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“Highways of Desolation” argues that Kimberley Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Patty Jenkins’s Monster (2003) make their protagonists culturally legible to a general audience by presenting their stories within recognizable genres—the road movie and the melodrama. These genres, which often tell conventional stories with predicable plots, offer a way into the story, partly through familiarity and anticipation. Their intelligibility also depends on stereotyped and naturalized conceptions of gender, sexuality, and class in America.
However, these films are also more complex; they use these genres to point to an excess or unspeakability about complex issues of sex, class, gender, and violence that is displaced onto the films’ mise-en-scene. Further, the genre of the road movie shows the protagonists in a threshold space, one that holds out the possibility for a positive construction of the self. This space is eventually foreclosed because of interlocking and oppressive conceptions of class, pollution, masculinity/femininity, and sexuality, which force the protagonists to remain on the literal and figural margins of society. These two genres work hand in hand, with melodrama providing a structure of feeling for the audience—empathy, terror, shock—while the liminal highway of the road movie offers a specific space and set of objects to figure the protagonists as and in trash.