Several times this semester we have watched a film(s) within a film: Peeping Tom, Secrets of a Soul, to name a few, but not until La Mala Educación did we touch on this concept through the phrase mise-en-abyme in Professor Edelman’s writing.
The film’s animated intro of posters peeling layer by layer foreshadows the plot of the film: there is Enrique Goded trying to make a film inside the main film, there is Juan impersonating Ignacio when indeed he isn’t the real Ignacio, and then there is the real director of the film Pedro Almodóvar making a film about a film being made. All of these layers keep peeling away from what we see and know from the beginning, making it feel as if something was made from nothing, or vice versa, which brings us to the idea of 0 and 1 in Learning Nothing.
How can the film be analyzed in terms of 0 and 1? First, 0 can be seen as “nothing” (like the title of the reading), but it can also be “everything”, because without 0, we cannot have 1. Professor Edelman explained in class that the 0 is when you are filling the void by naming it “the void”. 0 represents the Real, jouissance, and it represents queerness and blackness, before it travels back and forth to 1 where it takes up different signifiers/substitutions to satisfy the Symbolic Order. 0 can never be seen, and when it comes to La Mala Educación, the 0 represents the real Ignacio, as we never get to see them – all we have seen of Ignacio is the different versions of them from other character’s recollections/stories. Hence, the constant cycle between 0 and 1 is excellently played out by La Mala Educación, by providing viewers so many layers of different stories but never showing us what really happened – we have to interpret it our own way.
One aspect of Silence of the Lambs that strikes me the most after watching the film was the concept of the female gaze through the protagonist Clarice: is there even a female gaze in the film?
A scene (video below 2:30 – 6:20) that brought about this question was the autopsy scene where Clarice was in the room with Crawford and one other man to do an autopsy of a victim’s body:
Although throughout most of the film, it seemed as if Clarice was given a female gaze as viewers are shown the world through her perspective, this “female gaze” is brought under question in this scene above. In this scene, it is clear that there is an order in which the characters gets to see the woman’s corpse: all the men see it first, and only when Crawford says “It’s okay, Clarice” did the protagonist turn and face the body, and once she did, she was able to find a clue on Buffalo Bill. Why is it in this particular order, and what does the effect of only Clarice being able to find out clues and understand the corpse despite being in the same room with more experienced men in the FBI?
Let’s revisit Mary Ann Doane’s text Film and the Masquerade. In this text, Doane writes:
“The woman, the enigma, the hieroglyphic, the picture, the image-the metonymic chain connects with another: the cinema, the theatre of pictures, a writing in images of the woman but not for her. For she is the problem.”
“This is precisely why Freud evicted the woman from his lecture on femininity. Too close to herself, entangled in her own enigma, she could not step back, could not achieve the necessary distance of a second look.”
Doane’s and Freud’s claim that Woman cannot have a female gaze for she is the problem/image actually explains the autopsy scene in Silence of the Lambs. Only after Crawford has looked at the corpse and back at Clarice did the protagonist turn and examine the corpse. This echoes Doane’s writing because Crawford and the men are seeing the corpse as a problem that they do not understand, hence, they need the Woman in Clarice to look and clarify the problem to them. Why? Because Clarice is part of the image, she is an object of desire of the men, and she is too close to the real (she is close to Dr. Lector who has accepted his sinthome) that only she can help explain what is going on. Hence, there is no female gaze in Silence of the Lambs, viewers are just shown Clarice’s perspectives because she is the object of desire and a means of getting to the Real.
What struck me the most from Zupancic’s book chapter was the Lacanian Formula of Sexuatation. I will try to do discuss this formula in relation to the film Phantom Thread.
The male side of the table (left), indicates that Man, who is the barred Subject, is always looking for the objet petit a, which is located in the female side, while Woman, aka the barred Other, aims their objet petit a at the Man’s symbollic phallus. Another note is that here, Lacan also indicates that the Woman does not exist (crossed out the word “woman”). On the top of the male side, it looks like Lacan wants to indicate the existence of the Primordial Father, him who has unlimited access to women (there is at least one x which is not submitted to the phallic function. So how does this go in relation to Phantom Thread?
