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Cinema and Media Studies Psychoanalytic Film Theory
by
Todd McGowan

Introduction

Psychoanalytic film theory occurred in two distinct waves. The first, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, focused on a formal critique of cinema’s dissemination of ideology, and especially on the role of the cinematic apparatus in this process. The main figures of this first wave were Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, and Laura Mulvey. They took their primary inspiration from the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and they most often read Lacan through the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser’s account of subject formation. The second wave of psychoanalytic film theory has also had its basis in Lacan’s thought, though with a significantly different emphasis. Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this manifestation of psychoanalytic film theory, which continues to remain productive even today, shifted the focus from cinema’s ideological work to the relationship between cinema and a trauma that disrupts the functioning of ideology. In Lacan’s terms, the terrain of psychoanalytic film theory shifted from the axis of the symbolic order and the imaginary to that of the symbolic order and the real. Although psychoanalytic film theorists continue to discuss cinema’s relationship to ideology, they have ceased looking for ideology in the cinematic apparatus itself and begun to look for it in filmic structure. Cinema remains a site for the dissemination of ideology, but it has also become a potential site of political and psychic disruption. The main proponents of this second wave of psychoanalytic film theory are Joan Copjec and Slavoj Žižek. Though the latter has received much more recognition and has produced far more work, one could contend that Copjec’s early work was more revolutionary, as it was her reading of Laura Mulvey’s critique of the male gaze as a Foucaultian critique rather than as a Lacanian one that genuinely commenced the new epoch of psychoanalytic film theory. According to the main figures of the second wave, the initial wave of psychoanalytic film theory failed to be psychoanalytic enough, and the result was a hodgepodge of Marxism and psychoanalysis that produced a straw position that anti-theorists such as David Bordwell could easily attack. The initial aim of the second wave was to create an authentic Lacanian film theory that would approach the cinema with the complexity that it merited. Though there have been isolated works of film theory and criticism dealing with other psychoanalytic thinkers (such Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, or D. W. Winnicott), the primary source for both waves of psychoanalytic film theory has remained Jacques Lacan and, to a lesser extent, Sigmund Freud.

Psychoanalytic Source Materials

Certain texts in the history of psychoanalytic theory form the primary body of reference material for psychoanalytic film theory. This changes from the first wave of traditional psychoanalytic film theory to the second wave, but an understanding of these texts is crucial for comprehending the theoretical project of each wave. Traditional psychoanalytic film theory relied heavily on Freud 1961, Lacan 2006, Miller 1977–1978, and Althusser 1971 for its blend of psychoanalytic and political theorizing. Later theorists turned to Freud 1953 and Lacan 1978.

  • Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Translated by Ben Brewster. In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. By Louis Althusser, 127–188. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.

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    Originally published in French, Althusser’s essay theorized the fundamental operation of ideology as the formation of the subject. Though Althusser was not a psychoanalyst or a psychoanalytic theorist, traditional psychoanalytic film theorists took up this idea as foundational for their approach to the cinema and began to see the cinema itself as a place where the spectator was constituted ideologically as a subject. Available online.

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  • Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Translated by James Strachey. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vols. 4–5. By Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1953.

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    Though Freud never discusses the cinema or the analogy between dreams and films, this work provided much inspiration for psychoanalytic film theorists. Freud interprets the dream as the “disguised fulfillment of a wish” or as a fantasy, and this leads to the analysis of the cinema as a fantasy space.

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  • Freud, Sigmund. “Fetishism.” Translated by James Strachey. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 21. By Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, 152–159. London: Hogarth Press, 1961.

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    Fetishism functions as the exemplary perversion for Freud. It allows the subject to disavow its castration while obtaining sexual pleasure at the same time. For many psychoanalytic film theorists (especially from the first wave), the same process occurs for the cinematic spectator.

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  • Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Translated by Alan Sheridan. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller. New York: Norton, 1978.

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    This was Lacan’s eleventh seminar and the first presented to the general public, rather than to a specialized group of psychoanalytic practitioners. Jacques-Alain Miller transformed the oral seminar into a French book, which subsequently greatly influenced psychoanalytic film theory because Lacan introduces the concept of the gaze as a form of what he calls the objet petit, or object-cause of desire.

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  • Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.” In Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. By Jacques Lacan. Translated by Bruce Fink, 75–81. New York: Norton, 2006.

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    Written in French, Lacan’s essay on the mirror stage was the defining theoretical starting point for traditional psychoanalytic film theorists. Lacan theorizes that the mirror stage allows the infant to see its fragmentary self as an imaginary whole, and film theorists would see the cinema functioning as a mirror for spectators in precisely the same way.

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  • Miller, Jacques-Alain. “Suture (Elements of the Logic of the Signifier).” Translated by Jacqueline Rose. Screen 18.4 (Winter 1977–1978): 23–34.

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    Engaging Jacques Lacan and Gottlob Frege, Miller links the formation of the subject in psychoanalysis to the act of suture. The subject, as Miller sees it, occupies the point of the zero in Frege’s mathematics. Originally published in a French psychoanalytic journal, Miller’s account of suture would become central for traditional psychoanalytic film theory.

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Anthologies

Many important essays of psychoanalytic film theory appear in general film theory anthologies, but there have also been a few anthologies devoted more specifically to psychoanalytic film theory itself. A special issue of the journal Communications (Metz, et al. 1975) brings together many of the key thinkers at the origins of psychoanalytic film theory, as well as interventions from psychoanalytic theorists reflecting on the cinema (such as Julia Kristeva). Rosen 1986 includes almost all of the foundational texts from traditional psychoanalytic film theory. Kaplan 1990 provides many examples of psychoanalytic film criticism, and Bergstrom 1999 offers a historical perspective on the relationship between psychoanalysis and the cinema. Gabbard 2001 and Sabbadini 2003 provide a variety of perspectives on this relationship.

  • Bergstrom, Janet, ed. Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

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    A collection of essays that show how the history of psychoanalysis and that of cinema intersect. One of the primary emphases of the volume is the importance of the dreamworld for both psychoanalysis and cinema.

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  • Gabbard, Glenn O., ed. Psychoanalysis and Film. London: Karnac Books, 2001.

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    Brings together psychoanalysts writing on cinematic texts as the expressions of various cultural myths and anxieties. The anthology relies on contributions from a variety of sources, including actual psychoanalysts.

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  • Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Psychoanalysis and Cinema. London and New York: Routledge, 1990.

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    This collection includes a wide variety of texts on the intersection of psychoanalysis and cinema. It pays special attention to feminist concerns and to the psychoanalytic importance of avant-garde cinema.

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  • Metz, Christian, Thierry Kuntzel, and Raymond Bellour, eds. Special Issue: Psychanalyse et cinema. Communications 23 (1975).

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    Available only in French, this special issue collects essays by Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, Catherine Clement, and many other important psychoanalytic theorists. Their discussions of cinema move in many directions, but some contributions here have proven pivotal for the history of psychoanalytic film theory.

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  • Rosen, Philip, ed. Narrative Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

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    This anthology collects all the important works of traditional psychoanalytic film theory, including those by Jean-Louis Baudry, Christian Metz, and Laura Mulvey. Indispensible for anyone interested in the origins of the psychoanalytic approach to cinema.

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  • Sabbadini, Andrea. The Couch and the Silver Screen: Psychoanalytic Reflections on European Cinema. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    A volume that brings together contributions by theorists, directors, and psychoanalysts. An examination of many classics of European cinema from a variety of psychoanalytic perspectives.

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Traditional Psychoanalytic Film Theory

The initial wave of psychoanalytic film theory viewed the cinematic experience as fundamentally homologous to the ideological interpellation of the subject as described by Louis Althusser. In essays such as Baudry 1986a and Baudry 1986b, this experience is constituted not by filmic content but by the apparatus itself. Psychoanalytic theory becomes a way to understand the role that cinema plays in constituting a subject who has an imaginary sense of mastery over the field of vision. This becomes apparent in Metz 1986 and Oudart 1977–1978, while Dayan 1976 and Heath 1981 provide a more direct focus on the ideological critique of this process. Silverman 1983 offers an accessible summary that also includes some original insights. The spectator’s mastering gaze is the primary target of critique for these psychoanalytic film theorists. By focusing on comedy, Simon 1978 takes an entirely different tack and seizes on cinema’s potential for subversion.

