Regarding Susan Sontag (2014) Film Critique

Regarding Susan Sontag (2014) Film Critique

Director and writer: Nancy Kates

Cast: Patricia Clarkson

Genre: Documentary/Biographical film

Susan Sontag’s Biography:

Susan Sontag was an academic, novelist, and journalist who dedicated her life to promoting women’s rights, spreading anti-war views, as well as writing numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. Sontag was one of America’s first celebrity intellectuals mostly due to her contributions to the society, but also due to her controversial criticism of the society.


 Regarding Susan Sontag is a documentary which investigates into the life of Susan Sontag who can be viewed as one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. The documentary uses archival materials, stories from family, friends, and colleagues, as well as Sontag’s own words in order to construct a storyline of her life.


The documentary focuses on the life of Susan Sontag throughout her career as a writer and activist, but at the same time it incorporates her personal life. The viewers are presented with a large number of information in a very effective manner since the documentary creates a timeline of Sontag’s life and points out achievements and struggles she has faced. In order to get a better understanding of Sontag’s life, the viewers are provided with information from Sontag’s youth and upbringing. Sontag was shy and withdrawn in her teens and due to her inexperience in relationships she falls in love with a much older man to whom she marries soon after. The documentary shows that throughout her marriage she was never in an ideal relationship even though they did have a child. It was evident throughout the movie that Sontag was never showing signs of emphasized femininity nor was she ever pressured to act in a certain way. Sontag presented herself since an early age as a strong and independent woman who did not feel that she has to conform to the needs and desires of man. This also touches on the topic of choice and free will since the documentary has clearly shown that Sontag did not have any boundaries or restrictions enforced which could have prevented her from being successful. The movie on a couple of occasion’s mentions that Sontag was suffering in the marriage and therefore that is the reason why she decided to get a divorce from her husband. In the meantime Sontag is introduced into the world of gay bars by a friend of hers named Hariott. Soon after Sontag discovers that she has homosexual tendencies and develops affectionate feelings for Harriot who is a lesbian herself. Bisexuality plays an important role in Sontag’s life especially on the personal level since she became more satisfied with her life and that was the period when Sontag started to take part in activist campaigns for women right’s as well as anti-war campaigns. All of the people who were interviewed for the documentary have in some way or another said that Sontag has found her true self by coming out and being open about her sexuality. Through Sontag’s extensive activist campaigns, journalism and novels she eventually attracted worldwide attention. One crucial factor which determined Sontag’s popularity was globalization. Through the developments in technology, transportation, and communication Sontag was able to interact with highly influential people around the globe and also spread her message in an effective manner. During this time Sontag’s love life was turbulent as she was constantly changing both male and female partners. The movie does in a way show that Sontag was a promiscuous woman who at certain times was emotionally unstable. One reason to her emotional instability could have been due to the fact that she was receiving disapproval from a large number of people due to her criticism of the society. Sontag needed a way to relieve the stress so she chose to be actively involved in feminist campaigns and she openly admitted that she was a feminist. Feminism played a big role in Sontag’s life since she was able to connect better to her womanly self and she found a place where she could freely express her views on certain issues. Throughout the movie it was obvious that Sontag caused a lot of public outrage due to some of her public speeches criticizing the society. There is a possibility that this public outrage was not primarily because of her criticism of society, but instead was due to anti-feminist backlash. The movie was not able to come to a conclusion to why some people were opposed to her, although it did point out that  Sontag  has tried her best to not get distracted by opposition. Overall, the documentary presents Susan Sontag’s whole life in a very effective way and conveys a message to the audience that overcoming socio-cultural barriers can be accomplished.

Specific Scene:

One scene which really strikes out was when an interview was shown in which Sontag said that her desire to write comes from homosexuality and that she would have never been that successful without it. I think that Sontag wanted to tell people that for happiness in life and personal satisfaction you have to accept who you are, accept differences, and work on your self-realization. This directly relates to the themes discussed in class which is that there are a lot of people who are afraid of other people’s opinions and as a result they may choose to not come out.

Individual Experience:

Attending the Reelout Film Festival expended my view on the community I was not familiar with. Before the actual movie started a short movie made by Queens’s students was projected which I found to be a nice touch from Reelout since they are supporting young talents in film industry. The theatre was half full with very few university students which I found surprising. Majority of the people in the theatre were older ladies and few gentlemen and the atmosphere was welcoming and positive. Overall, my experience at Reelout was very positive and I would highly recommend the documentary Regarding Susan Sontag to anyone who is interested in movies that are on the more serious side.


“Regarding Susan Sontag.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.


4 thoughts on “Regarding Susan Sontag (2014) Film Critique

  1. I like how you use the term “celebrity intellectuals” because it demonstrates how Susan Sontag is knowledgeable about the standpoints she makes in the public eye. Although I have never heard of Susan Sontag before reading this, your review has made me very interested to do my own research about her. I find it interesting that Sontag’s bisexuality helped her relate to the activism she chose to stand for. I wonder how people would react to her presence in a more modern time, do you think people would react differently or the same?


  2. You present a really through analysis of the film. I particularly enjoyed how you touched on wide range of topics spanning from sexual orientation to globalization. I found it very interesting when you mention “One reason to her emotional instability could have been due to the fact that she was receiving disapproval from a large number of people due to her criticism of the society.” This idea that it is reprehensible to be who you are has huge impact on the mental health and stability of individuals. Furthermore, when this notion is contested, and society does nothing but denounces and criticize it is clear that steps need to be taken to understand the importance of individual choice and expression. Although, in recent years this notion has become more widely accepted, I feel there is still ground to be covered.


  3. An interesting point that you touched on was how globalization helped Susan Sontag extend her message. The use of computers is exceedingly important for people to connect with others that share similar beliefs. The feminist movements rely heavily on the use of communication between people to form communities. You also expressed that the ability to connect with influential people helped to spread her message. This is still relevant in media and society today. The media is an outlet for influential people to voice their opinions. When the message is positive towards equality, feminist movements, and the LGBTQ community it creates a platform for people to support. I believe that your review did an excellent job at outlining how Susan Sontag’s experiences moulded her activist voice. You mentioned that you were surprised to see a majority of the theatre filled with older men and women. These men and women could have very well supported and followed Susan’s work while she was prevalent. It would have been interesting to speak with one of these individuals to gain insight on their experience with the feminist movement.


  4. I really liked the way you presented a clear timeline of Susan’s life and the hardships she faced; it made it easier for readers to understand. I agree with your point about how Susan realized the key to happiness was to accept herself, which can be difficult. Although yes, accepting oneself is a main part of it, others need to be accepting as well or at least unprejudiced towards these individuals because they are struggling to truly be themselves. It’s hard to embrace and love who you are when others are constantly putting you down. Hopefully in the near future everyone will be able to proudly express who they are and won’t be judged for being themselves.


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