It seems like the Formula of Sexuation can go both ways when being read through the mentioned film. First, it is quite obvious that in this film, Reynolds does take up the position of the Primordial Father, as we see all the people who works for him are women – he does have unlimited access to these women, and he ditches them whenever he wants. We see that Reynolds has all the control he wants on his women, taking everything in his own hands during the fashion show. Or at least, Reynolds tries to assume this position is his, as we meet Alma, who brings on a challenge to Reynolds as well as the Lacanian Formula of Sexuation. It is clear that Alma is the only woman in this film who can figure out Reynolds, as she plays a “game” that he struggles to comprehend until the end of the film, she is the only one that can control him back. It is noteworthy to appreciate Alma’s action of poisoning Reynolds, as she can easily kill him with the poison, but instead showed excellent control by knowing how to make him become very sick without actually dying. Although at first we see Alma as just another woman who is obedient towards Reynolds, which represents the “woman does not exist” element in the Formula, she then makes Reynolds question whether she is a Woman after all: the scene where he repeatedly tells Alma to show him her “gun”. Perhaps this scene serves to challenge the Formula of Sexuation by demonstrating that Woman’s jouissance does exist through the power of Alma. However, with Reynolds assuming that Alma has a gun (phallus), and appearing quite vulnerable at the dinner scene, does this indicate a role-reversal between the two characters and hence solidifying Lacan’s Formula of Sexuation?
The relationship between Irena and her psychoanalyst, Dr. Judd, is a very interesting case when compared to Freud’s Observations on Transference Love. The film Cat Woman seems to provide a total opposite case study than the one in Freud’s writing: instead of the patient desiring the psychoanalyst’s love, it is Irena who is the object of desire for Dr. Judd (or at least he is the one making the move). It is as if Irena and Dr. Judd switched roles. This claim can be supported through the conversation about “soul” and “mind” between them, showing that Irena herself is very aware of what her problem is, and Dr. Judd telling her that he cannot help her and she must help herself. Here, viewers witness Dr. Judd refusing to do his job as a psychoanalyst, gives the title to Irena, at the same time starting to develop an interest in his patient. Hence, it is indeed a role reversal between these two characters, which the film puts a nail to the coffin when Dr. Judd meets his death when kissing his object of desire in the form of Irena, much like when Mark in Peeping Tom when he finally becomes one with his camera.
Perhaps this role-reversal between Irena and Dr. Judd was an answer to the question of what would happen when the psychoanalyst goes forward and gives the patient what they want. This is one of the things that Freud warned against in his writing, that the psychoanalyst must not return the love:
“He must keep firm hold of the transference-love, but treat it as something unreal, as a situation which has to be gone through in the treatment and traced back to its unconscious origins and which must assist in bringing all that is most deeply hidden in the patient’s erotic life into her consciousness and therefore under her control”.
In Moonlight, Chiron placing Juan as his father figure echoes a lot from the Freud reading of Observations on Transference Love. The film vividly shows the argument between Juan and Chiron’s mother, Paula, which immediately reminds me of when Freud writes:
“I have no doubt that the patient’s relatives and friends will decide as emphatically for the first of these two alternatives as the analyst will for the second. But I think that here is a case in which the decision cannot be left to the tender-or rather, the egoistic and jealous-concern of her relatives. The welfare of the patient alone should be the touchstone; her relatives’ love cannot cure her neurosis. The analyst need not push himself forward, but he may insist that he is indispensable for the achievement of certain ends. * * * Moreover, the jealous father or husband is greatly mistaken if he thinks that the patient will escape falling in love with her doctor if he hands her over to some kind of treatment other than analysis for combating her neurosis. The difference, on the contrary, will only be that a love of this kind, which is bound to remain unexpressed and unanalysed, can never make the contribution to the patient’s recovery which analysis would have extracted from it.”
Here, Juan takes up the position of the Psychoanalyst, as his patient Chiron falls for him and desires to transfer the lack of a father’s love to Juan. Just like what Freud writes, Paula, who represents the patient’s relatives and friends, is against what is happening, hence asking Juan aggressively if he really wants to be Chiron’s father or not. But as is shown up until that point in the movie, it seems like the relationship that Juan could provide Chiron is more healthy than that from Paula – as Freud says, “her relatives’ love cannot cure her neurosis”. However, it is important to note that Chiron’s mom is not as incompetent as Freud says about the patient’s relatives, as she has brought Chiron up and feed him up until that point. Paula is trying to be all there is for Chiron, as she often says to him: “You’re my only, and I’m your only”.