  • Baudry, Jean-Louis. “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in the Cinema.” In Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. Edited by Philip Rosen, 299–318. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986a.

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    First published in French in1975, this essay builds on Baudry’s earlier essay (Baudry 1986b) in order to explain more fully the effect that the cinematic apparatus has on the spectator. Here, Baudry criticizes the way that the apparatus provides spectators with a feeling of omniscience that disguises their castration.

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  • Baudry, Jean-Louis. “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus.” In Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. Edited by Philip Rosen, 286–298. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986b.

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    Baudry links the cinematic apparatus to the production of subjectivity and to the history of idealism in philosophy. First published in French in 1970, the essay offers a searing condemnation of traditional cinematic practices for their ideological functioning.

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  • Dayan, Daniel. “The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema.” In Movies and Methods. Vol. 1. Edited by Bill Nichols, 438–450. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

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    Basing his essay on Oudart’s conception of suture, Dayan is the first to link suture to ideology. For Dayan, the suturing effect of the shot/reverse-shot sequence becomes the model for the ideological process of classical cinema.

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  • Heath, Stephen. Questions of Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.

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    This is a classic study of traditional psychoanalytic film theory. Heath privileges the openness of filmic production and criticizes the closure that occurs through cinema’s recourse to narrative. Metz’s analysis provides the basis for much of Heath’s theorizing here.

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  • Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Translated by Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

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    Originally written in French, Metz provides the first book-length attempt to theorize the cinema from a psychoanalytic perspective. Indebted to both Freud and Lacan, the book thinks about the cinema in terms of primary and secondary processes, and it includes an influential discussion of the relationship between discourse and story in the filmic medium.

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  • Oudart, Jean-Pierre. “Cinema and Suture.” Translated by Kari Hanet. Screen 18.4 (Winter 1977–1978): 35–47.

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    First published in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1969, Oudart’s essay turns to Jacques Lacan’s notion of suture in order to understand shot/reverse-shot sequences. For Oudart, the initial shot creates a sense of an “Absent One” occupying the place of the camera, while the spectator’s experience, especially in Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), alternates between the sense of the Absent One and the suturing reverse shot.

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  • Silverman, Kaja. The Subject of Semiotics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

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    Though ostensibly concerned with semiotics, the book summarizes the role that primary and secondary processes play in the cinema, as well as emphasizing the importance of the symbolic order in a Lacanian approach to film. Silverman also provides a famous account of suture, which is, for her, the closure that takes place in traditional editing practices.

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  • Simon, Jean-Paul. Le Filmique et le comique. Paris: Albatros, 1978.

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    Published in French, this book defines filmic comedy as inherently subversive. Filmic comedy undermines the authority of the symbolic law and thus is a source of disruption.

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Responses to Traditional Psychoanalytic Film Theory

In the years just after the formulation of traditional psychoanalytic film theory, a series of developments and critiques of this theory emerged that nonetheless remained on the terrain of psychoanalysis. Williams 1981 developed psychoanalytic film theory in the direction of surrealist film, while Vernet 1989 provides an explanation of “the look at the camera.” Early critiques and refinements come from Rodowick 1991, Studlar 1992, Lebeau 1995, and Fuery 2003. Creed 1998 and Lebeau 2002 offer thorough summaries of the theory.

Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory

The importance of traditional psychoanalytic film theory had much to do with its connection to feminist theory and feminist concerns. Though neither Baudry 1986a and Baudry 1986b nor Metz 1986 (all cited under Traditional Psychoanalytic Film Theory) addressed feminist concerns, these authors established a theoretical paradigm in which feminist theory could productively intervene. The primary intervention was that of Mulvey 1975, which remains the most anthologized essay in all of film theory. Several other psychoanalytic film theorists built on or dissented from the work of Mulvey, but her position became the psychoanalytic feminist doxa until the appearance of the work of Joan Copjec (see Copjec 1994, cited under New Psychoanalytic Film Theory). De Lauretis 1984 offered a refinement and complication of Mulvey’s position, as did Doane 1987 and Penley 1989. Rose 1986 criticized Mulvey’s thesis on Lacanian terms, and Mulvey herself revised her position in two subsequent books, Mulvey 1989 and Mulvey 1996. Doane 1991 brought psychoanalytic feminist film theory to bear on the figure of the femme fatale, though this work also had larger theoretical implications.

  • de Lauretis, Teresa. Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

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    Though indebted to Mulvey’s pioneering work, de Lauretis mounts a defense of filmic narrative against Mulvey’s feminist critique. Looking at several films from the 1970s, de Lauretis shows how narrative can have the effect of destabilizing patriarchal relations.

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  • Doane, Mary Ann. The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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    Shows how the classical Hollywood woman’s films of the 1940s reveal a crisis in subjectivity. The book attempts to theorize the appeal of the woman’s film for the female spectator in psychoanalytic terms.

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  • Doane, Mary Ann. Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis. London and New York: Routledge, 1991.

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    Analyzes the complexity of the figure of the femme fatale. For Doane, the femme fatale is a site of trouble within patriarchal ideology but at the same time a site of male fantasy.

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  • Mulvey, Laura, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (Autumn 1975): 6–18.

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    The most widely anthologized essay in all of film theory. Based on Lacan’s concept of the mirror stage, it develops the idea of the male gaze as foundational to classical Hollywood cinema. Mulvey also contends that cinema speaks to the male spectator by creating a voyeuristic spectacle of the female object controlled by a male subject and by the camera. Available online.

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  • Mulvey, Laura. Visual and other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

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    This book includes Muvley’s famous essay (Mulvey 1975), as well as further refinements and developments of the original idea. An important landmark in the history of traditional psychoanalytic film theory.

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  • Mulvey, Laura. Fetishism and Curiosity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

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    In something of a departure from her earlier work, Mulvey continues her attack on film fetishism but emphasizes the way that narrative film can also resist fetishism through constructing a desiring spectator. Citizen Kane represents an exemplary instance of this technique for her.

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  • Penley, Constance. The Future of an Illusion: Film, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

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    An examination of the position of women within cinema. Penley examines various texts, including pornography, popular films, and avant-garde cinema.

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  • Rose, Jacqueline. Sexuality in the Field of Vision. London and New York: Verso, 1986.

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    The main theme here is that sexuality and the sexual division is a problem, and that this problem manifests itself in the field of vision. Rose takes psychoanalytic film theory to task for its failure to theorize desire while remaining focused on identification.

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New Psychoanalytic Film Theory

Joan Copjec (see Copjec 1989 and Copjec 1994) and Slavoj Žižek were the driving figures for the emergence of the second wave of psychoanalytic film theory that began in the late 1980s and early 1990s and continues to the present. While traditional psychoanalytic film theory focused its attention on the problem of identification in the cinema and its link to ideology, the new theory turned its energies toward desire and enjoyment (or jouissance). Krips 1999 and Rothenberg 1997 refigure the idea of desire. Though the discussion of ideology remains prominent in the second wave of psychoanalytic film theory, the theorists of this wave tend to see moments of political disruption and possibility in even popular films. This is especially true of Saper 1991, Salecl 1998, McGowan 2007, and Krips 2010. Saper 1991 emphasizes the connection between the filmic gaze and Lacan’s concept of the real, while Salecl 1998 provides an analysis of specific films in which the real manifests itself as a political disruption. McGowan 2007 constructs a theory of the politics of film on the basis of the relationship that film takes up to the gaze. Krips 2010 tries to reconcile traditional psychoanalytic film theory with the new version in a way that conceives the potential for political disruption in both.

  • Copjec, Joan. “The Orthopsychic Subject: Film Theory and the Reception of Lacan.” October 49 (Summer 1989): 53–71.

