THE PERVERT’SGUIDE TO CINEMA PRESENTED BY PHILOSOPHER AND PSYCHOANALYSTS -Slavoj Zizek
The problem for us is not, Are our desires satisfied or not? The problem is, How do we know what we desire? There is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural, about human desires. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire. Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire, it tells you how to desire.
Oh, I do like you, but it just isn’t good enough.
Oh, I forgot. Your mother asked me up for supper.
Okay. Bring some ice cream with you, will you?
What kind do you want,chocolate or vanilla?
What we get in this wonderful clip from Possessed is commentary on the magic art of cinema within a movie. We have an ordinary working-class girl, living in a drab, small provincial town. All of a sudden she finds herself in a situation where reality itself reproduces the magic cinematic experience. She approaches the rail, the train is passing, and it is as if what in reality is just a person standing near a slowly passing train turns into a viewer observing the magic of the screen.
Have a drink?
Oh, don’t go away.
Get in and look out.
We get a very real, ordinary scene onto which the heroine’s inner space, as it were, her fantasy space is projected, so that, although all reality is simply there, the train, the girl,part of reality in her perception and in our viewer’s perceptionis, as it were, elevated to the magic level, becomes the screen of her dreams. This is cinematic art at its purest.
This is your last chance.
After this there is no turning back.
You take the blue pill, the story ends.
You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
But the choice between the blue and the red pill is not really a choice between illusion and reality. Of course, the matrix is a machine for fictions, but these are fictions which already structure our reality. If you take away from our reality the symbolic fictions that regulate it, you lose reality itself.
I want a third pill. So what is the third pill? Definitely not some kind of transcendental pill which enables a fake, fast-food religious experience, but a pill that would enable me to perceive not the reality behind the illusion but the reality in illusion itself.
If something gets too traumatic, too violent, even too filled with enjoyment, it shatters the coordinates of our reality. We have to fictionalise it. The first key to horror films is to say, “Let’s imagine the same story but without the horror element.” This gives us, I think, the background.
We’re in the middle of Bodega Bay, where the action of Hitchcock’s Birds takes place. Birds is a film about a young, rich, socialite girl from San Francisco who falls in love with a guy, goes after him to Bodega Bay,where she discovers that he lives with his mother.
Of course, it’s none of my business, but when you bring a girl like that… I think I can handle Melanie Daniels by myself. Well, as long as you know what you want, Mitch. I know exactly what I want. And then, there is the standard oedipal imbroglio of incestuous tension between mother and son, the son split between his possessive mother and the intrusive girl. What’s the matter with them? What’s the matter with all the birds?
Hurry up with yours, Mitch.
I’m sure Miss Daniels wants to be on her way.
I think you ought to stay the night, Melanie.
We have an extra room upstairs and everything.
The big question about The Birds, of course, is the stupid, obvious one, Why do the birds attack?
Mitch…It is not enough to say that the birds are part of the natural set-up of reality. It is rather as if a foreign dimension intrudes that literally tears apart reality. We humans are not naturally born into reality. In order for us to act as normal people who interact with other people who live in the space of social reality, many things should happen. Like, we should be properly installed within the symbolic order and so on. When this, our proper dwelling within a symbolic space, is disturbed, reality disintegrates.
So, to propose the psychoanalytic formula, the violent attacks of the birds are obviously explosive outbursts of maternal superego, of the maternal figure preventing, trying to prevent sexual relationship. So the birds are raw, incestuous energy. What am I doing? I’m sorry, now I got it.My God, I’m thinking like Melanie. You know what I’m thinking now? I want to fuck Mitch. That’s what she was thinking. No. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I meant that I got this spontaneous confusion of directions.
Mrs Bates. We are in the cellar of the mother’s house from Psycho. What’s so interesting is that the very disposition of mother’s house… Events took place in it at three levels, first floor, ground floor, basement. It is as if they reproduce the three levelsof human subjectivity. Ground floor is ego. Norman behaves there as a normal son, whatever remains of his normal ego taking over.Up there, it’s the superego.Maternal superego, because the dead mother is basically a figure of superego.
I’m gonna bring something up. I am sorry, boy, but you do manage to look ludicrous
No, I will not hide in the fruit cellar.
You think I’m fruity, huh?
And down in the cellar, it’s the id, the reservoir of these illicit drives. So we can then interpret the event in the middle of the film, when Norman carries the mother or, as we learn at the end, mother’s mummy, corpse, skeleton, from the first floor to the cellar.
You won’t do it again.
Not ever again.
Now get out.
I’ll carry you, Mother.
It’s as if he is transposing her in his own mindas the psychic agency from superego to id.
Put me down. Put me down.
I can walk on my own…
Of course, the lesson of it is the old lessone laborated already by Freud, that superego and id are deeply connected.The mother complains first, as a figure of authority, mother immediately turns into obscenity, Do you think I’m fruity? Superego is not an ethical agency. Superego is an obscene agency, bombarding us with impossible orders, laughing at us, when, of course, we cannot ever fulfil its demand. The more we obey it, the more it makes us guilty. There is always some aspect of an obscene madman in the agency of the superego.
We often find references to psychoanalysis embodied in the very relations between persons. For example, the three Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo. It’s clear that Groucho, the most popular one, with his nervous hyper-activity, is superego.
Well, that covers a lot of ground.
Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it.
I hear they’re gonna tear you down and put up an office building where you’re standing.
You can leave in a taxi. If you can’t geta taxi, you can leave in a huff.
If that’s too soon, you can leave in a minute and a half. You know you haven’t stopped talking since I came here?
Chico, the rational guy, egotistic, calculating all the time, is ego.
Chicolini, you’re charged with high treason,and if found guilty, you’ll be shot.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
And, the weirdest of them all, Harpo, the mute guy, he doesn’t talk. Freud said that drives are silent. He doesn’t talk. He, of course, is id. Who are you guys?
What are you doing in my room?
That’s my partner. But he no speak.
He’s dumb and deaf.
The id in all its radical ambiguity. Namely, what is so weird about the Harpo character is that he’s childishly innocent, just striving for pleasure, likes children, plays with children and so on. But, at the same time, possessed by some kind of primordial evil, aggressive all the time. And this unique combination of utter corruption and innocenceis what the id is about.
Get off there.
Get off that table.
What do you think this is here, anyway?
Put that down.
Lunatic! Stop that, here!
Here, let it alone.
Yes, I’m Dr Klein. This is Dr Taney.
I’m Sharon. Things have gotten worsesince I phoned you.I think you better come upstairs.
Yeah, but they’ve gotten violent.
Did you give her the medication?Voice is not an organic part of a human body.
It’s coming from somewherein between your body.
Mother, please! -Please, Mother, make it stop!
What is it? What’s happening?
It’s burning! It’s burning!
Do something, Doctor.
Please, help her!
Whenever we talk to another person, there is always this minimum of ventriloquist effect, as if some foreign power took possession. Let the enemy have no power over her. And the son of iniquity be powerless to harm her.
You mother sucks cocks in hell, Karras, you faithless swine!
Remember that at the beginning of the film, this was a beautiful young girl.H ow did she become a monster that we see? By being possessed, but who possessed her? A voice. A voice in its obscene dimensions. See the cross of the Lord.
Begone, you hostile powers.
The first big filmabout this traumatic dimension of the voice, the voice which freely floats aroundand is a traumatic presence, feared, the ultimate moment or object of anxiety which distorts reality, was in ’31 , in Germany, Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr Mabuse.
You and the woman will not leave this room alive.
Monster! Stop, please!
We do not see Mabuse till the end of the film. He is just a voice.
