In her essay, “Cinematic Abreaction: Toureur’s Cat People,” Deborah Linderman understands the film through two paradigms: A, the masculine exorcism of the “other” as defined by “the mystery of the cat woman” and B, the construction of the cat fantasy as inherently feminine and evil (page 73.) Linderman associates this masculine paradigm with psychoanalysis, which struggles to control and demystify the feminine mystique of paradigm B, an imaginary signifier like cinema itself. This dialectic sets up an apparent binary of good and evil, but is subverted through the manifestation of both paradigms in Irena herself, who simultaneously embodies salvation and destruction. Irena’s very being reflects this dichotomy – she is both a Christian who attempts to moralize otherness in terms of sin and a panther who indulges in the jouissance of executing her “murderous oral envy,” (page 78.)
This inability of the paradigms to contain Irena is seen on a meta-textual level of the “cinematic phantasy itself,” (page 75.) Like the imaginary, insufficient signifier that is cinema itself, Irena is “like a leopard, but not a leopard.” Language fails to adequately define her. The two elements of Irena are in conflict, producing an abreaction that operates within the cinematic function that is associated with paradigm B. The amalgamation of Irena’s inner dialectic and the filmic function are apparent in the representations of cinema throughout the film. The two most notable of the instances are the shadows on the wall of the pool during the stalking of Alice and the shadows depicting the transformation and attack on Dr. Judd. Like the shadows in Plato’s cave, these images are projections of an illusion that can never be codified. These are both instances of transgression that depict an acquiescence rather than an exclusion of Irena’s inner panther, her inner sin. The conflation of so-called “good” and “bad” is a failure to maintain the “essential phantasy of splitting” as stated by Linderman (page 74.) The final quotation also concludes that “both parts must die.” In this way, the cinematic function aids in the film’s argument, as supported by Linderman and the closing epigraph, that two can live within one, but one cannot live without the other.