Psychic and Cinematic Time in Pressure Point

Among the most salient theoretical points of contact between psychoanalysis and cinema is the manner in which each problematizes temporality. We see this (pardon the expression) time and again in the case of psychoanalysis’s use of narration; the analysand narrates events from the past in the hopes of arriving at the repressed memory, desire, or what-have-you, thus bringing it into the present and bringing it into the analysand’s conscious, diminishing its psychical power. Thinking of the psychical material with which the analysand is engaging as belonging strictly to a (linear) past is, however, insufficient insofar as the repressed “event” has ceased to be an event as such, belonging now to the unique psychical/temporal register of constant presence and reproduction that characterizes the repressed. In fact, restoring the chronological context of the repressed event (via narration) allegedly rids it of its psychical power.

One way of theorizing cinematic temporality falls along exactly these same lines: the film’s narration creates a superficial chronology composed of infinitesimal presents, the production of which is governed by rules operating akin to psychical drives, dictating that which can and cannot be shown. Here we find one example of cinema’s interest in psychoanalysis: the analysis narrative (à la Secrets of a SoulSpellbound, and Pressure Point) revels in bringing this psychical material to life via cinematic language; dreams in the first two cases, childhood traumas in the latter two, and conscious fantasy in the lattermost. It is of no small import that each of these sequences is narrated in the film (whether in real time or afterwards), and that each of these narrations necessarily creates a discrepancy between what is shown and what is said. This allows filmmakers to toy with the viewer, teasing what is at once, in narrative terms, the film’s big reveal and, in psychoanalytic terms, the repressed desire/event, far ahead of its articulation as such (if, indeed, it is ever articulated). This is particularly striking in Pressure Point, which consists largely of long flashback sequences into Bobby Darin(‘s character)’s life up until incarceration, narrated alternately by himself and Sidney Pointier(‘s character). The film does provide a psychoanalytic “answer” as to the source of Darin’s insomnia – he is plagued by his ambivalent relationship to his father – but it stops shy of articulating a psychoanalytic source of his racism. As discussed, the film does postulate such a scene – the “primal scene” between Darin and his father, in which Darin’s face is stained black by the blood of the liver that his father presses upon it – but it refuses to name this scene or any other the narrative/psychical source of Darin’s racism. We might attribute this to any number of things – the politically fraught nature of such a causality, or the narrative gravitas that withholding it entails – but the result is ultimately the same: Pressure Point uses psychoanalysis as a framing device to play with the tension created by the two registers of narration it employs (that which is shown and that which is said), hinting at the repressed material before its articulation.