You will not leave this room alive.
And to redeem through your son, who lives and reigns with youin the unity of the Holy Spirit,God, forever and ever. So, the problem is, which is whywe have the two priests at her side, how to get rid of this intruder, of this alien intruder. It is as if we are expecting the famous scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien to repeat itself. As if we just wait for some terrifying, alien,evil-looking, small animal to jump out.There is a fundamental imbalance, gap, between our psychic energy, called by Freud “libido”, this endless undeadenergy which persists beyond life and death, and the poor, finite, mortal reality of our bodies.
This is not just the pathology of being possessed by ghosts. The lesson that we should learn and that the movies try to avoid is that we ourselves are the aliens. Our ego, our psychic agency, is an alien force, distorting, controlling our body. Nobody was as fully aware of the properly traumatic dimension of the human voice, the human voice not as the sublime, ethereal medium for expressing the depth of human subjectivity, but the human voice as a foreign intruder. Nobody was more aware of this than Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin himself plays in the film two persons, the good, small, Jewish barber and his evil double, Hynkel, dictator. Hitler, of course.
He bit my finger. The Jewish barber, the tramp figure, is of course the figure of silent cinema. Silent figures are basically like figures in the cartoon. They don’t know death. They don’t know sexuality even. They don’t know suffering. They just go on in their oral, egotistic striving, like cats and mice in a cartoon. You cut them into pieces, they’re reconstituted. There is no finitude, no mortality here. There is evil, but a kind of naive, good evil. You’re just egotistic, you want to eat, you want to hit the other, but there is no guilt proper. What we get with sound is interiority, depth, guilt,culpability,in other words, the complex oedipal universe.Here you are.Get a Hynkel button. Get a Hynkel button. A fine sculpture with a hooey on each and every button.
The problem of the filmis not only the political problem, how to get rid of totalitarianism, of its terrible seductive power, but it’s also this more formal problem, how to get rid of this terrifying dimension of the voice. Or, since we can not simply get rid of it, how to domesticate it, how to transform this voice nonetheless into the means of expressing humanity, love and so on.
German police grabs the poor tramp thinking this is Hitler and he has to address a large gathering.
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.
That’s not my business.
I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.
I should like to help everyone, if possible.
Jew, gentile, black man, white,we all want to help one another.
Human beings are like that.
There, of course, he delivers his big speech about the need for love, understanding between people. But there is a catch, even a double catch.
Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!
People applaud exactly in the same way as they were applauding Hitler. The music that accompanies this great humanist finale, the overture to Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin,is the same music as the one we hear when Hitler is daydreaming about conquering the entire world and where he has a balloon in the shape of the globe. The music is the same.
This can be read as the ultimate redemption of music, that the same music which served evil purposescan be redeemed to serve the good. Or it can be read, and I think it should be read,in a much more ambiguous way, that with music, we can not ever be sure. In so far as it externalises our inner passion, music is potentially always a threat.
There is a short scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, which takes place in the theatre where we are now, where behind the microphone a woman is singing, then out of exhaustion or whatever, she drops down. Surprisingly, the singing goes on. Immediately afterwards, it is explained. It was a playback. But for that couple of seconds when we are confused, we confront this nightmarish dimension of an autonomous partial object. Like in the well-known adventureof Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, where the cat disappears, the smile remains.
You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself. And the mome raths outgrabe. The fascinating thing about partial objects, in the sense of organs without bodies, is that they embody what Freud called “death drive”. Here, we have to be very careful. Death drive is not kind of a Buddhist striving for annihilation. I want to find eternal peace. I want… No. Death drive is almost the opposite. Death drive is the dimension of what in the Stephen King-like horror fiction is called the dimension of the undead, of living dead, of something which remains alive even after it is dead. And it’s, in a way, immortal in its deadness itself. It goes on, insists. You can not destroy it. The more you cut it, the more it insists, it goes on. This dimension, of a kind of diabolical undeadness, is what partial objects are about.
The nicest example here for me, I think, is Michael Powell’s Red Shoes, about a ballerina. Her passion for dancing is materialised in her shoes taking over. The shoes are literally the undead object. Perhaps the ultimate bodily part which fits this role of the autonomous partial objectis the fist, or rather, the hand. This hand, raising up, that’s the whole point of the film. It’s not simply something foreign to him. It’s the very core of his personality out there.
Security? I am Jack’s smirking revenge.
What the hell are you doing?
Far from standing for some kind of perverted masochismor reactionary fantasy of violence, this scene is deeply liberating. I am here, as it were, on the side of the fist. I think this is what liberation means. In order to attack the enemy, you first have to beat the shit out of yourself. To get rid, in yourself, of that whichin yourself attaches you to the leader, to the conditions of slavery, and so on and so on.
No, please stop! What are you doing?
Oh, God, no, please! No!
For some reason, I thought of my first fight, with Tyler.
There is always this conflict between me and my double. Motherfucker!
Well, Jesus. I’m sorry. No, that was perfect.
It is as if the double embodies myself,but without the castrated dimension of myself. There is an episode in the wonderful British horror classic, Dead of Night…
I knew you wouldn’t leave me, Hugo.
I knew you’d come back….
in which Michael Redgrave plays a ventriloquist who gets jealous of his puppet.
Now don’t get excited, I was only joking.You know me.
Take your hands off me!-Stop playing!-Maxwell!
Here, you fool! Officer, quickly, open this door.
In an outburst of violence, he destroys the puppet, breaks down, then in the very last scene of the film we see him in the hospital, slowly regaining consciousness, coming back to himself. First his voice is stuck in the throat. Then, with great difficulty, finally, he is able to talk,but he talks with the distorted voice of the dummy. Why,
hello, Sylvester. I’ve been waiting for you.
And the lesson is clear. The only way for me to get rid of this autonomous partial objectis to become this object.
Okay, I’m ready. Wait a minute. So that I don’t confuse them… Where is my key? My key is here. This one is here. Okay, any… You shout when. I’m standing on the very balcony where the murder, the traumatic murder scene, occurs in Conversation. The murder of the husband, observed through the stained glass in front of me by the private detective, Gene Hackman. The detective is in the nearby room. Significantly, just before he sees the murder, he observes the balcony through a crack in the glass wall.
Whenever we have this famous, proverbial peeping Tom scene of somebody observing traumatic events through a crack, it’s never as if we are dealing with two parts on both sides of the wall of the same reality. Before seeing anythingor imagining to see something, he tries to listen. He behaves as an eavesdropper,with all his private detective gadgets.What does this make him?Potentially, at least,it makes him into a fantasised, imagined entity.
I can’t stand it.I can’t stand it anymore.
You’re going to make me cry.
I know, honey. I know. Me, too.
I have no idea what you’re talking about.
He doesn’t fantasise the scene of the murder.He fantasises himself as a witness to the murder.
I love you.
What he sees on that blurred window glass, which effectively functionsas a kind of elementary screen, cinematic screen even, that should be perceivedas a desperate attempt to visualise,hallucinate even, the bodily, material support of what he hears.
Shut up! It’s “Daddy”, you shithead!
Where’s my bourbon?
Dorothy’s apartmentis one of those hellish places which abound in David Lynch’s films. A places where all moral or social inhibitions seem to be suspended, where everything is possible. The lowest, masochistic sex, obscenities, the deepest level of our desires that we are not even ready to admit to ourselves, we are confronted with them in such places.
Spread your legs.
Now show it to me.
Don’t you fucking look at me.
From what perspective should we observe this scene? Imagine the scene as that of a small child, hidden in a closet or behind a door…
witnessing the parental intercourse. He doesn’t yet know what sexuality is, how we do it.All he knows is what he hears, this strange deep breathing sound, and then he tries to imagine what goes on.
