АИ #26 (156)
Статьи журнала АИ #26 (156)
Exploring dysfunctional family relationships in Russia: «Loveless» movie scene d...


Exploring dysfunctional family relationships in Russia: «Loveless» movie scene discourse analysis


Филология, иностранные языки, журналистика

Ключевые слова

a dysfunctional family
discourse analysis
Gee’s theoretical framework
patriarchal and matriarchal expressions

Аннотация статьи

In the article the patriarchal and matriarchal expressions of a dysfunctional family in Russia are considered. The theoretical part provides insights into the notion of a dysfunctional family and into the Gee’s framework for discourse analysis. The practical part builds on the theory and presents the discourse analysis of a scene from the movie «Loveless». The results show that Russian society skews towards matriarchy in some domains of life, but it demands equality in other domains, where patriarchy reigns. Gender-biased expressions are not universal, however follow a similar pattern for both men and women.

Текст статьи

1. Introduction.

The issue of dysfunctional families in Russia is alarming. Their number is constantly increasing, and social services are not always allowed to intervene. Some of such families are even building their routines about the policy of silence. That is why it’s crucial to continue studying the way of life dysfunctional families lead and possible measures to help them.

The object of the research is patriarchal and matriarchal expressions in the dysfunctional family in Russia.

The subject of analysis is a conversation between the parents in a dysfunctional family in the movie «Loveless». The discourse of the movie «Loveless» is perfectly suited for such purposes because it is secluded in the reality of the Russian culture, Russian family, and Russian traditions.

The goal of the study is to decide whether the Russian society can be categorized as patriarchal or matriarchal. The following objectives were set to achieve the mentioned goal:

  • to examine the patriarchal and matriarchal expressions about family life;
  • to find out in what ways gender-biased expressions of men and women in Russia are similar or different.

The main method used in the research is discourse analysis. It provides insights into the emotions and feelings about dysfunctional family life and gives subtler cues that communicate more intricate messages. The analysis is based on the theoretical framework of James Paul Gee. It is to be used as we are reviewing relationships between people.

The research will be useful for social workers and educators and all those interested in discourse analysis.

2. Synopsis of the movie «Loveless».

«Loveless» («Нелюбовь») is a Russian drama film created in 2017. It was directed by Andre Zvyagintsev and the co-writer Oleg Negin. The story of the film is revolving around two separated parents of a boy. Their separation results in planning a divorce and toxic, sometimes hostile relationships. Both parents already have side relationships, but they are temporarily reunited in the endeavor to find their son when it goes missing. «Loveless» received critical praise and acclaim. Critics made laudatory remarks on the focus and depth of the themes of parental neglect, absence of love, care, and hospitality.

3. Dysfunctional families.

Family is the basis of society. It fulfills such crucial functions as reproductive, domestic, of primary socialization and educational for children, recreational and psychotherapeutic for all members. If a family cannot cope with some of the listed functions, then it becomes dysfunctional.

Dysfunctional families face up with difficulties in bringing their children up. Insufficient pedagogical culture of parents, the imbalanced number of incentives and punishments, the absence or lack of love for the child and other factors lead to inadequate and not meeting social expectations behavior of children and adolescents [1]. Such misbehavior may take various forms, but the most common are the decline in academic performance, leaving school at a young age, the denial of parental authority and joining street culture [2]. More adverse forms include smoking, drinking alcohol, drug taking and minor law violations. Social maladjustment of children and adolescents from dysfunctional families is an issue for the whole society. Such families need long-lasting support from social educators.

The family in the movie «Loveless» is dysfunctional. Boris and Zhenya have failed to build a solid relationship, that is why they are filing for divorce. Their child is severely suffering because of their quarrels and because they do not love him. Their dialogue about the custody over him was chosen as the subject of research.