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    Contends that Mulvey 1975 (cited in Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory), and psychoanalytic film theory in general, has radically misunderstand Lacan’s notion of the gaze. Copjec associates this misunderstanding with the dominance of the thought of Michel Foucault at the time when the theory was being developed.

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  • Copjec, Joan. Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994.

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    This is the inaugural text of the second wave of psychoanalytic film theory. It dismantles Laura Mulvey’s reading of the gaze and reconceives the gaze in proper Lacanian terms as an object that the spectator encounters on the screen rather than the mastering look of the subject. For Copjec, we should reject the idea that the filmic screen is a mirror.

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  • Krips, Henry. Fetish: An Erotics of Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

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    Krips offers a provocative and new analysis of key concepts in cultural studies and film theory, such as interpellation, fetishism, and the gaze. The book provides the best summary of the central concepts of screen theory (the theory of the cinematic apparatus as an ideological structure) available. The analysis is fleshed out in a series of case studies drawn from cultural materials such as David Cronenberg’s Crash (1997).

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  • Krips, Henry. “The Politics of the Gaze: Foucault, Lacan and Zizek.” Culture Unbound 2 (2010): 91–102.

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    This article examines the relation between Foucault’s and Lacan’s conceptions of the gaze. It agrees with Joan Copjec’s claim that Screen theory has misread Lacan, but then criticizes Copjec for exaggerating the separation between Lacan’s and Foucault’s concepts. Available online.

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  • McGowan, Todd. The Real Gaze: Film Theory After Lacan. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

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    An attempt to reconstitute Lacanian film theory on the basis of the relationship between desire and fantasy as it plays out in the cinema. The book locates the gaze as the central cinematic object which determines the spectator’s relationship to desire and fantasy in the viewing experience.

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  • Rothenberg, Molly Anne. “The ‘Newer Angels’ and the Living Dead: The Ethics of Screening Obsessional Desire.” Camera Obscura 14.1–2 (May 1997): 15–41.

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    This article takes as its starting point Lacan’s dictum that obsessional neurosis concerns the question as to whether one is alive or dead, positioning the subject in a specific ethical relation that gives the subject a stake in “screening” the Other. The essay reads Ghost (1990), among other films, from this vantage to demonstrate that the ethics of obsessionality provide cover for racism, homophobia, and sexism.

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  • Salecl, Renata. (Per)versions of Love and Hate. London and New York: Verso, 1998.

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    A book about the ramifications of the contemporary disbelief in the figure of the big Other. Salecl often turns to cinema for indications and explorations of this disbelief. Films discussed range from classical melodramas like Rhapsody (1954) to contemporary popular films such as Face/Off (1997).

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  • Saper, Craig. “A Nervous Theory: The Troubling Gaze of Psychoanalysis in Media Studies.” Diacritics 21.4 (Winter 1991): 32–52.

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    Saper provides one of the early articulations of the new psychoanalytic film theory by revising the traditional notion of the gaze. For Saper, the gaze is an indication of lack in the visual field, and he emphasizes its connection with the Lacanian real.

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Refinements of the New Psychoanalytic Film Theory

After the initial development of the new psychoanalytic film theory through Copjec, Žižek, and subsequent thinkers, other theorists began to bring this theory to bear on specific types of cinema: Kunkle 2003 on ethics, Pizzato 2005 on sacrifice, Manon 2007 on cinematic failure, Pizzato 2006 on neuroscience, Zupančič 2008 on comedy, de Lauretis 2008 on the drive, Vighi 2009 on sexual difference, and McGowan 2011 on time.

  • de Lauretis, Teresa. Freud’s Drive: Psychoanalysis, Literature and Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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    An argument for the importance of Freud’s theory of the drives in the contemporary world. The book maps the drive through an engagement with popular cinema and includes an extended discussion of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999).

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  • Kunkle, Sheila. “Žižek’s Paradox.” Journal for Lacanian Studies 1.2 (November 2003): 224–242.

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    Through analyses of films such as Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke (1999), David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), and Robert Zemeckis’s Cast Away (2000), this essay traces the limits of Lacanian ethics in Zizek’s references to the contemporary subject, which in turn frame the possibilities of love and experiences of jouissance.

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  • McGowan, Todd. Out of Time: Desire in Atemporal Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

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    An exploration of the psychoanalytic conception of the drive as an ethical position that manifests itself in contemporary films that employ nonchronological editing. The book looks at Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), 2046 (2004), and Memento (2000), among several other films.

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  • Manon, Hugh S. “Qui Perd Gagne: Failure and Cinematic Seduction.” International Journal of Žižek Studies 1.3 (2007).

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    This essay explores the Lacanian notion of double deception—the paradox of a lie that deceives by admitting the truth—in relation to various formal techniques in cinema.

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  • Pizzato, Mark. Theatres of Human Sacrifice: From Ancient Ritual to Screen Violence. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

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    Pizzato relates the appeal and possible effects of screen violence today to sacrificial rites and performance conventions in ancient Greek, Aztec, and Roman culture. Offers insights into the ritual lures and effects of current mass media spectatorship, especially regarding the pleasures, purposes, and risks of violent display.

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  • Pizzato, Mark. Ghosts of Theatre and Cinema in the Brain. New York: Palgrave, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403983299Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The book focuses on the staging of Self and Other as phantom characters inside the brain. It explores the brain’s anatomical evolution from animal drives to human consciousness to divine aspirations, through distinctive cultural expressions in stage and screen technologies, using Lacanian psychoanalysis and neuroscience.

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  • Vighi, Fabio. Sexual Difference in European Cinema: the Curse of Enjoyment. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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    The book brings together European cinema and Lacanian psychoanalysis to identify sexual difference as the repressed kernel that structures our experience as subjects immersed in a specific socio-symbolic context. It examines a number of seminal works in postwar European cinema from two main perspectives: the masculine logic of courtly love, and feminine enjoyment.

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  • Zupančič, Alenka. The Odd One In: On Comedy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.

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    A Lacanian theory of comedy that often focuses on cinema, ranging from the films of Charlie Chaplin to contemporary comedies such as Borat (2006). The book theorizes the comic object as the embodiment of the master signifier—of the concretization of the universal. As Zupančič sees it, comedy is tied to surplus, and tragedy to lack.

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Slavoj Žižek

Though Joan Copjec (see Copjec 1994, cited under New Psychoanalytic Film Theory) and others played an instrumental role in developing the second wave of psychoanalytic film theory, much of the popularity of this new theory is due to the prolific and speculative analyses provided by Slavoj Žižek. Žižek’s numerous books rework Lacanian concepts through their engagements with a variety of filmic texts. Though Žižek does not often provide extended readings of specific films, his encounters with the cinema have provided the foundation for numerous other theorists to add to his analyses. Žižek 1997 and Žižek 2007 are the most approachable texts, while Žižek 1991, Žižek 1992, and Žižek 2010 are more philosophical works. Important theorists explaining Žižek have begun to appear; see, for example, Kunkle 2007, Kunkle 2008, and Taylor 2010.

  • Kunkle, Sheila. “Žižek’s Choice.” International Journal of Zizek Studies 1.3 (2007).

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    The author illustrates how Slavoj Žižek interjects a “short circuit” into concepts such as rationality, causality, and other universals through his many film analyses, thus revealing the “tacit prohibitions” upon which these universals rely.

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  • Kunkle, Sheila. “Embracing the Paradox: Žižek’s Illogical Logic.” International Journal of Žižek Studies 2.4 (2008).

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    This article analyzes Žižek’s ontology as construed through a parallax view, which reveals how his many film analyses, as well as his reference to jokes, enact the logic of Hegel’s concrete universality. Žižek directs us to assume the paradox of our existence.

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  • Taylor, Paul. Zizek and the Media. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press 2010.

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    Taylor explains and further adapts Slavoj Žižek’s psychoanalytically informed readings of popular films to produce radical readings that highlight the underlying ideologies of seemingly uncontroversial mainstream movies.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.

