Shipwrecks and Doors: Thresholds to the Void in The Most Dangerous Game

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Schoedsack and Pichel’s film adaption of Richard Connell’s famous short story, The Most Dangerous Game, is by no means regarded as a masterpiece, yet its content is rather substantive. It explores various psychanalytic theories, as made salient by Thierry Kuntzel in his essay “The Film-Work 2.” A particular idea of note expressed by Kuntzel is the “threshold to the void” as a “voyage of initiation” (page 9.) There are a number of thresholds apparent throughout the film, all of which operate along boundaries of the symbolic and the real. These transgressive spaces ultimately stage an encounter with the innermost entry to nothingness, like the successive doors in Spellbound and the heart of darkness expressed in Apocalypse Now. The first threshold we encounter is the ominous doorway with the ornate knocker depicting a centaur holding the limp body of a woman. A disembodied, segmented hand reaches out of nowhere to knock on the door. In order to knock, the hand must grasp the woman and bang her against the beast. Even the action required to gain access is of a violent nature. This “initiation” is the gauge of jouissance that deems the aggressor worthy to enter the transgressive space. Yet Theirry also asserts that “pleasure derives from discovering an object yet to be opened, rather than the gift itself” (page 9.) This supposes that what lies beyond the door is inconsequential, a void of sorts.

Another threshold that is crossed in the film is the shipwreck. The ocean itself is a space of transgression, a festive entity where laws do not apply. The ship itself, however, is strict and orderly, following lights to remain on course. The instant Rainsford proclaims that he is a hunter and “nothing can change that,” falsely assuming he is in control or has a grasp of what is true in reality, the ship crashes. The lights are a false guidance, implying that reason is a ruse. The ship is literally fractured, dislocating the contents from the inside to the outside in a physical and logical reversal. As within becomes without, roles are reversed as Rainsford becomes the victim. Kuntzel invokes Desnos, stating that “the theme of shipwreck [describes] the wreck of language” (page 49.) This failure of structure and language signals a brush with the real, or the void, in which the symbolic collapses. As one thing – the ship – invades another – the ocean – one space disseminates into another. Kuntzel expands on this, asking “what name can be given to one and the other?” (page 51.) In the wreckage of language in this way, the shipwreck calls the integrity of the relationship between the signifier and signified into question. What is “hunter,” what is “hunted?” As words fail, meaning is lost.