wretched suppers,” (Ibid., 232) and speaks in “bays” and “trills” (Ibid., 249). Morris also “loathes” Lydia’s mother (Ibid., 232). Todd refers to his girlfriends’ mothers as “cunty” (Ibid., 254). Edward French’s wife, Sondra, is described as an “irritating woman!” (Ibid., 260).

[34] Ibid., 135.

[35] Ibid., 135.

[36] Ibid., 221.

[37] Ibid., 225. Todd’s hatred no doubt extends to the “nuclear family” in general, as he envisions perpetrating violence on his father, “I’m going to stick my knife up your fucking nose” (Ibid., 253). Both parents are implicated in the negative influence of adults. See Tony Magistrale, “Inherited Haunts: Stephen KingŐs Terrible Children,” Extrapolation 26 (1) (Spring 1985): 43-9; and Tom Newhouse, “A Blind Date with Disaster: Adolescent Revolt in the Fiction of Stephen King,” Gary Hoppenstand and Ray B. Brown, eds., The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987), p. 49-55.

[38] Tony Magistrale, Landscape of Fear: Stephen KingŐs American Gothic, (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988), p. 87.

[39] King, Different Seasons, 253.

[40] Ibid., 254.

[41] Ibid., 255.

[42] Ibid., 257.

[43] Ibid., 257.

[44] Ibid., 256.

[45] Keesey, “The Face of Mr. Flip,” 199.

[46] King, Different Seasons, 190.

[47] William Rothman, The Murderous Gaze (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 251.

[48] There is a minor skirmish between Dick and Monica about her accumulation of bills, but Todd’s hatred for her is no longer perceptible. In addition, Monica’s mother and grandmother, Morris Heisel’s wife, Lydia, Lydia’s mother and Edward French’s wife, Sondra, are not referenced.

[49] Dan Scapperotti, “Stephen KingŐs Apt Pupil: Usual Suspects —Auteur Bryan Singer on Adapting KingŐs Timely Shocker.” Cinefantastique 30.9 (10) (1998): 20-21.

[50] Jake Wilson, “Apt Pupil,” Urban Cinefile, Friday, November 9, 2001 <>.

[51] Had the earlier film adaptation been released, which was slated for 1988, but fell through after ten weeks production, we would have seen Todd and Dussander congregate in exterior scenes such as a puppet show and a café! See Gary Wood, “Whatever Happened to Apt Pupil,” Cinefantastique 21 (4) (February 1991): 36-37.

[52] Richard Scheib, “Apt Pupil,” The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review, 1998 <>.

[53] Paul Emmons, “Apt Pupil,” BigScreen Cinema Guide, 1998 <>.

[54] King, Different Seasons, 189, 206.

[55] Wilson, “Apt Pupil.”

[56] Fred McDonald, “Apt Pupil,” Abingdon College and District Film Society Program Note, November 2, 1998 <>

[57] Wilson, “Apt Pupil.”

[58] Stuart Klawans, “Scream 4: The Holocaust?” Nation, 267 (14) (November, 02 1998): 35.

[59] Mary Russo, The Female Grotesque (New York: Routledge, 1995).

[60] In Vertigo, John makes Judy dress up to resemble Madelein, while in Viridiana, Viridiana’s uncle makes her dress in his late wifeŐs wedding gown. Compare a similar Pygmalion replication in Devil in the Flesh (Steven Cohen 1998), in which Debbie’s grandmother makes her wear her mother’s old clothes to school. Such scenarios are most common in pornographic films, such as The Fever of Laure (Marc Dorcel 1999), in which a client makes the prostitute Laure dress up as Alice in Wonderland.

[61] Cockrell, “One Good Hard Step Beyond Innocence.”

[62] See for example, Thomas S. Weinberg and Gerhard Falk, “The Social Organization of Sadism and Masochism,” Reprinted from Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 1:379-393 in S and M: Studies in Sadomasochism, Thomas S. Weinberg and G. W. Levi Kamel, eds. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983), pp. 149-161; John Alan Lee, “The Social Organization of Sexual Risk,” revision of an article that first appeared in Alternative Lifestyles, 2 (February 1979): 69-100, in S and M: Studies in Sadomasochism, Thomas S. Weinberg and G. W. Levi Kamel, eds. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983), pp. 175-203; and Thomas S. Weinberg, “Sadism and Masochism, Sociological Perspectives,” S and M: Studies in Sadomasochism, Thomas Weinberg and G.W. Levi Kamel, eds. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983), pp. 99-143.