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    Though the title promises an introduction to the thought of Jacques Lacan, this book is not really an introductory text but instead develops Lacan’s ideas primarily in terms of the cinema.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

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    The whole focus of the book is on the act, or what is alternately called the sacrifice of the sacrifice. Žižek sees this act played out in a variety of cinematic situations, including film noir and the films of Charlie Chaplin. A second edition with an additional chapter on The Matrix (1999) was published in 2000.

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  • Zizek, Slavoj. The Plague of Fantasies. London and New York: Verso, 1997.

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    Perhaps Žižek’s most accessible book, it deals with the role that fantasy plays in the functioning of ideology. Cinema, from David Lynch to pornography, plays a role in all of Žižek’s explanations here.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. How to Read Lacan. New York: Norton, 2007.

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    Most of the chapters pair a film with a central Lacanian concept. Films discussed include Casablanca (1942), Alien (1979), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. Living in the End Times. London and New York: Verso, 2010.

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    An examination of the various economic, political, and ecological threats facing the planet, and how films show the ideological response to these threats. This is the work in which Žižek is most critical of Hollywood, and he notices cases of ideological regression with recent film remakes.

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Later Feminist Psychoanalytic Film Theory

Feminist psychoanalytic theory intersects with the new psychoanalytic film theory in works such as Cowie 1997, Bronfen 1998, Neroni 2005, and Friedlander 2008. Cowie 1997 and Bronfen 1998 show how psychoanalysis and feminism function in tandem for theorizing the cinema. Neroni 2005 tackles the issue of female violence in a way that propels the theorization of psychoanalytic feminism forward. Friedlander 2008 provides an insightful and completely new critique of Mulvey 1975 (see under Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory), in addition to theorizing the psychoanalytic conception of sexual difference in a very accessible manner. Kaplan 2000 provides an amalgam of traditional and new psychoanalytic film theory from a feminist perspective, and Hinton 2007 transfers the idea of fetishism from the female to male character. Copjec 2002 and Neroni 2004 refigure a feminist ethics with a basis in psychoanalytic film theory.

  • Bronfen, Elisabeth. The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and Its Discontents. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

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    An exposition of the role that hysteria plays in the formation of the subject and a defense of psychoanalysis against its historicist critics. Includes a detailed analysis of Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964).

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  • Copjec, Joan. Imagine There’s No Woman: Ethics and Sublimation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

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    Copjec’s project in this book is an attempt to constitute an ethics based on the infinite inscribed internally into the world, and she often turns to the cinema as the site for the realization of this project. Copjec includes a revolutionary discussion of melodrama, a rehabilitation of Sartre’s notion of the look, and a commentary on the role that the cut (or its absence) plays in cinematic signification.

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  • Cowie, Elizabeth. Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

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    Cowie is critiquing Mulvey and psychoanalytic film theory for its improper use of the concept of identification, pointing out that there is still lack in the imaginary and that film does not recapitulate the mirror stage. The book also includes an important discussion of fantasy as the setting for desire and the female role in cinematic fantasies.

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  • Friedlander, Jennifer. The Feminine Look: Sexuation, Spectatorship, Subversion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

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    This book intervenes in traditional film studies accounts of female spectatorship by tracing a fresh path through the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan upon which scholarship in this area depends. By contrast with previous film studies scholarship, which tends to ask how spectatorship is influenced by sexual difference, this book asks how particular spectatorial encounters may facilitate different “sexuated” responses.

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  • Hinton, Laura. “(G)Aping Women; Or, When a Man Plays the Fetish.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 48.2 (Fall 2007): 174–200.

    DOI: 10.1353/frm.2007.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the male character, rather than a female character, functioning as a fetish in the spectator’s experience. This is an attempt to counter the account of fetishism in the cinema presented in Mulvey 1975 (cited under Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory).

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  • Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Feminism and Film. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Though not solely focused on psychoanalytic feminist film theory, Kaplan collects several important essays from this theory, including Mulvey 1975 (see under Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory), responses to Mulvey, and more recent psychoanalytic feminist contributions.

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  • Neroni, Hilary. “Jane Campion’s Jouissance: Holy Smoke and Feminist Film Theory.” In Lacan and Contemporary Film. Edited by Todd McGowan and Sheila Kunkle, 209–232. New York: The Other Press, 2004.

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    Jacques Lacan talks about this excessive enjoyment as the enjoyment produced by the drive or that can arise out of the drive. It is in Holy Smoke (1999) that Campion explores a female character who experiences this type of enjoyment.

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  • Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative, and Violence in Contemporary American Film. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

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    Neroni contends that the violent woman makes evident Lacan’s thesis of the failure of the sexual relationship that most Hollywood films obscure with their invocation of the heterosexual romantic union. Female violence becomes the site at which the fissures within ideology reveal themselves.

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Auteurs and Film Movements

Much psychoanalytic film theory has been specific rather than general, focusing on individual auteurs or film movements whose films seem to best engage psychoanalytic thought. Film theory has always had a strong auteurist bent to it, and it is nowhere stronger than among psychoanalytic theorists. Psychoanalytic theorists tend to view the auteur as a way of pushing psychoanalytic concepts further and adding to the development of psychoanalytic thought. They have also found certain movements, such as film noir or Italian neorealism, as especially fecund ground for psychoanalytic exploration.

Alfred Hitchcock

No auteur has occasioned as much important psychoanalytic theorizing as Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s emphasis on the manipulation of spectator desire and the central role that libidinally charged objects play in his films have played a large role in his importance for psychoanalytic film theory. Bellour 2000 offers a unique style of interpretation informed by psychoanalysis, but Žižek 1992 is the key psychoanalytic work on Hitchcock. The importance of Samuels 1998 and Manlove 2007 lies in their explicit critique of Mulvey’s readings of Hitchcock (see Mulvey 1975, cited under Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory), which criticize Hitchcock for his depiction of female characters. Modleski 1988 also criticizes Mulvey through a new interpretation of Hitchcock, but Modleski’s focus is on the fascination of the woman in his films. Rose 1976 uses Hitchcock as a jumping off point for developing a sophisticated understanding of the relationship between cinema and paranoia.

  • Bellour, Raymond. The Analysis of Film. Edited by Constance Penley. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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    Translated from the French, this collection focuses on the production of the romantic couple, which is made most clear in an analysis of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). The book also explores the central role that feminine jouissance has in the filmic fantasy and contends that all film is an effort to capture this jouissance.

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  • Manlove, Clifford T. “Visual ‘Drive’ and Cinematic Narrative: Reading Gaze Theory in Lacan, Hitchcock, and Mulvey.” Cinema Journal 46.3 (Spring 2007): 83–108.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2007.0025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critique of the Mulvey’s theory of the gaze (see Mulvey 1975, under Early Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Theory) that specifically addresses her reading of Hitchcock films in formulating the theory. Manlove reinterprets the Hitchcock films that form the basis of Mulvey’s account—Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and Marnie (1964).

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  • Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York: Routledge, 1988.

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    Presented as a complication of Laura’s Mulvey’s thesis, Modleski’s book reveals the fascination that the female image exerts over the spectator. She sees the female image as the source of ambivalence.

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  • Rose, Jacqueline. “Paranoia and the Film System.” Screen 17.4 (1976): 85–104.

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    Through a careful analysis of The Birds (1963), Rose challenges the idea that film inherently enacts an interpellation into the symbolic order through the imaginary. She does this by establishing the inherent paranoia in the structure of filmic presentation.

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  • Samuels, Robert. Hitchcock’s Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Part of the second wave of psychoanalytic film theory, this book criticizes Laura Mulvey’s thesis concerning the male gaze. It rejects the idea that Hitchcock’s films are organized around male desire and sees instead a fundamental bisexuality of the spectator constituted by them.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj, ed. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock). London and New York: Verso, 1992.

