Waltz with Bashir (2008): Trauma and Representation in the Animated Documentary

By Joseph A. Kraemer


There is a struggle in presenting traumatic events, as it comes along with aesthetic and ethical considerations. McCay was an important precursor for a number of trends in artistic representation that lead to defining the twentieth century in portraying the modernist tendencies toward experiencing human catastrophe. Having these visual documents allows for society to understand better what they have not encountered directly themselves.

“The drive to complete and heal trauma is as powerful and tenacious as the symptoms it creates. The urge to resolve trauma through re-enactment can be severe and compulsive. We are inextricably drawn into situations that replicate the original trauma in both obvious and unobvious ways”… The concept of the reenactment, outside of its role as a symptom of and treatment for the traumatic experience, also points the way to how animation can fit within the myriad discourses defining the ways in which nonfiction film can represent the world.

Ari Folman’s filmic process reveals the interplay between the signifier (the animated image), the signified (the viewer’s mediated experience), and the referent (the historical reality). Instead of using “rotoscoping”, a common animation technique where the image is directly painted over to create a unique look for the movement of the plastic image, Folman used the video instead as a visual reference for a stand-alone process of animation where the images were crafted frame by frame using drawings and vector-based computer technology (“Waltz with Bashir Press Kit” 4-6).

Folman reveals the live footage at the end of the film, rendering the animation as the cartoonish element in comparison to the vulgarity of actual dead bodies. It was as though he hypothesized the viewer wanted “know” the truth and the reality of the trauma of the massacre. The purpose this serves is through the unveiling of the massacre’s effects, there is a moment of supreme catharsis where the true scale of suffering is felt. Many threads converge at once and the whole picture can be seen. The thesis is formed in attempt to remember and understand the truth of the event, which is how the filmic act becomes the means by which Folman is able to achieve his therapy.


Kraemer, Joseph. (2015) Waltz with Bashir (2008): Trauma and Representation in the Animated Documentary. Journal of Film and Video 67.3-4. University of Illinois Press.


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