At the very beginning of Blue Velvet, we see Jeffrey’s father having a heart attack, falling down. We have the eclipse of the normal, paternal authority.
Baby wants to fuck!
It is as if Jeffrey fantasises this wild parental couple of Dorothy and Frankas kind of a fantasmatic supplement to the lack of the real paternal authority.
Get ready to fuck, you fucker’s fucker!
Don’t you fucking look at me!
Frank, not only obviously acts, but even overacts. It is as if his ridiculously excessive gesticulating, shouting and so on, are here to cover up something. The point is, of course, the elementary one, to convince the invisible observer that father is potent, to cover up father’s impotence. So the second way to read the scene would have been as a spectacle, a ridiculously violent spectacle, set up by the father to convince the son of his power, of his over-potency. The third way would have been to focus on Dorothy herself.
Many feminists, of course, emphasise the brutality against women in this scene, the abuse, how the Dorothy character is abused. There is obviously this dimension in it. But I think one should risk a more shocking and obverse interpretation.
What if the central, as it were, problem, of this entire scene is Dorothy’s passivity?Don’t you fucking look at me!So what if what Frank is doing is a kind of a desperate, ridiculous, but nonetheless effective attempt of trying to help Dorothy, to awaken her out of her lethargy, to bring her into life? So if Frank is anybody’s fantasy, maybe he is Dorothy’s fantasy. There is kind of a strange, mutual interlocking of fantasies. You stay alive, baby. It’s not only ambiguity, but oscillation between three focal points.This, I think, is what accounts for the strange reverberations of this scene.
This brings us to our third and maybe crucial example, what is for me the most beautiful shot in the entire Vertigo. The shot in which we see Scottie in a position of a peeping Tom, observing through a crack. It is as if Madeleine is really there in common reality, while Scottie is peeping at her from some mysterious inter-space, from some obscure netherworld. This is the location of the imagined, fantasised gaze. Gaze is that obscure point, the blind spot, from which the object looked upon returns the gaze.
After suspecting that a murder is taking place in the nearby hotel room, Gene Hackman, playing the private detective, enters this room and inspects the toilet. The moment he approaches the toilet in the bathroom,it is clear that we are in Hitchcock territory. It is clear that some kind of intense, implicit dialogue with Psycho is going on.
In a very violent gesture, as if adopting the role of Norman Bates’mother, the murderer in Psycho, he opens up the curtain, inspects it in detail, looking for traces of blood there, even inspecting the gap, the hole,at the bottom of the sink. Which is precisely another of these focal objects, because in Psycho, the hole, through fade-out, the hole is morphed into the eye, returning the gaze.
We say the eye is the window of the soul. But what if there is no soul behind the eye? What if the eye is a crack through which we can perceive just the abyss of a netherworld? When we look through these cracks, we see the dark, other side, where hidden forces run the show. It is as if Gene Hackman establishes, of fascination, the toilet bowl. “He flushes it,and then the terrible thing happens. In our most elementary experience, when we flush the toilet, excrements simply disappear out of our reality into another space, which we phenomeno logically perceiveas a kind of a netherworld, another reality, a chaotic, primordial reality. And the ultimate horror, of course, is if the flushing doesn’t work, if objects return, if remainders, excremental remainders, return from that dimension.The bathroom. Hitchcock is all the time playing with this threshold.
Well, they’ve cleaned all this up now.
Big difference. You should’ve seen the blood.
The whole place was… Well, it’s too horrible to describe. Dreadful!
The most effective for me and even the most touching scene of the entire Psycho, is after the shower murder, when Norman Bates tries to clean the bathroom. I remember clearly when in my adolescence I first saw the film, how deeply I was impressed not only by the length of the scene, it goes on almost for 10 minutes, details of cleansing and so on and so on, but also by the care, meticulousness, how it is done,and also by our spectator’s identification with it.
I think that this tells us a lot about the satisfaction of work, of a job well done. Which is not so much to construct something new, but maybe human work at its most elementary, work, as it were, at the zero level, is the work of cleaning the traces of a stain. The work of erasing the stains, keeping at bay this chaotic netherworld, which threatens to explode at any time and engulf us.I think this is the fine sentiment that Hitchcock’s films evoke. It’s not simply that something horrible happens in reality. Something worse can happen which undermines the very fabric of what we experience as reality.
I think it’s very important how the first attack of the birds occurs in the film. Precisely when Melanie crosses this bay. At first, we even don’t perceive it as a bird. As if some stain appeared within the frame. When a fantasy object, something imagined, an object from inner space, enters our ordinary realty, the texture of reality is twisted, distorted. This is how desire inscribes itself into reality,by distorting it. Desire is a wound of reality. The art of cinema consists in arousing desire, to play with desire. But, at the same time, keeping it at a safe distance, domesticating it, rendering it palpable. When we spectators are sitting in a movie theatre, looking at the screen…
You remember, at the very beginning, before the picture is on, it’s a black, dark screen, and then light thrown on. Are we basically not staring into a toilet bowland waiting for things to reappear out of the toilet? And is the entire magic of a spectacle shown on the screen not a kind of a deceptive lure, trying to conceal the fact that we are basically watching shit, as it were?
There was a young lady of Ongar Who had an affair with a conger They said, “How does it feel To sleep with an eel?” Well, she said, “just like a man, only longer” Usually, people read the lesson of Freudian psychoanalysis as if the secret meaning of everything is sexuality. But this is not what Freud wants to say. I think Freud wants to say the exact opposite. It’s not that everythingis a metaphor for sexuality, that whatever we are doing, we are always thinking about that. The Freudian question is, but what are we thinking when we are doing that? If I may be a little bit impertinent and relate to an unfortunate experience, probably known to most of us, how it happens that while one is engaged in sexual activity, all of a sudden one feels stupid. One loses contact with it. As if, “My God, what am I doing here, doing these stupid repetitive movements?” And so on and so on. Nothing changes in reality, in these strange moments where I, as it were, disconnect. It’s just that I lose the fantasmatic support. In sexuality, it’s never only me and my partner, or more partners, whatever you are doing. It’s always… There has to be always some fantasmatic element. There has to be some third imagined element which enables me, to engage in sexuality.
There is an irresistible power of fascination, at least for me, in this terrifying scene when Neo awakens from his sleep within the matrix and becomes aware of what he really is in that foetal container,floating in liquid, connected to virtual reality, where you are reduced to a totally passive object with your energy being sucked out of you. So why does the Matrix need our energy? I think the proper way to ask this questionis to turn it around. Not why does the matrix need the energy, but why does the energy need the matrix? That is to say, since I think that the energy we are talking about is libido, is our pleasure, why does our libido need the virtual universe of fantasies? Why can’t we simply enjoy it directly,a sexual partner and so on?
That’s the fundamental question. Why do we need this virtual supplement? Our libido needs an illusion in order to sustain itself. One of the most interesting motifs in science fiction is that of the id machine, an object which has the magic capacity of directly materialising, realising in front of us, our innermost dreams, desires, even guilt feelings. There is a long tradition of this in science fiction films, but of course the film about id machine is Andrei Tarkovsky’s, Solaris.