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    A collection that includes the most important psychoanalytic essays written on Hitchcock’s films. All the essays are written from a Lacanian perspective, and many focus on the importance of the various forms of the psychic object in Hitchcock’s films. Among the most important essays are Pascal Bonitzer’s “Hitchcock’s Suspense,” Mladen Dolar’s “Hitchcock’s Objects,” and Alenka Zupančič’s “A Perfect Place to Die: Theatre in Hitchcock’s Films.”

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Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s films tend to depict unexpected acts of violence or extreme situations. They also typically challenge the formal expectations of spectators with techniques (such as unusual shots or editing patterns) that mirror the eccentricities of the content. This creates films ripe for psychoanalytic theorizing. The depiction of jouissance in film becomes central in Restuccia 2004, Wyatt 2006, and Basu Thakur 2007, while Basu Thakur 2008, Manon 2010, and Restuccia 2010 explore the encounter with the gaze in Haneke’s films.

  • Basu Thakur, Gautam. “Re-reading Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher: Schizo-politics and the Critique of Consumer Culture.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 5.2 (2007): 139–152.

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    This essay claims Michael Haneke’s art is polemical in character and schizoid by purpose: his films critique the promise of instant gratification of desires in consumer societies. The essay emphasizes in context how the psychotic character of the piano teacher and the abrupt narrative ending of the film stall circulation of meaning, thereby withholding audience satisfaction and enjoyment.

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  • Basu Thakur, Gautam. “Of Suture and Signifier in Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005).” Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society 13.3 (2008): 261–278.

    DOI: 10.1057/pcs.2008.13Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay explores the crisis inaugurated in an otherwise picture-perfect middle-class Parisian family by the sudden intrusion of the (Other’s) gaze. The essay connects the tensions besetting the family with contemporary anxieties over terrorism and immigration, as well as Europe’s negotiations with postcoloniality.

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  • Manon, Hugh S. “Comment ça, rien?: Screening the Gaze in Caché.” In On Michael Haneke. Edited by Brian Price and John David Rhodes, 105–126. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010.

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    This essay discovers a Lacanian impulse in Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005), theorizing the film’s famously ambiguous “plastic bag videos” as representations of the Lacanian gaze. By confronting his protagonists, as well as the film’s viewers, with the paradox of an unseeable onlooker, Haneke repeatedly reminds us that the gaze is not the look.

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  • Restuccia, Frances. “The Use of Perversion: Secretary or The Piano Teacher?Lacanian Ink 5 (Winter 2004).

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    Takes up the psychoanalytic idea that one’s passionate attachment, one’s most precious object, must be relinquished. In The Piano Teacher (2001), this act of (maternal) separation is shown to be excruciating.

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  • Restuccia, Frances. “The Virtue of Blushing: Assimilating Anxiety into Shame in Haneke’s Caché.” Symplokē 18.1–2 (2010): 155–170.

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    The essay argues that the anonymous, enigmatic videotaping (an alien excess) in Caché (2005) is the product of the anxiety of the society of the spectacle (a symptom of its lack of lack), even as it is productive of anxiety. Insofar as it brings anxiety to its limit point, the video grants the specular register a lost dimension by allowing that subjectification can encounter desubjectification.

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  • Wyatt, Jean. “Jouissance and Desire in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher.” American Imago 62.4 (2006): 453–482.

    DOI: 10.1353/aim.2006.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wyatt uses Lacanian concepts of desire and jouissance to understand the piano teacher Erika’s acts of self-abuse, sexual perversion, and aggression as roundabout attempts to insert some minimal distance between herself and her intrusive mother. The essay links spectator enjoyment and disgust to the film’s structural oscillation between a narrative driven by desire and the surprises of solitary jouissance.

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David Lynch

The films of David Lynch have occasioned much psychoanalytic theorizing because they tend to focus on the underside of the social order, revealing how this underside provides a libidinal charge to the normal functioning of society. While not overtly Lacanian, Chion 1995 establishes the basic Lacanian approach to Lynch, which Žižek 2000, Ridgway 2006, McGowan 2007, and Restuccia 2009 later modify this approach. Nochimson 1997 provides a contrasting Jungian account that takes issue with Chion. Gleyzon 2010 offers psychoanalytic accounts of different Lynch films, though not every essay in the collection adopts a psychoanalytic approach.

  • Chion, Michel. David Lynch. Translated by Robert Julian. London: British Film Institute, 1995.

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    Originally published in French, Chion provides a path-breaking interpretation of Lynch’s films in psychoanalytic terms. Deftly bringing together production history, biographical details, and filmic analysis, this book established a high standard for a psychoanalytic approach to Lynch.

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  • Gleyzon, François-Xavier, ed. David Lynch in Theory. Prague, Czech Republic: Charles University Press, 2010.

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    An important collection of essays that approach Lynch’s films from a variety of theoretical perspectives, with many of the works taking a psychoanalytic approach.

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  • McGowan, Todd. The Impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

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    Based on Lacan’s distinction between desire and fantasy, this work examines Lynch’s films as explorations of fantasy as a source of political and existential insight. By delineating fantasy as a distinct region in his films, Lynch illustrates its capacity for revelation.

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  • Nochimson, Martha P. The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.

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    Nochimson sees Lynch as an explicitly anti-Freudian and anti-Lacanian filmmaker. He belongs, according to Nochimson, much more in the camp of Jung. Unlike Freud and Lacan, Lynch’s films privilege empathy rather than the development of individual desire.

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  • Restuccia, Frances. “Kristeva’s Intimate Revolt and the Thought Specular: Encountering the (Mulholland) Drive.” In Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics, and Politics in the Work of Julia Kristeva. Edited by Kelly Oliver and S. K. Keltner, 65–78. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009.

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    The essay reads Mulholland Dr. (2001), on the narrative level, as being about the use of fantasy to slice through a debilitating love fantasy, while noting that the film also serves as a means of detachment.

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  • Ridgway, Franklin. “Mulholland Trieb; or, ‘You Came Back’.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 26.1 (2006): 42–60.

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    This article examines Mulholland Dr. (2001) as a metacinematic text that constantly calls into question its own mechanisms of desire production. Ridgway argues that, paradoxically, the film also challenges its own skepticism, inviting us to enjoy cinema in spite of its manifest inauthenticity.

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  • Žižek, Slavoj. The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s “Lost Highway. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.

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    A book-length discussion of Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) that includes excurses on film noir and violent racism. Žižek’s main point here is that fantasy works as an inherent transgression within the symbolic system of power itself. This is why the femme fatale is not at all a threatening figure.

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Krzysztof Kieslowski

Kieslowski’s films often display great formal daring and ingenuity, which has attracted the attention of psychoanalytic theorists. Often, it is the later French films rather than the Polish films of Kieslowski’s early career that receive this attention. Žižek 2001 (cited under David Lynch) brought attention to these films, prompting critiques such as Restuccia 2005 and Restuccia 2010.

  • Restuccia, Frances. “Black and Blue: Kieslowski’s Melancholia.” In Revolt, Affect, Collectivity: The Unstable Boundaries of Kristeva’s Polis. Edited by Tina Chanter and Ewa Ziarek, 193–207. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

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    This essay reads Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue (1993) from a Kristevan perspective as a melancholic film that promotes staying connected to blueness and thus keeping the corpse of maternal memory warm. Blue proposes that the process of globalization incorporate a “mysticism of contact” through semiotic, supersensory qualities.

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  • Restuccia, Frances. “The Thought Specular: Kieslowski’s White and Streitfeld’s Female Perversions.” Film-Philosophy 14.1 (Spring 2010): 122–143.

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    The essay uses Kristeva’s theory of the “thought-specular” to show that Kieslowski’s White (1994) condemns fetishism at the level of its obsessionally neurotic individual protagonist, and then, through Karol, takes on Poland’s newly adopted commodity fetishism. A site of the Lacanian gaze, White’s whiteness beckons viewers to immerse themselves in the film for the sake of annihilating fetishistic fixations.

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  • Zizek, Slavoj. The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski Between Theory and Post-Theory. London: British Film Institute, 2001.

