Secrets of a Soul is a psychoanalytic film in the sense that it depicts the psychoanalytic process onscreen. But is a truly psychoanalytic film even possible? It seems, according to Stephen Heath, that the closer a film comes to psychoanalysis, the further it moves from the concept of a “film.” After all, a film is made up of visual images designed to convey narrative meaning, but any image that poses as reality is inherently deceptive. In a psychoanalytic framework, images, like words, are merely signifiers, imposing arbitrary, socially-constructed meaning onto the signified. So where are we to draw the line between film and psychoanalysis?
Freud famously objected to the concept of Secrets of a Soul as a psychoanalytic film, but as Barbara Creed notes in “Film and Psychoanalysis,” Freud was no stranger to popular culture; he was supposedly a fan of Sherlock Holmes. This makes sense because his case studies read like the unfolding of popular mystery novels. Freud is presented with a case of a hysterical subject (often a woman) and must work through her history and psyche, like “excavating a buried city” (Elizabeth von R.) to come at some sort of conclusion – an understanding of the deep layers of the unconscious that will help ail her physical symptoms. I believe that a separation of the natural appeal of narrative form and the desire for psychoanalytical treatment in the vein of Freud, as Heath distinguishes, is naive. The process by which we consume a film – even one as cryptic as Secrets of a Soul, or, say, Inception, is inherently psychoanalytic. Cinema has the power to seemingly extend reality and time for the viewer – “time lost or spent or not yet had,” as Andrei Tarkovsky wrote in The Sculpting of Time. In the safe confines of a darkened theater, the medium of film allows individuals to tap into their own psyches to produce meaning from the images in front of them. The process of filmgoing requires the spectator to suspend disbelief and submit to the film as pure reality, but of course, everyone knows intellectually while watching a film that they are in fact engaging in a purely spectatorial experience (excluding the onset of virtual reality technology). During the film viewing process, the line between art and reality does blur; however, how much of a distinction can we make if reality itself is never fully Real? Reality as we know it it is a summation of the cognitive signifiers we ascribe to our worlds. Just as Freud’s patients seek his analysis in an attempt not only to treat physical symptoms but to unearth the repressed depths of their psyches and gain further understandings of themselves, it is only natural for human beings to flock to darkened theaters in the hopes of extending their own senses of reality, and in doing so, perhaps coming closer to something of a grasp on the meaning of their own lives. In psychoanalysis, this notion of meaning may be illusory, but then again, what isn’t?