Solaris is the story of Kelvin, a psychologist, who is sent by a rocket to a spaceship circulating around Solaris, a newly discovered planet. Strange things are reported from the spaceship. All the scientists there are going crazy, and then Kelvin discovers what is going on there. This planet has the magic ability to directly realise your deepest traumas, dreams, fears, desires. The innermost of your inner space. The hero of the film finds one morning his deceased wife, who made suicide years ago. So he realises not so much his desire, as his guilt feeling. When the hero is confronted with the spectral clone, as it were, of his deceased wife, although he appears to be deeply sympathetic, spiritual, reflecting and so on, his basic problem is how to get rid of her. What makes Solaris so touching is that, at least potentially, it confronts us with this tragic subjective position of the woman, his wife, who is aware that she has no consistency, no full being of her own.
I don’t even know my own self.
Who am I?
As soon as I close my eyes I can’t recall what my face is like.
For example, she has gaps in her memory because she knows only what he knows that she knows.
Do you know who you are?
All humans do.
She is just his dream realised. And her true love for him is expressed in her desperate attempts to erase herself, to swallow poison or whatever, just to clear the space, because she guesses that he wants this. It’s horrifying, isn’t it? I’ll never get used to these constant resurrections! It’s relatively easy to get rid of a real person. You can abandon him or her, kill him or her, whatever. But a ghost, a spectral presence, is much more difficult to get rid of. It sticks to you as a kind of a shadowy presence.
Stop it! I must be looking disgusting!
What we get here is the lowest male mythology. This idea that woman doesn’t exist on her own. That a woman is merely a man’s dream realised or even, as radical, anti-feminists claim, the man’s guilt realised. Women exist because male desire got impure. If man cleanses his desire,gets rid of dirty material, fantasies, woman ceases to exist. At the end of the film, we get a kind of a Holy Communion, a reconciliation of him not with his wife, but with his father.
Did you see Hitchcock’s Vertigo?
Sorry, I don’t understand.
Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the film.
I think it happened here, you know.
Oh, you don’t know the scene, okay.
Often things begin as a fake, inauthentic, artificial, but you get caught into your own game. And that is the true tragedy of Vertigo. It’s a story about two people who, each in his or her own way, get caught into their own game of appearances. For both of them, for Madeleine and for Scottie, appearances win over reality. What is the story of Vertigo? It’s a story about a retired policeman who has a pathological fear of heights because of an incident in his career, and then an old friend hires him to follow his beautiful wife, played by Kim Novak.
The wife mysteriously possessed by the ghost of a past deceased Spanish beauty, Carlotta Valdes. The two fall in love. The wife kills herself. The first part of Vertigo, with Madeleine’s suicide, is not as shattering as it could have been, because it’s really a terrifying loss, but in this very loss, the ideal survives. The idea of the fatal woman possesses you totally. What, ultimately, this image, fascinating image of the fatal woman stands for is death. The fascination of beauty is always the veil which covers up a nightmare. Like the idea of a fascinating creature, but if you come too close to her, you see shit, decay, you see worms crawling everywhere.
The ultimate abyss is not a physical abyss, but the abyss of the depth of another person. It’s what philosophers describe as the night of the world. Like when you see another person, into his or her eyes, you see the abyss. That’s the true spiral which is drawing us in.
Scottie alone, broken down, cannot forget her, wanders around the city looking for a woman, a similar woman, something like the deceased woman, discovers an ordinary, rather vulgar, common girl. The douement of the story, of course,is along the lines of the Marx Brothers’ joke, This man is an idiot. “The newly found woman looks like Madeleine, acts like Madeleine, the fatal beauty. We discover she is Madeleine. What we learn is that Scottie’s friend, who hired Scottie, also hired this woman, Judy, to impersonate Madeleine in a devilish plot to kill the real Madeleine, his wife, and get her fortune.
We could just see a lot of each other.
Cause I remind you of her? It’s not very complimentary.
The profile shot in Vertigo is perhaps the key shot of the entire film. We have there Madeleine’s, or rather Judy’s, identity in all its tragic tension. It provides the dark background for the fascinating other profile of Madeleine in Ernie’s restaurant. Scottie is too ashamed, afraid to look at her directly. It is as if what he sees is the stuff of his dreams, more real in a way for him than the reality of the woman behind his back.
That’s not very complimentary, either.
I just want to be with you as much as I can, Judy.
When we see a face, it’s basically always the half of it. A subject is a partial something, a face, something we see. Behind it, there is a void, a nothingness. And of course, we spontaneously tend to fill in that nothingness with our fantasies about the wealth of human personality, and so on. To see what is lacking in reality, to see it as that, there you see subjectivity. To confront subjectivity meansto confront femininity. Woman is the subject. Masculinity is a fake. Masculinity is an escape from the most radical, nightmarish dimension of subjectivity.
I’m trying to buy you a suit.
But I love the second one she wore.
And this one, it’s beautiful.
No, no. They’re none of them right.
I think I know the suit you mean.
We had it some time ago.
Let me go and see.
We may still have that model. Thank you.
You’re looking for the suit that she wore, for me.
I know the kind of suitthat would look well on you.
No, I won’t do it!
Judy.It can’t make that much differenceto you.
I just want to see what…
No, I don’t want any clothes.I don’t want anything.
Here we are.-Yes, that’s it. When Judy, refashioned as Madeleine, steps out of the door, it’s like fantasy realised. And, of course, we have a perfect name for fantasy realised. It’s called “nightmare”. Fantasy realised. What does this mean? Of course, it is always sustained by an extreme violence. The violence in this case of Scottie’s brutal refashioning of Judy, a real, common girl, into Madeleine. It’s truly a process of mortification, which also is the mortification of woman’s desire.
It is as if in order to have her, to desire her, to have sexual intercourse with her, with the woman, Scottie has to mortify her, to change her into a dead woman. It’s as if, again, for the male libidinal economy, to paraphrase a well-known old saying, the only good woman is a dead woman. Scottie is not really fascinated by her, but by the entire scene, the staging. He is looking around, checking up, are the fantasmatic co-ordinates really here? At that point when the reality fully fits fantasy, Scottie is finally able to realise the long-postponed sexual intercourse. So the result of this violence is a perfect co-ordination between fantasy and reality. A kind of direct short-circuit.
In Lynch’s films, darkness is really dark. Light is really unbearable, blinding light. Fire really hurts, it’s so hot. At those moments of sensual over-intensity, it is as if events on screen itself, threatens to overflow the screen and to grab us into it, to reach towards us. It’s again as if the fantasy-space, the fictional, narrative space, gets too intenseand reaches out towards us spectators so that we lose our safe distance. This is the proper tension of the Lynchian universe. The beauty of Lynch, if you look closely, it’s never clear. Is it really the brutal real out there which disturbs us, or is it our fantasy?
At the very beginning of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, we see an idyllic, American small town. What can be more normal than father of the family, in front of a white clean house, watering the lawn? But all of a sudden, father has a heart seizure, falls down to the grass. And then, instead of showing the family confused, calling for an ambulance, whatever, Lynch does something typically Lynchian. The camera moves extremely close to the grass, even penetrates the grass, and we see what is the real of this idyllic green lawn.
We should not forget this, how this happens precisely when father has a seizure. That is to say when, symbolically, the paternal authority breaks down.
I’ll send you straight to hell, fucker!
In dreams, I walk with you.
In dreams, I talk to you.
The logic here is strictly Freudian, that is to say we escape into dream to avoid a deadlock in our real life. But then, what we encounter in the dream is even more horrible, so that at the end, we literally escape from the dream, back into reality. It starts with, dreams are for those who can not endure, who are not strong enough for reality. It ends with, reality is for those who are not strong enough to endure, to confront their dreams.
Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are two versions of the same film. What makes both films, especially Lost Highway, so interesting is how they posit the two dimensions, reality and fantasy, side by side, horizontally, as it were.
It must be from a real estate agent.