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    Without question, this represents Žižek’s most sustained reading of a single filmmaker and includes his most detailed readings of individual films. Nonetheless, in addition to being an analysis of the major films of Kieslowski, it is also a vehement polemic against the post-theory movement led by David Bordwell.

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Pedro Almodóvar

Almodóvar’s films almost always take up illicit sexual desire as their explicit subject matter. Thus, they are often targeted by psychoanalytic theorists, especially those who emphasize feminine sexuality. Williams 2000 provides a unique Freudian reading, while Salecl 2004 shows the importance of these films for Lacanian analysis.

  • Salecl, Renata. “The Anxiety of Love Letters.” In Lacan and Contemporary Film. Edited by Todd McGowan and Sheila Kunkle, 29–45. New York: Other Press, 2004.

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    A discussion of the relationship to Lacan’s objet petit as manifested in the representation of love letters. The essay includes a discussion of Almodóvar’s Law of Desire (1987) and the role that perversion plays in the love letter.

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  • Williams, Bruce. “Playgrounds of Desire: Almodóvar, Fetishism, and the Male Ideal Ego.” Journal of Film and Video 52.2 (Summer 2000): 28–40.

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    Sees Almodóvar as offering a refutation of Freud’s concept of fetishism, in which fetishism entails the disavowal of sexual difference. Focuses on films such as Law of Desire (1987) and High Heels (1991) as exemplifying the transgressive appeal of fetishism.

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The Western

The generic structure of the western provides a startlingly precise account of the psychoanalytic understanding of the institution of the Law of the Father. Surprisingly, a great amount of psychoanalytic film theory has not dealt with the western, though some early theorists critical of traditional psychoanalytic film theory intervene through discussions of this genre, including Willemen 1974. Bingham 1990 discusses the ideological force of the western in terms of masculinity.

  • Bingham, Dennis. “Men with No Names: Clint Eastwood’’s ‘The Stranger’ Persona, Identification, and the Impenetrable Gaze.” Journal of Film and Video 42.4 (1990): 33–48.

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    This essay argues for the ideological danger represented by Eastwood’s persona as developed primarily through his early westerns. The spectator takes pleasure in a wholly imaginary image of the masculine hero that justifies symbolic violence.

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  • Willemen, Paul. “The Fugitive Subject.” In Raoul Walsh. Edited by Phil Hardy, 62–89. Colchester, UK: Vineyard Press, 1974.

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    Willemen offers a sophisticated Lacanian reading of Pursued (1947) that focuses on the repetition of the primal scene as the key to the film’s structure.

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Italian Neorealism

Despite its apparent emphasis on disrupting cinematic fantasy, Italian neorealism has received attention from psychoanalytic theorists. They often pay attention to the psychic interplay between individual and group in the films from this movement. Rocchio 1999 and Rushing 2009 take up a critical attitude toward neorealism, despite the contrasting approaches. Vighi 2006 mounts a psychoanalytic defense.

  • Rocchio, Vincent F. Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

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    Argues that psychoanalysis has a contribution to make to cultural studies because it can show us how and why ideology works on people. It can also allow us to see the complexities of even films that seem to be doing ideological work, like Bicycle Thieves (1948). The value of Lacan consists in exposing the subject as constructed rather than real.

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  • Rushing, Robert. “De Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us: Neorealist Cinema and Sexual Difference.” Studies in European Cinema 6.2–3 (2009): 97–112.

    DOI: 10.1386/seci.6.2-3.97/1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    De Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us (1943) has little in common with Italian neorealism, but it does share with other films of the movement a tendency to firmly place the blame for catastrophic historical and personal events on women or on female sexual desire.

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  • Vighi, Fabio. Traumatic Encounters in Italian Film: Locating the Cinematic Unconscious. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2006.

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    The book is an examination of postwar Italian cinema through the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek. Its main focus is Lacan’s notion of the real of jouissance and its manifestations within the political purpose and aesthetic originality that typifies Italian cinema. It examines a range of classic Italian films as well as lesser-known works.

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Film Noir

Like psychoanalysis itself, film noir exposes the repressed of the social order. This preoccupation with repressed desire has prompted many psychoanalytic theorists to turn to film noir as especially revelatory for the unconscious. Copjec 1993 is the definitive psychoanalytic collection, while Manon 2005 offers a compelling reading of perhaps the most important film of the genre.

  • Copjec, Joan, ed. Shades of Noir: A Reader. London and New York: Verso, 1993.

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    An important collection of primarily psychoanalytically inflected theories of film noir. Readings include both classic film noir and neo-noir, as well as discussion of the role that race plays in noir films.

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  • Manon, Hugh S. “Some Like it Cold: Fetishism in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity.” Cinema Journal 44.4 (Summer 2005): 18–43.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2005.0033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay employs Freudian and Lacanian theories to identify a fetishistic imperative in the perfect crime perpetrated by Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Billy Wilder’s keystone film noir, Double Indemnity (1944). Although not popularly regarded as such, Double Indemnity stands as one of Hollywood’s quintessential articulations of the structure of disavowal that defines perverse desire.

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Horror

While film noir brings the societal repressed to the surface, the horror genre brings what is repressed within the psyche to the surface and exposes it. While horror appears to be obvious terrain for psychoanalytic investigation, there have been relatively few theoretical psychoanalytic books devoted to this genre. Clover 1992 and Creed 1993 take up a feminist psychoanalytic perspective, while Iaccino 1994 and Clemens 1999 provide more traditional psychoanalytic readings of the genre. Manon 2011 offers one of the few Lacanian analyses of horror. The approach of Schneider 2003 is varied but focuses more on the content of horror films than their form, in contrast to most psychoanalytic film theory.

  • Clemens, Valdine. The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

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    Though primary focused on the gothic narrative, Clemens traces this narrative into cinema in the latter half of the book. The importance of gothic horror lies in its capacity for revealing repressed anxieties.

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  • Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Perhaps the definitive analysis of the horror genre argued in terms of spectator identification. Clover aligns young male spectators of horror films with the “Final Girl” of these films and counters an idea of sadistic identification with the monster.

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  • Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

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    A conceptualization of the horror genre as founded on the monstrosity of the feminine reproductive body. Creed contends that many horror films reveal the fear of the woman as a castrating threat.

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  • Iaccino, James F. Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror: Jungian Archetypes in Horror Films. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

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    A Jungian account of the appeal inherent in the horror genre. Iaccino locates multiple Jungian archetypes across a variety of horror films.

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  • Manon, Hugh S. “Living Dead Spaces: The Desire for the Local in the Films of George Romero.” In Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image. Edited by John David Rhodes and Elena Gorfinkel, 317–337. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

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    This essay theorizes the structure and function of localness in cinema, examining the split viewership that results when films embrace marginal, relatively unknown real spaces as a backdrop for fictional narrative. Drawing upon Jacques Lacan’s discussion of anamorphosis, the author argues that an excess of localness defines the zombie trilogy of Pittsburgh-based filmmaker George Romero.

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  • Schneider, Steven Jay, ed. Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freud’s Worst Nightmare. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    This collection includes both proponents and opponents of a psychoanalytic approach. The merit of the volume is that it attempts to show how the horror genre justifies the questioned epistemological claims of psychoanalytic inquiry.

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Documentary Film

Though the fundamental questions in documentary studies do not often intersect with psychoanalysis, there have been important interventions in psychoanalytic theory in this field. Renov 2004 is a work by the most recognized figure in this area. Neroni 2009 and Neroni 2010 have brought the new psychoanalytic film theory’s concern with the gaze and jouissance to bear on documentary studies.

  • Neroni, Hilary. “The Nonsensical Smile of the Torturer.” Studies in Documentary Film 3.3 (December 2009): 245–257.

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    Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure (2008), Rory Kennedy’s Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007), and Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) represent major interventions into the contemporary political landscape, but by pursuing the facts, these documentaries to miss the most disturbing aspect of the Abu Ghraib photos: the way that enjoyment acts as a stain that points to the symbolic failure of the violence of torture.

