Institute for the Classical Tradition
International Journal of the Classical Tradition

Robert J. Rabel, “Impersonation and Identity: Sommersby, The Return of Martin Guerre, and the Odyssey,” IJCT 9 (2002-2003), pp. 391-406.

Initial newspaper reviews of the 1993 film Sommersby were mostly unfavorable, and, when discussed by film critics, the film has usually been judged to be a pale imitation of a more important French film, The Return of Martin Guerre. This article attempts to show that Sommersby achieves a level of originality by conflating the earlier French film with Homer’s Odyssey and in the process depicting a view of the nature of human identity different from what is found in both its major sources. The Odyssey and The Return of Martin Guerre treat the self in a commonsense way as an entity with objective existence, the inner essence of a person. Sommersby, I try to show, posits a more radical view of the self that is best understood by reference to the work of German philosopher Max Stirner and, more importantly, his successor Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom treat the self as a fictional creation, a mutable entity capable of being created and recreated through acts of human will. Sommersby operates with a similar model of identity that treats the self as mutable, the outcome of an act of self-legislation.

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