What we get in Lost Highway is the drab, grey,upper-middle-class suburban reality. Hero, married to Patricia Arquette, obviously terrorised by the enigma of his wife, who doesn’t respond properly to his advances. When they have sexual intercourse, he miserably fails. What he gets from her is a kind of a patronising pat on the shoulder. It’s okay. It’s okay. Total humiliation.It’s okay. After killing her in an act of frustration, the hero enters his fantasy-space, where he, as it were, reinvents not only himself, but his entire social environs. Captain, this is some spooky shit we got here. In what? In a kind of a universe which we usually found in film noir.
The hero’s wife, who is a brunette, becomes a blonde. In reality, she’s restrained. Here, she praises the hero within the fantasy-space all the time for his sexual capacities and so on. So it seems as if the dream is the realisation of what he was looking for. In reality, the obstacle was inherent. Their sexual liaison simply didn’t function. Within the fantasy-space, the obstacle is externalised. It’s a beautiful day. Mr Eddy is the master of Patricia Arquette within the fantasy-space. He is the obstacle to sexual intercourse.
If I ever found out somebody was making out with her, I’d take this and I’d shove it so far up his ass, it would come out his mouth.
The properly uncanny moments are those when the second shift occurs, when the fantasy-space, the dreamscape, as it were, is already disintegrating, but we are not yet back into reality. This intermediate space, neither fantasy-space nor reality, this space of a kind of primordial violence, dispersion, onto logical confusion… This is the most subversive moment, the true horror of these films. Towards the end of this fantasy episode, when we get the sexual act, there the woman also avoids the hero.
You’ll never have me. Whispering, “You will never have me.”
And at that traumatic point, we are drawn back to reality, when the hero encounters exactly the same deadlock. What the film truly is about, its focal point, it’s not the hero, it’s of course the enigma of feminine desire.
You’re a mystery.
I like you very much.
The enigma of feminine subjectivity in David Lynch’s films, it’s a gap between cause and effect. You do something to a woman, but you never know what the reaction will be.
Jeffrey, don’t, please.
My relationship towards tulips is inherently Lynchian. I think they are disgusting. Just imagine. Aren’t these some kind of, how do you call it, vagina dentata, dental vaginas threatening to swallow you? I think that flowers are something inherently disgusting. I mean, are people aware what a horrible thing these flowers are? I mean, basically it’s an open invitationto all the insects and bees, Come and screw me, you know? I think that flowers should be forbidden to children.
Suddenly I saw two figures jumping about on the rocks above us.
They hid and peeped out occasionally.
There are two boys looking at us, I said to her.
Her name was Katarina.
Well, let them look, she said,and turned on her back.
It was such a strange feeling.
I wanted to run out and put onmy costume, but I just lay still…
On my belly with my bum in the air, totally unembarrassed, totally calm.
We men, at least in our standard phallogocentric mode of sexuality, even when we are doing it with the real woman, we are effectively doing it with our fantasy. Woman is reduced to a masturbatory prop. Woman arouses us in so far as she enters our fantasy frame. With women, it’s different. The true enjoyment is not in doing it but in telling about it afterwards. Of course, women do enjoy sex immediately, but I hope I’m permitted as a man to propose a daring hypothesis, that maybe, while they are doing it, they already enact or incorporate this minimal narrative distance, so that they are already observing themselves and narrativising it.
There is in Ingmar Bergman’s Personaa wonderful scene where Bibi Andersson tells to mute Liv Ullmann, a story about small orgy on a beach which took place years ago. This scene is so erotic precisely because Bergman successfully resisted the temptation of a flashback. No flashback. Just words. Probably one of the most erotic scenesin the entire history of cinema.
Katarina unbuttoned his trousers and started playing with him. When he came she took him in her mouth.
He bent down and started kissing her on the back
She turned around, took his head in both hands and gave him her breast.
The other boy got so excited, so he and I started again. It was as nice as the first time.
Then we swam and parted.
When Icame back, Karl-Henrik had returned.
We had dinner together and drank the red wine he had with him.
Then we slept together.
It’s never been as good, before or since.
Can you understand that?
Although sexuality seems to be about bodies,it’s not really about bodies. It is how bodily activity is reported in words.
Well… I first saw him that morning in the lobby. He was… He was checking into the hotel and he was following the bellboy with his luggage to the elevator. He…He glanced at me as he walked past. Just a glance. Nothing more. But I could hardly move.
Eyes Wide Shut is a film which has an incredibly precise lesson about fantasy. She tells him, not about herself effectively cheating him, but about fantasising about cheating him with some naval officer they met in a hotel and so on and so on. The entire film is his desperate attempt to catch up with her fantasy, which ends in a failure. Many people don’t like, in that mysterious rich people’s castle where they meet for their orgies, the big orgy. They complain, this orgy is aseptic, totally non-attractive, without erotic tension. But I think that’s the point. This utter impotence of male fantasising.
The film is the story of how the male fantasy can not catch up with the feminine fantasy, of how there is too much of desire in feminine fantasy and how this is the threat to male identity. Isn’t it that in Vertigo, on the contrary, all of the activity is on the side of Scottie? But I think that precisely because of this, his activity is extremely brutal, mortifying. He has totally to erase the woman as a desiring entity. That’s for him the condition to desire.
The other solution is, of course, the masochist solution, which is, of my inferiority.
But I do love you. And you know there is something very important that we need to do as soon as possible.
It’s as if our inner psychic space is too wild and sometimes we have to make love, not to get the real thing but to escape from the real, from the excessive real that we encounter in our fantasising. The point is the fragile balance between reality and fantasy dimension in our sexual activity.
Michael Haneke’s Piano Teacher is the story of an impossible love affair between a middle-aged, deeply traumatised woman and her young student. She’s in a way a person who is not yet sexually subjectivised. She lacks the fantasmatic co-ordinates of her desire. This accounts for a couple of very strange scenes in the film, like when she goes to a pornographic store and then watches in a closed, small rooma scene from a hardcore film.The way she watches it, it’s not to get aroused,but she watches it as a pupil in a school. She simply watches it to get the co-ordinates of desiring, to learn how to do it, how to get excited.
The notion of fantasy in psychoanalysisis very ambiguous. On the one hand,we have the pacifying aspect of fantasy. Piano Teacher plays with the opposite aspect of fantasy. Fantasy as the explosion of wild, unbearable desires. What we found in the middle of the film is probably, arguably, the most depressive sexual act in the entire history of cinema. As if to punish her for disclosing the fantasy in her letter to him, he literally enacts her fantasy in the way he makes love to her, which of course means that fantasy is lost for her. When fantasy disintegrates, you don’t get reality, you get some nightmarish real too traumatic to be experienced as ordinary reality. That would be another definition of nightmare. Hell is here. Paradise, at least this perverse paradise, is hell. Stop, please. One cannot here just throw out the dirty water, all these excessive, perverse fantasies and so on, and just keep the healthy, clean baby, normal, straight or even homosexual, whatever, but some kind of normal, politically correct sex. You cannot do that. What if we throw out the baby and keep just the dirty water? And put it as a problem: how to deal with dirty water. And put some order in the dirty water of fantasies. This is I think precisely what happens for example in Kieslowski’s Blue. During the …
were you conscious?
I’m sorry to have inform you…
Do you know?
Your husband…died in the accident.
You must have been unconscious.
Yes, your daughter, too.
You can organise, people do it, your life in mourning the lost object. Julie, in Blue, discovers that her husband wasn’t what she thought he was. That he was cheating her, that he had a mistress who is pregnant. This is the most terrifying loss, where all the co-ordinates of your reality disintegrate. The problem is how to reconstitute yourself. In a wonderful short scene, the heroine of Blue, after returning home, finds there on the floora group of newly-born mice, crawling around their mother. This scene terrifies her. She is too excessively exposed to life in its brutal meaninglessness. What she is able to do at the end is to acquire a proper distance towards reality. This is what happens in the famous circular shot where we pass from Julie’s face, while she is making love. This magical suspension of temporal and spatial limitations, this free floating in a fantasy-space, far from distancing us from reality… If I have not love… enables us to approach reality. I am nothing She is putting together the co-ordinates which enable her to experience her reality as meaningful again. As if the lesson is, not only for men but also for women, that you can sustain sexual intercourse, sexual relationship, only through the support of fantasy. The problem of course is, is this fantasy reconstituted? Is this the ultimate horizon of our experience? The function of music here is precisely that of a fetish, of some fascinating presence whose function it is to conceal the abyss of anxiety.
Music is here what, according to Marx, religion is, a kind of opium for the people. Opium which should put us asleep, put us into a kind of a false beatitude, which allows us to avoid the abyss of unbearable anxiety. We see Julie crying, but through a glass. This glass stands for, I think, fantasy reconstituted. These are, I’m tempted to say, the tears of happiness.”I can mourn now because it no longer immediately affects me.” Blue proposes this mystical communion, reconstituted fantasy, as sustaining our relation to the world. But the price we pay is that some radically authentic moment of accepting the anxiety at the very foundation of human condition is lost there. If anything, anxiety at the vocal level is silence. It’s silence. It’s a silent scream.
In Hitchcock’s The Birds, when the mother, of course who but the mother, finds the neighbour dead, his eyes picked out by the birds, she shouts, but the shout literally remains stuck in her throat. To return from cinema to so-called real life, the ultimate lesson of psychoanalysisis that exactly the same goes for our real life experience, that emotions as such are deceiving. There are no specifically fake emotions because, as Freud puts it literally, the only emotion which doesn’t deceive is anxiety. All other emotions are fake.
So, of course, the problem here is, are we able to encounter in cinema the emotion of anxiety, or is cinema as such a fake? Cinema, as the art of appearances, tells us something about reality itself. It tells us something about how reality constitutes itself.
Ripley. Ripley, come on.
Ripley, we’ve got no time for sightseeing here.
There is an old Gnostic theory that our world was not perfectly created, that the god who created our world was an idiot who bungled the job,so that our world is a half-finished creation. There are voids, openings, gaps. It’s not fully real, fully constituted. In the wonderful scenein the last instalment of the Alien saga, Alien Resurrection, when Ripley, the cloned Ripley, enters a mysterious room, she encounters the previous failed version of herself, of cloning herself. Just a horrified creature, a small foetus-like entity, then more developed forms. Finally, a creature which almost looks like her, but her limbs are like that of the monster.
This means that all the time our previous alternate embodiments, what we might have been but are not,that these alternate versions of ourselves are haunting us. That’s the ontological view of reality that we get here, as if it’s an unfinished universe. This is, I think, a very modern feeling. It is through such ontology of unfinished reality that cinema became a truly modern art.
All modern films are ultimately films about the possibility or impossibility to make a film. Dogville was in the Rocky Mountains in the US of A, up here where the road came to its definitive end near the entrance to the old, abandoned silver mine. The residents of Dogville were good, honest folks and they liked their township.
With von Trier, it’s not only the problem of belief in the sense of, do people generally still believe today the place of religion today, and so on. It’s also reflectively or allegorically the question of believing in cinema itself. How to make today people still believe in the magic of cinema? In Dogville, all of it is staged on a set. Okay, this is often the case in cinema, but here the set is seen as the set. The action takes place in Dogville, a small town, but there are no houses. There are just lines on the floor, signalling that this is the house, this is the street. The mysterious thing is that this does not prevent our identification. If anything, it makes us even more thrown into the tensions of the inner life.
Have you seen Grace?
She’s at my place.
It’s not that naive belief is undermined, deconstructed through irony. Von Trier wants to be serious with the magic. Irony is put into service to make us believe. Yet again, Grace had made a miraculous escape from her pursuers with the aid of the people of Dogville. Everyone had covered up for her, including Chuck, who had to admit that it was probably Tom’s hat he’d mistakenly considered so suspicious. The mystery is that even if we know that it’s only staged, that it’s a fiction, it still fascinates us. That’s the fundamental magic of it. You witness a certain seductive scene, then you are shown that it’s just a fake, stage machinery behind, but you are still fascinated by it. Illusion persists. There is something real in the illusion, more real than in the reality behind it.
Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!
I said come back tomorrow!
If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.
Do you presume to criticise the great Oz?
You ungrateful creatures!
Think yourselves lucky that I’m giving you audience tomorrow instead of 20 years from now!
The great Oz has spoken. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
The great and… Oz has spoken.
I am the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.
What we can learn from a film like Wizard of Oz is how the logic of de-mystificationis not enough. It’s not enough to say, “Okay, it’s justa big show spectacle to impress the people. What is behind is just a modest old guy, and so on and so on. It is that rather, in a way, there is more truth in this appearance. Appearance has an effectivity, a truth of its own.
What about the heart that you promised Tin Man?
Well…And the couragethat you promised Cowardly Lion?
-And Scarecrow’s brain?-
And Scarecrow’s brain?
Why, anybody can have a brain.
That’s a very mediocre commodity.Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got. A diploma! Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatume plurbis unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D. -That’s Doctor of Thinkology. The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.
Oh, joy, rapture! I’ve got a brain!
And that’s the paradox of cinema, the paradox of belief. We don’t simply believe or do not believe. We always believe in a kind of a conditional mode. I know very well it’s a fake but, nonetheless, I let myself be emotionally affected. This strange status of belief accounts for the efficiency of one of the most interesting characters, not only in cinema, but also in theatre, in staging as such,the character of prologue.
How do you do? Mr Carl Laemmle feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science, who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God.
Somebody tells usyou have to experience horror, we do it. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to…
Well, we’ve warned you.Ladies and gentlemen, young and old, this may seem an unusual procedure, speaking to you before the picture begins. But we have an unusual subject.
Behind, not red, this is Hollywood, but black curtain, Cecil DeMille himself appears,giving us a lesson of how the story of Ten Commandments and Moses has great relevance today where we are fighting Communist, totalitarian dangerand so on, giving us all the clues.
Are men the property of the state? Or are they free souls under God?
This same battle continues throughout the world today.
This hidden master who controls the events can also be defined as ideology embodied, in the sense of the space which organises our desires. And your name? What the fuck is your name? In David Lynch’s Lost Highway, we have the Mystery Man, who stands for the very cinematographer, even director. Imagine somebody who has a direct access to your inner life, to your innermost fantasies, to what even you don’t want to know about yourself.
We’ve met before, haven’t we?
I don’t think so.
Where was it that you think we met?
At your house, don’t you remember?
The best way to imagine what Mystery Man is, is to imagine somebody who doesn’t want anything from us.
What do you mean?
You’re where right now?
At your house.
That’s fucking crazy, man.
That’s the true horror of this Mystery Man. Not any evil, demoniac intentions and so on. Just the fact that when he is in front of you, he, as it were, sees through you.
I told you I was here.
How’d you do that? Ask me.-
How’d you get inside my house?
It is not my custom to go where I’m not wanted.