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  • Neroni, Hilary. “Documenting the Gaze: Psychoanalysis and Judith Helfand’s Blue Vinyl and Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 27.3 (May 2010): 178–192.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509200802310616Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considering the role of the Lacanian gaze in documentary film reveals not only the essential role of desire in documentary film form, but also sheds light on a new feminist movement in filmmaking.

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  • Renov, Michael. The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

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    Argues for the revelatory power of documentary filmmaking for the psyche, and thus for the appropriateness of psychoanalytic theory as an approach to documentary. The book analyzes a variety of documentary forms, from early newsreels to contemporary video confessions.

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American Popular Films

Many important developments in new psychoanalytic film theory have occurred in the context of the analysis of Hollywood film. Gabbard 1994 is an early theorization of desire in the cinema. Significant developments include Kunkle 2000, Eisenstein 2004, Kornbluh 2004, Mulrooney 2006, Jagodzinski 2007, Landrum 2007, and Eisenstein 2007. Kunlkle 2000 and Eisenstein 2004 deal with psychic problems unveiled by puzzle films. Jagodzinski 2007, Eisenstein 2007, and Landrum 2007 address popular film’s capacity for representing and mobilizing enjoyment. Kornbluh 2004 and Mulrooney 2006 see the possibility for a critique of capitalist ideology through addressing spectators on the level of their fantasies.

  • Eisenstein, Paul. “Visions and Numbers: Aronofsky’s π and the Primordial Signifier. In Lacan and Contemporary Film. Edited by Todd McGowan and Sheila Kunkle, 1–28. New York: Other Press, 2004.

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    This essay explores the everyday psychosis of late capitalism staged in Darren Aronofsky’s film π (1998). In the end, however, π confronts us with a nonsensical image—of a human being about to lobotomize himself—that functions cinematically as a bulwark against a fully fledged psychotic universe.

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  • Eisenstein, Paul. “Devouring Holes: Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and the Tectonics of Psychoanalysis.” International Journal of Žižek Studies 1.3 (2007).

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    This essay sees Requiem for a Dream (2000) as giving visual form to a source of imagined enjoyment foreclosed from any properly social world. Subjects may believe they can profit or flourish from access to this enjoyment, but Aronofsky shows—in an array of dizzying and disruptive manipulations of cinematic form—the violence inseparable from this enjoyment’s unleashing.

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  • Gabbard, Krin. “The Circulation of Sadomasochistic Desire in the Lolita Texts.” Journal of Film and Video 46.2 (Summer 1994): 19–30.

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    An explanation of the transition of Lolita from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel (1955) to Stanley Kubrick’s film (1961) in psychoanalytic terms. Gabbard argues that the film version accentuates the sadomasochistic relations present in the novel.

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  • Jagodzinski, Jan. “Putting Filmic Art into the Abyss of Freedom: Truman’s Act of Redemption.” In Did Somebody Say Ideology? On Slavoy Zizek and Consequences. Edited by Fabio Vighi and Heiko Feldner, 219–236. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007.

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    This essay explores Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998) as an allegory of Everyman caught on the consumerist stage of reality television. From a Lacanian paradigm, the essay develops questions that surround Truman’s growing paranoia, the role of the gaze, and what “enjoyment” means in contemporary social order.

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  • Kornbluh, Anna. “Romancing the Capital: Choice, Love, and Contradiction in The Family Man and Memento.” In Lacan and Contemporary Film. Edited by Todd McGowan and Sheila Kunkle, 111–144. New York: Other Press, 2004.

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    A contrast between the films Family Man (2000) and Memento (2000) that criticizes the former for its indulgence in the obscene link between romance and capitalism. Memento, in contrast, shows the failure of the ideological romantic narrative by making clear that the film’s detective narrative is not only false but irrelevant.

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  • Kunkle, Sheila. “Lacan’s Life, the Universe, and Vincenzo Natali’s Cube.” American Imago 57.3 (Fall 2000): 281–297.

    DOI: 10.1353/aim.2000.0017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzing Natali’s 1997 horror-suspense film Cube, this essay reveals how Lacan’s register of the symbolic is knotted to the dimensions of imaginary and real, and ultimately how the realm of the unconscious opens up an uncanny domain.

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  • Landrum, Jason. “Hurt—Agony—Pain—Love It!: The Duty of Dissatisfaction in the Profiler Film.” International Journal of Žižek Studies 1.3 (2007).

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    This essay employs Jacques Lacan’s conception of the superego and enjoyment to analyze the cinematic subgenre of the profiler film. Ultimately, it argues that the profiler cycle of films (1986–present) represents the superego command “to enjoy” as extreme dissatisfaction, and in doing so, these films articulate two key features of the superego: devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and skepticism of traditional symbolic authority.

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  • Mulrooney, Jonathan. “Rough Magic in America.” Shakespeare Bulletin 24.1(Spring 2006): 29–45.

    DOI: 10.1353/shb.2006.0015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A discussion of the ways in which Jim Sheridan’s film In America (2002) counters its own sentimental trajectories to turn from the ethical trap of relentless fantasizing, a trap represented most clearly in the film by the reappearing figure of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Emphasizes the ways in which Sheridan’s cinema posits fantasy as a means to encounter the traumatic real.

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The Coen Brothers

Ethan and Joel Coen do not make films that openly treat psychoanalytic ideas, but their films often exemplify the role that fetishism plays in the cinema. At least two psychoanalytic film theorists have picked up on their psychoanalytic importance. Gabbard 2004 discusses the role that the maternal imago plays in Fargo (1966). Wall 2008 deals directly with fetishism in the Coen Brothers’ work, while Landrum 2009 focuses on their visual deployment of the death drive.

  • Gabbard, Krin. Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

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    Though primarily a discussion of race in Hollywood cinema, Gabbard’s book includes a chapter on Fargo (1996) that discusses the figure of Marge (Frances McDormand) in psychoanalytic terms. Gabbard explains the ambivalence of her character through a discussion of her as a figuration of the material imago.

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  • Landrum, Jason. “Cold-Blooded Coen Brothers: The Death Drive and No Country for Old Men.” In No Country for Old Men: From Novel to Film. Edited by Lynnea Chapman King, Rick Wallach, and Jim Welsh, 199–218. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

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    Landrum identifies a trend in reviews of the Coen brothers’ films; namely, a tendency to describe their visual style as “cold.” He then connects this trend to the Freudian conception of the death drive and argues that we can better understand their films, both in content and form, as experiences of excess and its concomitant pressures.

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  • Wall, Brian. “‘Jackie Treehorn Treats Objects Like Women!’: Two Types of Fetishism in The Big Lebowski.” Camera Obscura 23.3 (2008): 111–134.

    DOI: 10.1215/02705346-2008-009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The stupidity and sexism of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski (1998) suggests, by way of its emphasis on fetishism, castration, and commodification, a critical portrayal of the dedifferentiation of sexual and commodity fetishism in the service of capital.

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Global Cinema

Most psychoanalytic theorizations of cinema have focused on Hollywood, but there have been theorists who have taken European or Asian cinema as their focus. Vighi 2003 and Vighi 2005 emphasize the films of Pasolini, while Desilets 2003 theorizes through an analysis of Carl Dreyer. Jagodzinski 2007 looks at sensationalism in Polish cinema, while Rushing 2008 tracks it in Italian cinema. Kaldis 2009 and Jagodzinski 2010 provide psychoanalytic interpretations of current controversies. Bronfen 1996 offers a compelling psychoanalytic reading of the difficult Peeping Tom (1960).

  • Bronfen, Elisabeth. “Killing Gazes, Killing in the Gaze: On Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom.” In Gaze and Voice as Love Objects. Edited by Renata Salecl and Slavoj Žižek, 59–89. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996.

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    Bronfen’s startling analysis of Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom (1960) shows how the gaze of the father is responsible for the murders that occur in the film. The murders that Mark perpetuates in the film are, for Bronfen, the continuation of the psychiatrist father’s project of exploring infant fear.

