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As contemporaries, cinema and psychoanalysis both reveal, in their own way, mankind's complex personality. The interior dramas that psychoanalysis brings to light can be experienced within the "other scene" of cinematic fiction. The similarity of certain terms and the occasional apparent resemblances between the two techniques encourage spontaneous comparisons: During psychoanalysis the subject is confronted with fantasized "representations" and can identity with "projected" characters. And we often speak of "dream screens." Psychoanalysis as perceived by the cinema, especially by Hollywood, has not escaped a degree of confusion. For, while engaging in one sense with the "question of lay analysis," American psychoanalytic practice is related to psychiatry. Therefore, in American film productions as well as in critical analyses of those films, there has not always been a clear distinction between psychiatry and psychoanalytic practice. To bring the relation into sharper focus, I will not consider films that depict the world of psychiatry, such as Shock Corridor (Sam Fuller, 1963), Lilith (R. Rossen, 1964), or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman, 1975). This article will avoid discussion of the serial killer films of the nineteen eighties (Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer by J. McNaughton, 1985, released in 1990, The Silence of the Lambs by Jonathan Demme, 1991, Seven by D. Fincher, 1995, and others). The term "psychoanalysis" appeared for the first time in Sigmund Freud's Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses (1896). Almost simultaneously, on December 28, 1895, the Lumière brothers, inventors of the cinematograph, organized the first paid movie in Paris. The show, twenty minutes long, contained the famous Arrivée du train en gare de La Ciotat and La Sortie de l'usine Lumièreà Lyon. It took the cinema more than twenty years to present psychoanalytic imagery, even in a rudimentary form. In 1919, R. Wiene filmed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in which a mad doctor—at least that's what he claims to be—uses hypnosis for evil purposes, just as the diabolical Dr. Mabuse in the film of the same name (Fritz Lang, 1922), released three years later, made use of his hypnotic powers for criminal purposes. On the other hand it took psychoanalysis a number of years before it approached cinema. Münsterberg did write a 1916 essay, Le Cinéma: étude psychologique, but it was only in 1970 that, for the first time, film analysis made use of the tools of psychoanalysis (Les Cahiers du cinéma, no. 223). The authors dissected Young Abe Lincoln (John Ford, 1939) and analyzed the importance of the Law (personified by Henry Fonda as Lincoln) and the Oedipus complex it implied. The history of the relation between psychoanalysis and cinema can be subdivided into three major periods. In its earliest manifestations (Caligari and Mabuse), psychoanalysis became, during the thirties, a familiar figure to cinema, although it often assumed the form of caricatured archetypes, which revealed a complete misunderstanding of psychoanalytic reality. It was superficial and incompetent (Carefree, M. Sandrich, 1938, Bringing up Baby, Howard Hawks, 1938), disturbing and ambitious (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Frank Capra, 1936), or provided effective, although simpleminded, advice (Blind Alley, King Vidor, 1939). It still had little to do with the behavior of ordinary people. After the Second World War, the references to psychoanalysis (psychiatrists treating shell-shocked soldiers, for example)—at least in terms of explanatory material—made psychoanalysis seem more serious and sympathetic. Its cinematic representation followed this positive evolution. It was the seductive Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) who enabled Ballantyne (Gregory Peck) to remember the traumatic childhood scene that, having been repressed, had led him to believe he was guilty of murder (Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock, 1945). It is Moss, the G.I. in Home of the Brave (S. Kramer, 1949), who, returning home after the war, is healed of the paralysis that resulted from his inferiority complex. Psychoanalysis, although not yet fully understood, is here better integrated in social life and becomes a "serious" reference. More recently we have seen a return to a more critical position. Dressed to Kill (Brian de Palma, 1980) involves an analyst who is a serial killer of women. The grasping psychoanalyst in Passageà l'acte (F. Girod, 1997), manipulated by his patient, becomes his assassin with few second thoughts. The psychoanalysts portrayed by Woody Allen are frequently among the funniest characters in his films. Psychoanalysis, neither caricature nor definitive "knowledge," becomes a subject for the cinema that can be treated objectively and even ridiculed. Even though he allowed himself to be filmed by his close friends (Marie Bonaparte, Mark Brunswick, René Laforgue, Philip Lehrman, see Mijolla, A. de, 1994), Freud was never very interested in the cinema. Arguing that "he didn't feel that a plastic representation of our abstractions worthy of the name could be made," he disavowed his disciples, Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs, for their collaboration on the script of The Mysteries of a Soul (G. W. Pabst, 1925). He also refused a considerable sum of money offered by Samuel Goldwyn to develop a script on "famous love affairs." This suspicion of the filmic representation of psychoanalysis continued after the death of its founder. It was primarily Freud's daughter who opposed any attempt to make a film about Freud. Fearing Anna Freud's hostility, John Huston abandoned the idea of using Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Cecily in Freud, the Secret Passion (1962). Should we attribute to this suspicion the paucity of films about Freud? The few films that do represent Freud show him during the early years of psychoanalysis. The Seven-Percent Solution (H. Ross, 1976) is a comedy in which the founder of psychoanalysis attempts to cure Sherlock Holmes of his cocaine addiction, a wink at Freud's own experience. Sogni d 'oro (Nino Moretti, 1981) involves the making of a film entitled "Freud's Mother," in which the fictional relations of Sigmund and Amalia are treated comically. In a more serious vein, Nineteen-Nineteen (H. Brody, 1984) evokes Freud