It’s like the court in Kafka’s novels, where the court, or the Law, only comes when you ask for it. Oh! Now, why would he do that? Most peculiar. What on Earth? Hitchcock was obsessed with this topic of manipulating emotions. His dream was even that once in the future, we would no longer have to shoot narratives, our brains will be directly connectedto some machine and the director would only have to press different buttons there and the appropriate emotions will be awakened in our mind.
They’re coming. They’re coming!
What do directors like Hitchcock,Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, Lynch have in common? A certain autonomy of cinematic form. Form is not here simply to express, articulate content. It has a message of its own. In Hitchcock, we have the motif of a person hanging from an abyss by the hand of another person. The first example, Saboteur. Rear Window. Then we have in To Catch a Thief. You’ve got a full house down there. Begin the performance. Then in North by Northwest. Then, of course, in Vertigo.So we see here the same visual motif repeating itself. I think it’s wrong to look for a common, deeper meaning. Some French theorists claimed that what we are dealing here with is the motif of fall and redemption. I think this is already saying too much. I think that what we are dealing with is with a kind of a cinematic materialism, that beneath the level of meaning, spiritual meaning but also simple narrative meaning, we get a more elementary level of forms themselves, communicating with each other, interacting, reverberating, echoing, morphing, transforming one into the other. And it is this background, this background of proto-reality, a real which is more dense, more fundamental than the narrative reality, the story that we observe. It is this that provides the proper density of the cinematic experience. It’s the gigantic tree where, in Vertigo, Madeleine and Scottie get together, almost embrace, where their erotic tension becomes unbearable. What is this tree? I think it’s another in the series of “Hitchcockian Big Things”, like the Mount Rushmore statues, or take another example, like Moby Dick. This tree is not simply a natural object. It is, within our mental space, what in psychoanalysis is called “the Thing”. It’s effectively as if this tree, in its very extra-large distortion, embodies something that comes out of our inner space, libido, the excessive energy of our mind.
So here I think we can see how films and philosophy are coming together. How great cinematographers really enable us to think in visual terms. After the birds attack the city, there is a fire which breaks out at a gasoline station, where a guy throws a match on the gasoline.
Hey, you! Look out!
Don’t drop that match!Look out!
Get out of there!-Mister, run!
The first part of this short scene is the standard one. We get the standard exchange of shots of the fire and shots of the person, Melanie in this case, who looks at it. Then something strange happens. We cut to way above the city. We see the entire town. We automatically take this shot as a standard establishing shot. Like after details which perplex you, which prevent you from getting a clear orientation, you need a shot which enables you some kind of a cognitive mapping, that you know what’s going on. But then, precisely following that logic of the Thing from inner space which emerges from within you, first we hear these ominous sounds, which are sounds of the birds, then one bird enters, another bird enters… The shot which was taken as a neutral,God’s view shot,all of a sudden changes into an evil gaze. The gaze of the very birds attacking. And we are thrown into that position. And again, we can use here The Birds as the final instalment and read backwards other classical Hitchcock scenes in the same way.
Isn’t exactly the same thing happening in what I consider the ultimate scene in Psycho, the second murder,the murder of the detective Arbogast? Hitchcock manipulates here in a very refined way the logic of so-called fetishist disavowal. The logic of, “I know very well, but…” We know very well some things, but we don’t really believe in them, so although we know they will happen, we are no less surprised when they happen. In this case, everything points towards the murder and, nonetheless, when it happens, the surprise is, if anything, stronger. It begins in a standard Hitchcockian way. He looks up the stairs. This exchange creates the Hitchcockian tension between the subject’s look and the stairs themselves, or rather the void on the top of the stairs returning the gaze, emanating some kind of a weird unfathomable threat.
The camera then provides a kind of a geometrically clear God’s point of view shot image of the entire scene. It is as if here we pass from God as neutral creator, to God in his unbearable divine rage. This murderer is for us an unfathomable monster. We don’t know who he is, but because we are forced to assume the murderer’s position, in a way we don’t know who we are. As if we discover a terrifying dimension in ourselves. As if we are forced to act as a doll, as a tool of another evil divinity’s will. It’s not as classical metaphysics thinks, The truly horrible thing is to be immortal. Immortality is the true nightmare, not death.
Lord Vader,can you hear me?
We should remember the exact moment when the normal, everyday person, okay not quite everyday, but ordinary person of Anakin Skywalker changes into Darth Vader. This scene when the Emperor’s doctors are reconstituting him after heavy wounds into Darth Vader, that these scenes are inter-cut with the scenes of Princess Padm? Anakin’s wife, giving birth. Luke. So it is as if we are witnessing the transformation of Anakin into father. But what kind of father? A monster of a father who doesn’t want to be dead. His deep breathing is the sound of the father, the Freudian, primordial father, this obscene over-potent father,the father who doesn’t want to die.
This, I think, is for all of us the most obscene threat that we witness. We don’t want our fathers alive. We want them dead. The ultimate object of anxiety is a living father. This brings us to what we should really be attentive about in David Lynch’s film. Namely, what is to be taken seriously and not seriously in his films.
-Here’s to Ben.-Here’s to Ben.Here’s to Ben.-Here’s to Ben.
-Be polite!Here’s to Ben.
Frank is one of these terrifying, ridiculously obscene paternal figures. Apart from Frank in Blue Velvet, we have Baron Harkonnen in Dune, we have William Dafoe in Wild at Heart, we have Mr Eddy in Lost Highway.
Don’t you ever fucking tailgate! Ever!-Tell him you won’t tailgate.-Ever!I won’t ever tailgate…
Do you know how many fucking car length sit takes to stop a car at 35 miles an hour?
Six fucking car lengths!
That’s 1 06 fucking feet, mister!
If I had to stop suddenly, you would have hit me! I want you to get a fucking driver’s manual and I want you to study that motherfucker!
I want to spit once on your head.
Just some spittle in your face.
What a luxury. But I think that this very appearance of ridiculously violent comedy is deceiving. I think that these ridiculous paternal figures are the ethical focus, the topic of practically all David Lynch’s films.
Let’s fuck! I’ll fuck anything that moves!
A normal, paternal authority is an ordinary man who, as it were, wears phallus as an insignia. He has something which provides his symbolic authority. This is, in psychoanalytic theory, phallus. You are not phallus. You possess phallus. Phallus is something attached to you, like the King’s crown is his phallus. Something you put on and this gives you authority. So that when you talk it’s not simply you as a common person who is talking, it’s symbolic authority itself,the Law, the state, talking through you. So these excessively ridiculous paternal figures, it’s not simply that they possess phallus, that they have phallus as the insignia of their authority, in a way, they immediately are phallus. This is for, if they still exist, a normal male subject…
This is the most terrorising experience you can imagine, to directly being the thing itself, to assume that I am a phallus. And the provocative greatness of these Lynchian, obscene, paternal figures, is that not only they don’t have any anxiety,not only they are not afraid of it, they fully enjoy being it. They are truly fearless entities beyond life and death, gladly assuming, as it were, their immortality, their non-castrated life energy. Okay.This is indicated in a very nice way in the scene towards the end of Wild at Heart where Bobby Peru is killed.
Stop, you sons of bitches! This is the police!
He accepts the mortal danger he is in with, kind of, exuberant vitality,and it’s truly that when his head explodes, it’s as if we see the head of the penis being torn apart. Oh, for Christ sakes. That poor bastard. And then at the end, these figures are sacrificed.
Oh, Jeffrey.It’s all over, Jeffrey.