Despite Paula’s efforts to complete the missing fatherly figure in Chiron’s life, her efforts waned as she got more and more into drugs, which leaves Chiron desires even more of a fatherly love when he sees Juan. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to agree with Freud’s doubts over whether the patient will escape the transference of love when the jealous husband (in this case, Paula) hands her to a different treatment. This highlights the importance of Juan’s relationship with Chiron: he never says yes to being Chiron’s father, but proceeds to act like a father, so that he can bring Chiron closer to finding out his true identity and what he lacks.
Pressure Point resonates very well with Derek Hook’s text Racism and Jouissance. Bobby Darin’s character’s dream as an Oriental king was a great representation of how his racism is created from the jealousy of a foreign culture’s enjoyment. A different race is what Bobby Darin’s character projects his lack/jouissance onto: he does not have all the power and properties as an Oriental king (at least to his knowledge of the East), so he seeks to use racism to get to the goal of domination and be like people from the East; as we have seen from Secrets of a Soul, the husband Fellman sees his cousin Hans coming back from the East and feels like Hans is more powerful as he possesses things Fellman does not have. All of this hate and desire towards other races despite admitting to have never met a black person, nor knowing if he has met a Jew – so what actually fuels Bobby Darin’s character’s racism? It is the father, who throughout his life, has had access to everything he wants and takes away all the happiness that his child has. Therefore, Bobby Darin’s character buys the racist beliefs that Jews and black people have everything he does not have by stealing from white people like himself. Derek Hook sums this up by quoting Zizek:
“What is at stake in ethnic tensions is always [a kind of] possession: the “other” wants to steal our enjoyment (by ruining our “way of life”) and/or he has access to some secret, perverse enjoyment. In short, what gets on our nerves, what really bothers us about the “other” is the peculiar way he organizes his enjoyment (the smell of his food, his “noisy” songs and dances, his strange manners, his attitudes to work – in the racist perspective, the “other” is either a workaholic stealing our jobs or an idler living on our labour)”
This quote reminds me of the scene where Bobby Darin’s character talks about how Nazis recruit supporters: by making people believe other races are stealing what is rightfully theirs or is blocking them from achieving their goals, and therefore, they must take actions to fulfill their lack and become whole again with what is taken from them. Bobby Darin’s character’s view of his father also echoes Freud’s text Totem and Taboos when he talks about the boy and his relationship with horses – he wants to be powerful like the horses he sees, but at the same time he wants to kill them as they reminds him of his father, who competes with him for the love of his mother. The father, much like black and Jewish people, are in Bobby Darin’s character’s way to achieving jouissance in life. Hence, in his childhood dream, he is able to execute the mother (his weakness and lack) and produce a chopped piece of meat, an object that he is afraid of in real life, as he wants to possess what the father has (the metaphorical phallus), who he also wants to get rid of. The meat is what he wants to overcome, and in the dream he becomes whole as he is able to control the meat with the help of his black servants.
Peeping Tom‘s auditory factor is not much discussed as its images, but it says a lot about the protagonist Mark and his documentary project. Mark’s film at first appears silent, until we hear his father’s voice when we see the sequence of kid Mark crying. This poses the question of whether this sound from the audio track that Mark keeps muted, or is it from Mark’s head? In the Silverman reading, the author suggests that the voice of the father is Mark’s hallucination, which implies some sort of voice coming from the father that lives in Mark’s superego (we only hear the father’s voice once the film cuts to Mark holding the camera, not from the film itself). This conveniently ties us back to what Zizek said in his writing and video about the voice of the mother in Norman Bate’s house: the voice comes from the top floor of the house which represents the Norman’s super ego, which is similar to the superego inside of Mark’s head when he places it next to the camera.
Meanwhile, a lot can be talked about Mark’s censorship and curation of his film when it comes to the ending of the film, when we hear crying and screaming being played as Mark performs his final act of suicide in front of his cameras. It was very interesting that in class, professor Edelman mentioned that it was the sounds of Mark as a child crying in his father’s experiments in comparison to the normal misassumption that the crying are of his victims. This finding brings light to the image of Mark killing himself as it literally shows Mark becoming whole again, acknowledging his fears portrayed through the crying, accepting his lacks, as his father had always told him not to cry, possibly because it is unacceptable for a man to cry.
