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Runaway Train: Violent Compulsion or Compelling Pity?


The 1985 film Runaway Train was adapted from a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa. It is a depiction of how human beings can, in particular circumstances, degenerate into animals compelled toward violence and cruelty. The film asks, given the inherent cruelty, hate and aggressiveness of human beings, are we in any sense redeemable? The possibility that redemption can be found though acts of altruism and sacrifice, is represented widely in art, film and literature, but what are the internal, intra-psychic foundations from which such lasting psychological patterns emerge?

Using clips from the film, I will explore its underlying themes and show how Melanie Klein’s account of infantile aggression can be applied in a way that illuminates the very worst and best aspects of our human nature. To see the film in advance, it is available in full on youtube here: