Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Liberal Arts (M.L.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Liberal Arts

Major Professor

Amy Rust, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Scott Ferguson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William Cummings, Ph.D.


Abjection, Incest, Oldboy, South Korea, Telesthesia, Transnationalism


Many consider Oldboy be the defining film of the most recent wave of South Korean cinema, with scholars such as Terrence McSweeney and Kim Kyun Hyun arguing the film's representation of South Korean culture through collective memory, trauma, and Westernization. However, most of the current scholarship that surrounds the film does not adequately address the film's prominent theme of incest. My thesis explores the anxious implications of the film's incestuous imagery and reads it as a figure for the film's transnational presence. Specifically, in my project, incest is the nucleus on which I build each argument outward. First through abjection and desire for self and other, onto telesthesia and desire for private and public, then finally, transnationalism and the desire for national and global. These desires we typically take as binaries, but in fact, we experience an anxiety of being simultaneously on both sides of the binary. I argue that attentiveness Oldboy`s representation of the incest taboo brings necessary nuances to the current scholarship that surrounds it: Contemporary South Korean culture cannot be a primary focus, as South Korea has always been entangled within an "other", be it through Colonization, Westernization, or more recently telecommunications. In conclusion, by closely examining the incest taboo in Oldboy, this project sheds light on the simultaneity within the desires of self and other, private and public, and finally, national and global.