Freud’sTotem and Taboos was a fascinating read that made me think about the relationship between the child and the totem. I was very intrigued by the story of little Arpad and his relationship with the fowls. The love-hate relationship that Arpad has with the fowls become compared by Freud with how Arpad sees his father sheds a lot of light to what Freud said about how people in societies that worship animals see those animals. The totem of the animal being worshipped is perhaps similar to the father figure of Arpad: people see worshipped animals as a force to be scared of, at the same time as a force that they want to become themselves.
Zizek’s The Undergrowth of Enjoyment and his The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema gave a noteworthy discussion on the “gaze” and the “voice”. I personally enjoyed Zizek’s analysis of Mrs. Bate’s house being divided into 3 sections: top floor is superego, the ground floor is ego, and the basement is the id. It is a great comparison because the ground floor (the ego which is facilitated by the id and the superego) is the only part of the house that connects with the outside world, and the only place where Norman Bates behaves as a normal person towards other people in the movie. Meanwhile, the gaze that the house gives the characters looking at it gives off an uncanny sense, as if the house was Norman Bates himself. I wonder which type of gaze the house is giving its visitors, based off of the 3 types of gazes that professor Edelman talked about in class? I am thinking the Lacanian gaze that renders everything to disappear, making them meaningless.
Persona was a film which I found the Mirror Stage to be so well portrayed, through the relationship between Sister Alma and Elisabet. It is Alma’s desire to be what she initially sees in Elisabet and its consequences that represents the mirror stage.
The film’s narrative starts when Alma was told by the doctor to take care of Elisabet, and it was noteworthy that after seeing the famous actress for the first time, Alma told the doctor that an older nurse with “more life experience” should take care of Elisabet instead because although Elisabet’s “face looks soft, at first childish”, but “her expressions are hard” in her eye. Here, Ingmar Bergman is hinting at the early stage of childhood when saying that Alma is too young, not enough to decipher what she sees in Elisabet’s eyes, representing the child’s struggle to make sense of its own image in the mirror the early times looking at it. It is as if Elisabet is Alma’s own reflection in the mirror because Alma had described her as “soft” and “childish”, while also being in parallel with her describing herself as too young for the patient.
This claim that Elisabet is what Alma sees in the mirror is further supported in the film’s images:
This projection that Alma puts onto Elisabet answers the question of why she feels so comfortable with the silent actress, because she is able to take advantage of the non-existent signifiers that come from Elisabet, in order to put meaning into what Alma sees from the actress. This led to the peak of their images merging during the dream mirror scene (above). It is as if Alma was the child finally realizing that what she sees in the mirror is indeed itself, as it projects its signifiers onto that image.
In Marnie by Hitchcock, the scene where Marnie was stumbling through the number of ID cards that she has, with all the names starting with “Mar”, gives reference to the idea of the “mirror stage”. The mirror stage, according to Lacan, is the period from 6 to 18 months of a baby when it learns to identify itself in the mirror. What references the mirror stage in the mentioned scene in Marnie is the fact that the way she goes through her fake IDs show that she herself is confused by who she is, and therefore who she wishes to be. Even the viewers were beginning to ask after seeing the different names of “Mar…” whether this woman is Marnie or not. I find it especially impactful when the mirror surface of her wallet is shown, us the spectators are not shown what Marnie’s face is, implying that at that moment she has no identity yet because she has not chosen a name. Not until she has chosen to be Margaret Edgar and changed her appearance did we get to see her face in the bigger mirror.
One quote in Metz’s The Imaginary Signifier that stood out to me in relation to Marnie is: “Thus when I ‘recognize’ my like on the screen, and even more when I do not recognize it, where am ? Where is that someone who is capable of self-recognition when need be?” In this case, we as spectators do not recognize who Marnie is, but neither did she. Therefore, the “someone who is capable of self-recognition” is not there for the viewers to count on in mainstream cinema, leaving us also confused, mimicking Marnie’s action of identifying, and perhaps more aware of the mirror stage during this moment in the film.