Silencing, liminality, and containment in contemporary cinema in Ireland

  • Emma Kelly

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


From the box office successes of Philomena (2013) and Calvary (2014) to the social media driven viral success of short films such as We Face This Land (2015) and Terminal (2018), the emergence of trauma as an area of interest for Irish filmmakers indicates its popularity as a topic within Irish society. Recent social, political, and legal changes have provided a new space in which the telling of unheard stories on both a personal and societal level has become possible. Contemporary cinema in Ireland has developed a means through which these previously marginalised and obscured voices may be heard. Despite this, until recently, scholars have neglected to examine cinema’s usefulness as a tool for the excavation and unearthing of personal and societal trauma in Irish history and culture. Drawing on Kristeva’s notion of the abject as that which ‘disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules,’ this thesis considers how cinema’s examination of the abject in cultural and personal contexts enables it to assume a significant role in the process that leads from traumatic rupture to reconciliation (Kristeva 4).

Key to this exploration of the representation of trauma in cinema in Ireland is the notion of liminal space. Liminal, stemming from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning ‘a threshold’, may be broadly defined as a transitional place or period, a state of flux between two different states of being. It can refer to spatial and physical thresholds, such as borders, shorelines, and doorways, and rites of passage and transition. Through an examination of the representation and intersection of physical liminal spaces, such as Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, Industrial Schools, Reformatory Schools, and Direct Provision Centres, the liminal legislative spaces in which such architectures of containment operate, and the othering and scapegoating mechanisms that constitute rites de passage whilst also perpetuating cyclical and transgenerational trauma, this thesis engages with contemporary cinema in Ireland to order to explore the ways in which liminal space has been used to both silence and restore voices to Ireland’s marginalised ‘Others’.
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorStefanie Lehner (Supervisor) & Cahal McLaughlin (Supervisor)


  • Contemporary Irish Cinema
  • film studies
  • Irish history
  • trauma studies

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