4. James Paul Gee’s tools of inquiry and areas of «reality».

In his book Gee (1999) introduced four tools of inquiry relevant for discourse analysis. They are situated identities, social languages, discourses, and conversations.

a) Situated identities refer to positioning oneself as a certain kind of person and exhibiting corresponding behavior while engaged in a certain activity.

b) Social languages are different styles of language people use to convey their identities in different settings.

c) Discourses stand for a way of putting language, action, interaction, values, beliefs, symbols, objects, tools, and places so that your type of identity and the activities you are engaged in can be correctly recognized by other people.

d) Conversations are controversies and topics existing in a variety of texts and situations throughout a long time and across many institutions.

The tools are closely connected to six areas of «reality» we construct each time we communicate. They are the meaning and value of aspects of the material world, activities, identities and relationships, politics (the distribution of social goods), connections and semiotics.

5. Analysis of a scene from the movie «Loveless».

The following analysis was conducted using Gee’s four tools of inquiry and some of the areas of «reality» discussed previously. The Scene Script is attached in the end of the study.

Situated identities.

In the dispute over the child custody both parents position themselves as ex-couple, pursuing their new lives with other lovers and not willing to take the child. However, they are not divorced and formally represent dysfunctional family members – a husband and a wife arguing on responsibility and divorce issues. They also are a father and a mother as a desire not to take the custody over their mutual child is one of the main themes the quarrel is revolving about. They are even contemplating on taking him to Zhenya’s mother or an orphanage. Lastly, the debate touches upon the equal right, male promiscuity, and man’s honor, which implies the identities of a man and a woman. Summing up, there are several identities involved. They are ex-couple, spouses, parents and a man and a woman. It happens so, as the debate turns into a tug of war, where participants are throwing verbal insults occasionally to prove their point.

Social languages.

The scene represents social languages of Boris and Zhenya, the parents of the child, the to-be-divorced couple. They use informal everyday language, even swear words (“Juvy officers, social workers, I don’t know, child psychologists... Protective services, for fuck’s sake”), but the language is rude, competitive, offensive. It’s evident that they love neither each other, nor their son. It catches the eye because their languages changes depending on the scene. For example, when Zhenya shows the potential customers her flat, she is very polite and hospitable. However, when her son does not greet them, she punches him and bluntly tells him to do so.


The scene is virtually a parental dispute, deciding who is to have the child. Both parents have their attitudes on how their son should be brought up and what he needs more precisely at the moment (Boris: “He needs his mother more.” Zhenya: “Actually, at his age, he needs his father more.”). From the film it becomes obvious that neither of them values family relationships and both of them are selfish and want to live for themselves.


Boris is concerned about reproaches and social workers if they refuse to leave the child. Zhenya denunciates male promiscuity and references gender equality. The common themes here are children upbringing, divorce, equality, selfishness, orphanage, and abortion. Intertextuality is weak. Discourse is confined, yet there are references to Orthodoxy and Christianity (“For sending your own son to the orphanage. How un-Christian of you. How un-Orthodox”).

Significance and actions.

Throughout the whole conversation, the man is standing without any actions, he is simply looking at the woman and seemingly lost and knowing what to do and what to say. The wife is drinking wine and doing something on her phone in the beginning of the conversation, then she puts the glass aside and angrily throws her phone, the tension grows, she moves forward (“Oh, I get it. How stupid I was to think that you’re worrying about the kid”), after that she stands up to force her message that the husband is the one to tell his child that they are going to send him to orphanage (You’ll tell whenever you want, if you want you can wake him up now and tell”).


As we touched upon just up above, social relationships are three-way. However, they are accompanied by the discussion of social goods, such as status, power, and gender. All of them are relevant as it affects the way the dispute is handled. The wife Zhenya can have an elevated status in comparison to Boris, as she is the mother of the child. She has more power in the court of law. Moreover, she is more than opportunistic to mention equality of gender, bashing promiscuity. In this discourse, they are made relevant as ever, as it is decisive in the dispute.

6. Conclusion.

The work is dedicated to the analysis of matriarchal and patriarchal expressions in dysfunctional families. The theoretical part of the study consists of a sociological description of the notion of a dysfunctional family and Gee’s framework for discourse analysis. In the practical part we employed the theory and conducted the analysis of a dispute in the movie «Loveless».

