Paul (Joseph) Schrader Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Paul (Joseph) Schrader 1946–

American film director, screenwriter, editor, and critic.

Schrader is noted for his realistic studies of human anxiety and pain. The theme of individual redemption through violent behavior is prevalent throughout his films, and his climactic scenes often explode in brutal massacres. The film that best exemplifies this theme is Taxi Driver, a controversial story of an alienated man whose search for identity evolves into a psychotic trail of violence and death.

In his first directorial effort, Blue Collar, Schrader examines the systematic emasculation of three assembly line workers in an automobile factory. The script, coauthored by Schrader, has been commended for its realistic dialogue. Hardcore is the first of Schrader's works to probe the debasement of human sexuality. In this film, a deeply religious man travels through the subculture of pornography in search of his runaway daughter, who performs in pornographic films. American Gigolo, one of Schrader's most popular films, analyzes the world of male prostitution through the eyes of protagonist Julian Kay. Some critics believe that Schrader reached the height of his apparent obsession with sex and violence in Cat People. He altered the 1942 version of the film into an intense, sensual horror fantasy about a brother and sister who could make love only to one another lest they release an ancient family curse.

Schrader has been influenced greatly by French director Robert Bresson. In his scholarly book Transcendental Style in Film, Schrader analyzes the filmic techniques of Bresson, Carl Dreyer, and Yasujiro Ozu, and he has been criticized for blatantly copying the moralistic themes and stark settings of Bresson's work. Although many critics have tired of his "obsession with sleaze," Schrader's films maintain interest because he captures the sordidness hidden in modern American society.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)