The Binding of Abraham: Inverting the Akedah in Fail-Safe and WarGames

  • Author(s): Hunter B. Dukes
  • When: 2015-01
  • Where: Journal of Religion & Film
  • This article draws upon Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and Jacques Derrida's The Gift of Death to trace how two exemplars of atomic bomb cinema reinterpret the Binding of Isaac (Akedah). Released during the twin peaks of Cold War tension, Fail-Safe (1964) and WarGames (1983) invert the Akedah of Genesis 22. In both films, an act of sacrificial patricide accompanies or replaces the sacrifice of an Isaac-like son. When viewed in the context of Cold War cultural politics—events such as Norman Morrison’s Abrahamic self-immolation and Kent State’s rejection of George Segal’s sacrificial memorial— the inverted Akedah emerges as a subversive reflection of its traditional form. If, as some scholars argue, the traditional Akedah has been used during wartime to justify sacrificial filicide and further nationalist fervour, its inversion becomes a trope of resistance and protest against the intergenerational annihilation of global nuclear war.

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