Joseph Stalin’s favourite cinematic genre were musicals. Not only Hollywood musicals, but also Soviet musicals. There was a whole series of so-called kolkhoz musicals. Why? We should find this strange, Stalin who personifies communist austerity, terror and musicals.The answer again is the psychoanalytic notion of superego. Superego is not only excessive terror, unconditional injunction, demand of utter sacrifice, but at the same time, obscenity, laughter. And it is Sergei Eisenstein’s genius to guess at this link. In his last film, which is a coded portrait of the Stalin era, Ivan the Terrible: Part 2, which because of all this was immediately prohibited. In the unique scene towards the end of the film, we see the Czar, Ivan, throwing a party, amusing himself, with his so-called Oprichniki, his private guards, who were usedto torture and kill his enemies, his, if you want, KGB, secret police, are seen performing a musical. An obscene musical, which tells precisely the story about killing the rich boyars, Ivan’s main enemies.
Let the axes drop!
So terror itself is staged as a musical. And the gates fell to the ground Now, what has all this to do with the reality of political terror? Isn’t this just art, imagination? No. Not only were the political show trialsin Moscow in the mid- and late-1930s theatrical performances, we should not forget this, they were well staged, rehearsed and so on. Even more, there is, horrible as it may sound, something comical about them. The horror was so ruthless that the victims, those who had to confess and demand death penalty for themselves and so on, were deprived of the minimum of their dignity, so that they behaved as puppets, they engaged in dialogues which really sound likeout of Alice in Wonderland. They behaved as persons from a cartoon.
Public enemy number one. You’re on trial today for the crimes that you’ve committed.
We’re gonna prove you’re guilty.
Just try and get acquitted.
In the mid-’30s,Walt Disney Studios produced an unbelievable cartoon called Pluto’s Judgement Day…Shut up!…in which the dog, well-known Pluto, falls asleep, and in his sleep is persecuted by, haunted by the dream of cats who were all in the past his victims, molested by him, dragging him to the court, where a proper, truly Stalinist political trial is in process against him.
We’ve seen and heard enough.
Jury, do your duty.
Just watch us do our stuff We find the defendant guilty
He’s guilty, he’s guilty Hooray!
The Law is not only severe, ruthless, blind,at the same time, it mocks us. There is an obscene pleasure in practising the Law. Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It’s, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough.You think it’s just a game? It’s reality. It’s more real than it appears to you. For example, people who play video games, they adopt a screen persona of a sadist, rapist, whatever. The idea is, in reality I’m a weak person, so in order to supplement my real life weakness, I adopt the false image of a strong, sexually promiscuous person,and so on and so on.
So this would be the naive reading.I want to appear stronger, more active, because in real life, I’m a weak person. But what if we read it in the opposite way? That this strong, brutal rapist, whatever, identity is my true self. In the sense that this is the psychic truth of myself and that in real life, because of social constraints and so on, I’m not able to enact it. So that, precisely because I think it’s only a game, it’s only a persona, a self-image I adopt in virtual space, I can be there much more truthful. I can enact there an identity which is much closer to my true self. We need the excuse of a fiction to stage what we truly are.
Stalker is a film about a zone, a prohibited space where there are debris, remainders of aliens visiting us. And stalkers are people who specialised in smuggling foreigners who want to visit into this space where you get many magical objects. But the main among themis the room in the middle of this space, where it is claimed your desires will be realised.
I know you’re going to get mad. Anyway, I must tell you…We are now…on the threshold…This is the most important moment in your life.You must know that.Your innermost wishes will be made real here.Your most sincere wish. Born of suffering.
The contrast between Solaris and Stalker is clear.In Solaris, we get id-machineas an object which realisesyour nightmares, desires, fears,even before you ask for it, as it were. In Stalker it’s the opposite, a zone where your desires, deepest wishes get realised on condition that you are able to formulate them. Which, of course, you are never able,which is why everybody failsonce you get there in the centre of the zone.
You just make money, using our… anguish! It’s not even the money. You’re enjoying yourself here. You’re like God Almighty here. You, a hypocritical louse, decide who is to live and who is to dieHe deliberates!Now I see why you stalkersnever enter the room yourselves.You revel in all that power,that mystery, your authority!What else is there to wish for?It’s not true! You… you’re mistakenTarkovsky’s solution to this tensionis that of religious obscurantism…. for the great day of His wrath has come,and who is able to stand? But I don’t think this is what makes Tarkovsky interesting. What makes him interestingis the very form of his films.
Tarkovsky uses as this material elementof pre-narrative density, time itself. All of a sudden we are made to feelthis inertia, drabness of time.Time is not just a neutral, light mediumwithin which things happen. We feel the density of time itself. Things that we see are more markers of time. He treats even humans in this way.If we look at the unique face of Stalker himself,it’s a face of somebodyexposed to too much radiationand, as it were, rotting, falling apart alive. It is this disintegrationof the very material texture of realitywhich provides the spiritual depth.Tarkovskian subjects, when they pray,they don’t look up, they look down. They even sometimes, as in Stalker,put their head directly onto the earth.Here, I think, Tarkovsky affects us at a levelwhich is much deeper,much more crucial for our experiencethan all the standard, spiritual motivesof elevating ourselvesabove material reality and so on.There is nothing specific about the zone.It’s purely a place where a certain limit is set. You set a limit, you put a certain zone off-limit,and although things remainexactly the way they were, it’s perceived as another place. Precisely as the place onto which you can project your beliefs, your fears,things from your inner space.In other words, the zone is ultimatelythe very whiteness of the cinematic screen.
“To the people of this city we donatethis monument;’Peace and Prosperity’.”
Chaplin’s City Lights is one of those masterpieces which are really too sophisticated for the sophisticated. It’s a deceptively simple movie. When we are enraptured by it,we tend to missits complexity and extreme finesse. Already, the first scene of the movieprovides the co-ordinates. It’s kind of a microcosm of Chaplin’s entire art. What’s the source of Chaplin’s comic genius? What’s the archetypal comic situation in Chaplin’s films? It’s being mistaken for somebody or functioning as a disturbing spot, as a disturbing stain. He distorts the vision. So he wants to erase himself, to get out of the picture. Or people don’t even note him, take note of him,so he wants to be noted. Or, if they perceive him, he’s misperceived, identified for what he is not.
The tramp is wrongly identified, by a beautiful blind girl who is selling flowers on a street corner,as a millionaire.He accepts the game, helps her,even steals money to pay for her operationto restore her sight,then after he serves the punishmentand returns, he tries to find her.And I think that this is the metaphorof our predicament. All too often, when we love somebody, we don’t accept him or her as what the person effectively is. We accept him or her in so far as this person fits the co-ordinates of our fantasy. We misidentify, wrongly identify him or her, which is why, when we discover that we were wrong, love can quickly turn into violence. There is nothing more dangerous, more lethal for the loved person than to be loved, as it were, for not what he or she is, but for fitting the ideal.
In this case, love is always mortifying love. Here it’s not only the trampas the figure within the film’s narrative exposing himself to his beloved girl, it’s at the same time Chaplin as actor/director exposing himself to us, the public. The true genius of Chaplin resides in the way he was able to stage this psychological moment of recognition at the level of form, music, visual aspect, and at the same time, at the level of acting.
When the two hands meet,the girl finally recognises him for what he is. This moment is always extremely dangerous, pathetic. The beloved falls out of the frame of the idealised co-ordinates,finally there exposed in his psychological nakedness. Here I am as what I really am. And I don’t think we have to read it as a happy ending. We don’t know what will happen. We have the letters, “the end”, the black screen, but the singing goes on. As if the emotion is now too strong, it spills over the very frame.
In order to understand today’s world, we need cinema, literally. It’s only in cinema that we get that crucial dimension which we are not ready to confront in our reality. If you are looking for what is in reality more real than reality itself, look into the cinematic fiction.