Robert Rossen’s 1961 Film, The Hustler: Can it be Viewed as an Aristotelian Tragedy?

Robert Rossen’s 1961 Film, The Hustler: Can it be Viewed as an Aristotelian Tragedy?

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Robert Rossen’s 1961 film, The Hustler, is one that is said to aspire to be classified as a tragedy. But can the film be compared to something such as tragedy in the views of Aristotle? Does the film fit the requirements prerequisite of an Aristotelian Tragedy? Or are the comparisons the result of ignorant, unenlightened critics?

Aristotle thought up a list of compulsory requirements for something to be called ‘tragedy’. He concluded “Tragedy affects through pity and fear the catharsis of such emotions.” meaning that during a tragedy, one should feel the emotions of pity and fear--fear that the circumstances which they are observing could one day affect themselves--but that after the spectacle had ended, one would leave feeling ‘lifted up’, as if they had purged themselves of those emotions. In Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’, he stated:
“Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude, in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play, in the form of action, not of narrative, with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.” (Translation by S.H. Butcher)
Every tragedy, then, must have six parts, which determine its quality--namely, plot, characters, diction, thought, spectacle, and melody. (mythos, ethos, dianoia, lexis, melos, and opsis.)

Aristotle’s views were that the plot, characters, and the other four quality determining subjects must all support one another in that they must all add up to a whole, a structured, unity of action, without any outside force intervening, no deus ex machina. That the plot should progress in a way such as a chain of events, whe...


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...aginable’, and as aforementioned, the audience must be able to closely relate to the main character. The fact stands that there is not going to be an entire theatre full of pool prodigies, or prodigies in general. The character also seems to lack ‘fitness of character’, which is even stated in the movie itself. The main character is told exactly that--he lacks character, he is very talented, but just doesn’t have the quality of being essential to carry out the dreams that he wants.

In conclusion, there is just not a great enough sense of pity toward the main character in the end for catharsis to actually ‘occur’. It isn’t dramatic enough. The Hustler cannot really even be compared to an Aristotelian tragedy, let alone considered one. It almost has such a lack of corresponding traits that it could be used as a model of what an Aristotelian tragedy is not. Almost.

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