[63] Williams, p. 212.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Todd McCarthy, “Apt Pupil.” Daily Variety, September 11, 1998, p. 10.

[66] Boyce, Apt Pupil: Screenplay, 61.

[67] For details, see Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, “A Clothes Call: An Indecent Proposal Made on the Apt Pupil Set?” Entertainment Weekly, May 2, 1997, p. 21; “Parents Sue Over Alleged ‘Pupil’ Nudity,” Daily Variety, April 18, 1997, p. 50; “Second Suit Filed Over ‘Pupil’ Lensing,” Daily Variety, April 22, 1997, p. 22; “Third Suit Against ‘Pupil’ Principals,” Daily Variety, May 16, 1997, p. 52.

[68] Eric J. Olson, “Org Renews Protest Over ‘Pupil,’” Daily Variety, October 23, 1998, p. 54.

[69] Christian Leopold Shea, “Rapt Pupil,” Jaundiced Eye On-Line Review 1998 <>. Jack Cheevers and Mark Ebner, in “Naked Shakedown,” New Times Los Angeles Thursday, July 2, 1998, “Features,” note, “In interviews with journalists, Rub and Gordon like to milk the ‘irony’ of a group of innocents herded into showers and forced to strip during the making of a movie related to Nazi death camps--even if it’s a bit of a stretch to compare Eliot Middle School with Dachau.”

[70] King, Different Seasons, 177.

[71] Boyce, Apt Pupil: Screenplay, 58.

[72] Shea, “Rapt Pupil.”

[73] Mathews remarks: “ItŐs played as black comedy, as if Dussander were a reformed vampire falling off the wagon. But considering that the cat represents the lives of 6 million slaughtered Jews, itŐs comedy of a truly odious sort.” Mathews, “Apt Pupil Looks at Seductive Power of the Face of Evil,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1998, p. F8.

[74] Robert Denerstein, “Not Much to Salute in ‘Apt Pupil,’” The Denver Rocky Mountain News, October 23, 1998, Entertainment: Weekend Spotlight; Ed. F; p. 1D.

[75] King, p. 206.

[76] Ibid., 62-63.

[77] Ibid., 56C-57.

[78] In Cockrell,One Good Hard Step Beyond Innocence,” Singer remarks, “I never intended any [erotic tension] between the two characters [i.e., Todd and Dussander], but there is a smattering of that with the guidance counselor and with the homeless guy, which can be kind of interesting.”

[79] Boyce, Apt Pupil: Screenplay, 66.

[80] Scheib, “Apt Pupil.” Note, Scheib has some details of the film action wrong here.

[81] James Verniere, “Master Class: Apt Pupil Studies Lure of Nazism and Other Evils.” Boston Herald, October 23, 1998, SCE, p. S11.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 206-209.

[84] Ibid., 208.

[85] Weinberg, “Sadism and Masochism, Sociological Perspectives,” p. 110.

[86] The connection of “barbarism/premodern culture” and Nazism was key to the discourse surrounding Buchenwald, most notably in the shrinking of heads. This is not far off from post-war thought about Nazi Germany as an ostensibly modern culture, but under the veil, “atavistic.” See Lawrence Douglas, “The Shrunken Head of Buchenwald: Icons of Atrocity at Nuremberg,” in Visual Culture and the Holocaust, Barbie Zelizer, ed., (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), pp. 275-299.

[87] Laura Pietropaolo, “Liliana Cavani’s Night Porter,” Donna: Women in Italian Culture (Ottawa, Canada: Dovehouse Editions, 1989), p. 71.

[88] Williams, p. 213.

[89] This discussion was started by Teresa de Lauretis. See, for example, Teresa de Lauretis, “Cavani’s Night Porter: A Woman’s Film?” Film Quarterly 30 (1976-77): 35-38. See also The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), and Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1984)

[90] See, for example, Marguerite Waller, “Signifying the Holocaust: Liliana Cavani’s Portiere di notte,” in Feminisms in the Cinema (Indiana Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 206-219; Chiara Bassi, “Fathers and Daughters in the Camp: The Night Porter by Liliana Cavani, Gendered Contexts: New Perspectives in Italian Cultural Studies, eds. Laura Benedetti, Julia L. Hairston and Sylvia M. Ross (New York: Peter Lang, 1996), pp. 165-175; Mirto Golo Stone, “The Feminist Critic and Salome: On Cavani’s The Night Porter,” Romance Languages Annual, eds. Ben Lawton and Anthony Julian Tamburri, Volume 1 (Purdue Research Foundation, 1990), pp. 41-44.

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