The results show that Russian society skews towards matriarchy in some domains of life such as child-rearing, yet it demands equality in other domains, where patriarchy reigns. It is also safe to assume that gender-biased expressions are not universal, yet follow a similar pattern for both men and women. The answers are provided on the basis of the discourse analysis of a work of fiction, which is an important notice. Nonetheless, the depiction of Russian culture, values, and society stems from the reality in which we exist.

7Scene Script.

BORIS Hey. Taking a break?

ZHENYA What do you care?

BORIS Never mind. So, did anyone come?

ZHENYA Said they had to think about it.

BORIS I see. What about you... Did you think about it?

ZHENYA About what?

BORIS You know... You are his mother, after all...

ZHENYA I’m so sick of your crap...

BORIS He needs his mother more.

ZHENYA Actually, at his age, he needs his father more. Though maybe not the kind of father you’ve been.

ZHENYA He loves summer camp. He’ll love the children’s home too. Same thing.  And next thing you know, he’ll be draft age. Better start getting used to it. Well, what did you think, you could pull the ol’ hump and dump, and move on? Shit everywhere and leave the woman to clean it all up? No. I’m moving on too. That’s equality for you.

BORIS They’re going to pester us to death...

ZHENYA Who’s going to pester you to death? You can pester with the best of them yourself.

BORIS Juvy officers, social workers, I don’t know, child psychologists... Protective services, for fuck’s sake.

ZHENYA So take him, and no one will bother you.

BORIS They’ll be going after you more. You’re his mother.

ZHENYA Oh, so it’s me you’re worried about? How nice. Juvy officers... They’ll be only too happy. It’s like pulling a baby from a fire. His home, his family, all gone, but he is safe and sound. All thanks to the heroic efforts of child protective services.

BORIS Maybe you should talk to your mother one more time?

ZHENYA Right. Better yet, you talk to yours. We’ll call a psychic, do a séance. I already talked to her. Don’t need any more of that, thanks.

BORIS If the Beard finds out...

ZHENYA Ah, so that’s what you’re so afraid of! Silly me, I thought you were worried about your child. Would be a hoot, though, if they canned you from your precious job. I bet they would, too. For sending your own son to the orphanage. How un-Christian of you. How un-Orthodox. The Beard will never stand for it. That’ll be hilarious! What are you going to do then?

BORIS Stop it.

ZHENYA Listen to you! So decisive! What are you staring at? Quit gnashing your teeth!

BORIS (after a pause, quietly) I’m so sick of your shit...

ZHENYA Bastard.

BORIS When do we tell him?

ZHENYA We? What do you mean, “we”? You tell him. Tell him whenever you want. Do it now, if you want. Wake him up and tell him.

ZHENYA (O.S., FROM THE KITCHEN) That’s it, case closed. Don’t bring this up with me again. Got it? In fact, don’t talk to me at all. I can’t stand the sight of you or the sound of your voice anymore. When are you moving out already? If you’re too cheap, I’ll pay for the movers myself! Why are you still hanging around here? It’s over, you understand? Over!

BORIS (O.S.) I have the same right as you...

ZHENYA (O.S.) Yes, yes, you have the right! You’ll get yours, one way or another!

Список литературы

  1. Galaguzova M. A., Galaguzova Yu. N., Shtinova G. N., Tishchenko E. Ya., Diakonov B. (2001). Social pedagogy: textbook for universities. Moscow: Gumanit Pub. Center Vlados.
  2. Ivanov A. N. (2013). Dysfunctional families: problems and solutions. // Bulletin of BASHGU university, №1(18), 236-240.
  3. James Paul Gee (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and method. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.
  4. Negin O. I., Zvyagintsev A. P.. (2017). English script of «Loveless».



Калашникова А. А. Exploring dysfunctional family relationships in Russia: «Loveless» movie scene discourse analysis // Актуальные исследования. 2023. №26 (156). Ч.I.С. 72-75. URL: https://apni.ru/article/6669-exploring-dysfunctional-family-relationships

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