The analysand’s recounting of his experience at the bar in Pressure Point (1962) which he defiles with X’s and O’s is a telling illustration of his relations to others, particularly women and minorities. Having suffered an abusive childhood and a lifetime of repression, as Freud describes in “Repression” and other works, Bobby Darin’s character projects his own anxieties toward women onto the women in the film, treating them as objects which he must dominate in order to assert his own phallic power. He is threatened by the force of women, whom he associates with his constraining mother. This episode helps the viewer understand that the character’s racism, like his misogyny, is a symptom of his repression, as revealed in the primal scene in which he is seen peering into the bedroom where his father taunts his mother in bed with another woman.
When Darin’s character describes his memory at the bar to the analyst (played by Sydney Poitier), he opens by saying it was a “nothing bar with nothing people.” Immediately, he establishes his lack of respect for others, as he displaces his own loss of joussaince, or pleasure, onto those around him, establishing them as other. He constantly feels the need to assert his own superiority, culminating in his physical defilement of the foreign space. The analysand’s violent Tic-Tac-Toe game is an effort to physically mark his territory in an attempt to assert phallic power, a result of his repression and castration anxiety. With blackness representing a stain or loss of purity for Darin’s character, he marks the bar with paint to displace that fear and disgust onto others.
The visuals of the scene are striking. The choice of Tic-Tac-Toe for the analysand’s graffiti is an interesting one; the simplistic cross marks cover the walls of the bar, rendering the set an Expressionistic reflection of the inner turmoil and anxious rage of Darin’s character. The marks also represent a sort of proto-Swastika, underscoring the role that the scene plays in the film’s narrative, which is to provide a backstory to help the analyst and viewer understand the roots of the character’s racism and anti-Semitism. The X’s and O’s as signifiers also maintain a sexual connotation, with the patriarchal understanding of the phallus as the male penis and the O standing in for the absence of the phallus in the form of the vaginal opening. The bar owner’s wife is framed as the object of desire in the scene, depicted as both alluring and helpless. In one shot, she is seen through the legs of a chair atop the bar, nervously anticipating Darin’s character’s approach. Her entanglement in the chair’s legs anticipate the assault, when he literally places her between his own legs. The framing of the woman situates her as a sexual object, emphasizing her Mulveyan “to-be-looked-at-ness” in the eyes of Darin’s character, the epitome of the objectifying male spectator.
The most disturbing part of the scene, however, comes when Darin’s character paints a Tic-Tac-Toe board onto the woman’s face with lipstick, now creating an epidermal stain akin to the stain of non-whiteness. His use of lipstick, which resembles a phallic object, can be associated with a grasp on male power. He takes her instrument of beauty into his own hands, denying her phallic agency, and uses it to project onto her and render her an object of disgust. The shot is framed over the shoulder of Darin’s character, with the woman in deep focus; she is the figure being penetrated with the lipstick, as well as with his actual phallus. The camera slowly zooms in to her face, revealing her frozen expression of fear. When the camera reverses positions and she turns, the scene’s effect of violation is crystallized. The viewer gets the sense of how deeply dehumanizing the actions of Darin’s character are as an extension of his deep-seated repression.