Post-Holocaust Comedy: The Function and Use of Humor in Peter Greenaway's The Falls and Gold

Summer 2007

Beatrix Chung-Yiu Chan : English

Mentor: Suzanne Popkin, Comparative Literature

While the application of humor to the Holocaust may seem difficult and even offensive, humor during the Holocaust was employed as a means of critique and rebellion, aiding in developing solidarity amongst prisoners and as a mechanism for coping with trauma. Though such rationales exist for the use of comedy during the Holocaust, there is no such theorization for post-Holocaust comedy written in response to the event. In looking at the British filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s post-witness portrayals of the Holocaust, specifically, his 1980 film The Falls and his latest novel from 2002, Gold, I will ascertain how by presenting the Holocaust through comedic fiction focusing on absurdity, Greenaway develops a new and necessary function for humor in contemporary portrayals of the Holocaust.

My interest in the Holocaust concentrates on way the event alters the most foundational concepts in society such as family, art, and religion. I had a very difficult time developing a research question pertaining to the Holocaust as there have already been endless questions asked with only a handful that can be researched or even answered. However, it was by complete chance and luck that I found the two works by Greenaway, who happens to be my favorite filmmaker and artist, and was able to incorporate his works into my project perfectly as they deal with the alteration of the concept humor in relation to the Holocaust.