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  • Desilets, Sean. “The Rhetoric of Passion.” Camera Obscura 18.2 (2003): 57–91.

    DOI: 10.1215/02705346-18-2_53-57Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Desilets argues that Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) depicts religious ecstasy as an ethical stance. The article takes Lacan’s seventh seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis as its point of departure for understanding the film.

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  • Jagodzinski, Jan. “The Inverted Drive in Andrej Zulawski’s Szamanka: A Lacanian Reading of the Post Femme-Fatale.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 34.3 (2007): 316–328.

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    The notorious Polish film Szamanka (1996), known for its sensational sex scenes, explores that line of existence, which reverts us to question animalistic survival. The film is explored from the position of the drives, which have become “inverted,” that is, there is only the aim of their aim that provides for perverted pleasure as the body of jouissance. Available online.

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  • Jagodzinski, Jan. Misreading Postmodern Antigone: Marco Bellocio’s Devil in the Flesh (Diavolo in Corpro). Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2010.

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    In the mid-1980s, The Devil in the Flesh (1986) illustrated Marco Fagioli’s controversial theories. Echoing the anti-Lacanian sentiment popularized by Gilles Deleuze, the film is perhaps best remembered for a scene in which the character Andrea misreads a section of the famous Greek tragedy Antigone. But this scene has itself been frequently misread in a way this essay corrects.

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  • Kaldis, Nick. “Submerged Ecology and Depth Psychology in Wushan yunyu: Aesthetic Insight into National Development.” In Chinese Ecocinema In the Age of Environmental Challenge. Edited by Sheldon H. Lu and Jiayan Mi, 57–72. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009.

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    Zhang Ming’s In Expectation (1996) imagines and examines the psyches of individuals who are forcibly undergoing a traumatic experience of environmental destruction on a massive, historically unprecedented, and highly disorienting scale. This essay argues that cinematic representation can be one of the most insightful forms for exploring the relationship between the traumatic destruction of the environment and communities by large-scale development and disruptions in human desire and sexuality.

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  • Rushing, Robert. “Gentlemen Prefer Hercules: Desire | Identification | Beefcake.” Camera Obscura 23.3 (2008): 158–191.

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    This article targets a specific question about Italian peplum films from the late 1950s and early 1960s, which adopt three strategies for containing nonheteronormative attractions: (1) same-sex desire is displaced into the past; (2) identification is displaced from its proper target to a much more flattering one; (3) the peplum universe repeatedly disavows sexual difference.

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  • Vighi, Fabio. “Pasolini and Exclusion: Žižek, Agamben and the Modern Sub-Proletariat.” Theory, Culture & Society 20.5 (2003): 99–121.

    DOI: 10.1177/02632764030205005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The article develops a reading of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s debut feature Accattone (1961) through Lacanian theory. Vighi makes use of Lacanian theory and film to connect to the work of Slavoj Žižek and Giorgio Agamben on the modern sub-proletariat.

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  • Vighi, Fabio. “Lacan for Cinema Today: The Uncanny Pouvoir de la Vérité.” Psychoanalysis, Culture, & Society 10.3 (2005): 232–251.

    DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.pcs.2100046Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the dialectical relationship between film as a process of symbolic signification and the unconscious/real underside that it produces, arguing that only by attempting to read the traces of unconscious desire secreted by film can we encroach upon its “truth.” Lacanian theory is measured against the work of Italian directors Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

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Voice

In the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan names the gaze and voice as two forms of the psychoanalytic object that Freud never mentions. Though much psychoanalytic film theory has made the gaze its central preoccupation, the voice has received relatively little attention. A few psychoanalytic theorists, led by Michel Chion (see Chion 1994 and Chion 1999), have worked to rectify this imbalance. Silverman 1988 and Kaganovsky 2010 provide a feminist perspective on the voice.

  • Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. Edited and translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

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    First published in French in 1990, this is a follow-up text to Chion 1999. Here, Chion elaborates his discussion of how sound relates to the filmic image.

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  • Chion, Michel. The Voice in Cinema. Edited and translated Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

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    Published in French in 1982, Chion provides the definitive account of the role that the voice as a psychoanalytic object can play in the cinema. He develops the concept of the acousmatic voice, in which the voice does not have a visual referent, and thus has a privileged status as a pure object. Psycho (1960) represents one of Chion’s key textual examples.

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  • Kaganovsky, Lilya. “There Is No Acoustic Relation: Considerations on Sound and Image in Post-Soviet Cinema.” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 19.1 (Fall/Winter 2010): 65–87.

    DOI: 10.1353/qui.2010.0004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An exploration of Lacan’s notion that “there is no sexual relation” through a consideration of the voice as an object. Focuses on the voice in recent Russian cinema.

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  • Silverman, Kaja. The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

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    Rigorously reading relevant texts from psychoanalysis, Silverman shows how sound is as important as any other cinematic element in the construction of the category “woman.” She analyzes a group of films from the 1940s to support her argument.

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Queer Theory and Psychoanalysis

Within film theory, queer theory initially developed outside of the influence of psychoanalysis and concerned itself primarily with gay and lesbian representation. Later queer theorists, however, turned to psychoanalysis, especially when they wanted to provide a theorization of queer spectatorship. White 1999 was the first to make this connection, but it is Edelman 2004 that has reshaped both psychoanalytic theory and queer theory in their engagement with the cinema. Farmer 2000 and Thomas 2008 both try to account for the male relationship to the cinema.

  • Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Edelman nicely tries to align queerness with the death drive, which he sees as an insistence on enjoyment and a refusal of meaning. For Edelman, the primary ideology is that of futurism and the idea that meaning will at some point find completion. The book shows how the figure of the queer becomes identified with the threat to meaning in cinema, especially the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

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  • Farmer, Brett. Spectacular Passions: Cinema, Fantasy, Gay Male Spectatorships. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

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    Farmer’s main notion is that gay spectators are attracted to the excess of the cinema, and he sees this excess as inherently radical. The book turns to psychoanalytic theory to explain the role that cinephilia plays for queer spectators.

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  • Thomas, Calvin. Masculinity, Psychoanalysis, Straight Queer Theory: Essays on Abjection in Literature, Mass Culture, and Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230611856Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thomas provides a unique blend of queer theory and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. The book shows how straight men are often queered in popular cinema, which has the effect of destabilizing their sexual identity.

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  • White, Patricia. Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

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    White examines lesbian spectatorship and the complexities of identification in Hollywood films such as Now, Voyager (1942) and The Haunting (1963). Explicitly indebted to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (see Freud 1953 cited under Psychoanalytic Source Materials), White’s book shows lesbian desire often manifests itself not directly in filmic content but as a disruption in form.

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Representations of Psychoanalysis in the Cinema

A few works have approached the relationship between psychoanalysis and cinema without trying to provide a psychoanalysis of the cinema or trying to analogize the experience of each. Instead, they have looked into how various films have represented psychoanalysis. The frequency of these representations attests to the profound connection between the two. Gabbard and Gabbard 1987 remains an important resource, while Walker 1993 and Brandell 2004 update the commentary.

  • Brandell, Jerrold R., ed. Celluloid Couches, Cinematic Clients: Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in the Movies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

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    Bringing together contributions from psychoanalysts and film theorists, this book examines the representation of psychoanalysis over the last 75 years of cinema. Films discussed include Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1946) and James Mangold’s Girl, Interrupted (1999).

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  • Gabbard, Krin, and Glen O. Gabbard. Psychiatry and the Cinema. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

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    A history of the representation of psychiatrists and mental health professionals in the American cinema, beginning with Dr. Dippy’s Sanitarium in 1906. Also includes psychoanalytically informed readings of mainstream films.

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  • Walker, Janet. Couching Resistance: Women, Film, and Psychoanalytic Psychiatry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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    An examination of the presentation of female sexuality as it is explored through psychiatry in the middle of the 20th century. Walker focuses on the films The Snake Pit (1948), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), and Freud (1962).

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LAST MODIFIED: 10/28/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0052

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