The Perfidious President and “The Beast”: Evil in Oliver Stone’s Nixon

in The Changing Face of Evil in Film and Television
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This chapter approaches Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) as a unique rhetorical artifact - examining how the construct of “evil” is symbolically manifest in the depiction of one of twentieth-century America’s most controversial, if not reviled, figures. In mining the non-linear narrative and the kaleidoscope of filmic elements, the author finds that evil is depicted at two levels: a micro level evident in the protagonist’s petty behaviours and fatal character flaws; and at a macro level in a conspiratorial complex of people and entities referred to as “the Beast.” The chapter concludes that the film portrays evil in ways that are conventional relative to traditional Western thought. However, the film also signals a willingness to recognise the potential for evil in places, people, and positions that were, heretofore, largely taboo, and reveals a new level of sophistication in symbol assemblage that may undergird more complex depictions of evil in the future.