in flashback psychoanalyzing two celebrated patients, the Wolfman and the young woman described in "a case of female homosexuality" (1920a). John Huston's Freud (1962) is the only film that seriously and directly confronts the theoretical and practical questions of psychoanalysis through a "biographical" fiction. Like Freud leaving the famous 1921 photograph—cigar in hand, without his glasses—to come to life in Lovesick (M. Brickman, 1983), the image of the fictional psychoanalyst is often a stereotype or caricature: white beard, tiny pince-nez glasses, maybe a strong foreign accent. He becomes the old doctor Brulov in Spellbound (1945) or the disturbing Caligari (1919) or Mabuse (1922), who make use of their knowledge of hypnosis for evil purposes. Nor are they the only ones. The analyst in Nightmare Alley (E. Goulding, 1947) makes use of his patients' confidence to blackmail them. Even though the psychoanalyst's image in cinema evolves after the Second World War, becoming more reassuring, it still retains an aura of strangeness. The two doctors—even if they are not, strictly speaking, psychoanalysts—who appear in Seventh Heaven (B. Jacquot, 1997), are oddly different from the other characters in the film. The first, and most important, disappears as mysteriously as he appears. In Hollywood films classical Freudian concepts are used: the neurosis of anxiety, the Oedipus complex, the repression of an infantile trauma. In most cases, the model used, at least implicitly, is based on the Studies on Hysteria; the spectacular effects of the catharsis can be used for the purposes of dramatization. Bringing back a repressed memory is sufficient for healing. This occurs in Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1948), in Suddenly, Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959), The Snake Pit (Anatol Litvak, 1949), and even, although it is caricatured, in Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964). Dreams have obviously assumed their place as one of the deus ex machina of cinema, beginning with the dream sequence in Spellbound, designed by Salvador Dali. The analysis of a recurrent dream experienced by one of the characters is used to solve the "enigma" at the heart of the script. Nightmares occur in Pursued (Raoul Walsh, 1949), Lady in the Dark (M. Leisen, 1944), Secret Beyond the Door (1948), and The Three Faces of Eve (N. Johnson, 1957). Then there are the dreams of Freud himself, taken from the Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), which are used in Freud: The Secret Passion (1962). Unraveling these oneiric obsessions resolves the character's neurosis and the story (the film) comes to an end. For the purposes of dramaturgy, psychoanalysis is used by cinema to cure patients and especially to reveal the neuroses of psychoanalysts, their entourage, and society. The Cobweb (Vincente Minelli, 1955) is the model for this type of exposition. In the film Richard Widmark, a psychoanalyst working in an institution, is impotent with his wife, with whom he disagrees. Should we be surprised then that Hollywood's celluloid psychoanalysts, psychiatrists especially, rarely engage in any real psychoanalysis—often confused with hypnosis—and that the framework of the psychoanalytic cure is rarely respected? In Spellbound, Dr. Petersen (Ingmar Bergman) is seated next to her patient, the so-called Dr. Edwards (Gregory Peck); the psychoanalyst in Sex and the Single Girl (R. Quine, 1964), played by Natalie Wood, does the same and, as in so many representations, writes down his remarks. In Lady in the Dark (1944), the analyst's seat is placed behind the couch but the patient is seated. This difficulty in displaying the psychoanalytic frame—the analysand lying on a couch and the psychoanalyst seated behind him in another plane—has been neatly resolved by H. Brody in Nineteen-Nineteen (1984). Here, two of Freud's former patients recall their respective psychoanalysis. When the therapy is shown on screen, the psychoanalyst (Freud), is not in the picture, only his voice is present (Mijolla, A. de, 1994). Even today it seems that cinema continues to insist that psychoanalysis is hypnosis (the dramatic effects of which are evident on screen) or catharsis (which facilitates explanatory shortcuts). Nonetheless, its representation has become more subtle and it is now fully integrated in the film. In Seventh Heaven, psychoanalysis is not only part of the script but present on screen as well. White surfaces are used by the heroine to project her traumatic memories. Similarly, F. Girod makes psychoanalysis the background for Passageà l 'acte (1997). Psychoanalysis is given the comic treatment in nearly all of Woody Allen's films as well as a few others (A Couch in New York by Chantal Ackerman, 1997). Sometimes the approach is tragicomic, as in Another Woman (Allen, 1988), where a woman begins to question her entire life after eavesdropping on a psychoanalyst at work through a vent in her apartment. However, there is no need to see an analyst at work or present a formal psychoanalytic situation for psychoanalysis to be presented on screen. A number of films promote a latent psychoanalytic statement without being explicit. This is the case, for example, with the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, who presents neurotic characters (Written on the Wind, 1956), with many of Ingmar Bergman's films (The Silence, 1963, Persona, 1966, Cries and Whispers, 1973, Autumn Sonata, 1978), with Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), and any of Tex Avery's productions, which use comedy to present neurosis. It is often in films where the elements of psychoanalysis are presented but not spelled out that psychoanalytic concepts appear with the greatest subtlety and relevance. What would Un chien andalou (Luis Buñuel, 1928), that sprawling ninety-minute dream, have been like if the script had provided a psychoanalytic explanation? Probably a poor film, slow and overbearing. It was only natural that psychoanalysis should take an interest in film, one of many cultural constructs, as Freud did, for example, with drama, beginning with Hamlet. Nonetheless, the theory of cinema did not make use of the tools of psychoanalysis until the early seventies. With reference to the work of Lacan, Christian Metz provided a careful spectatorial analysis, trying to determine "what contribution Freudian psychoanalysis could . . . provide in the study of the imaginary signifier." Other authors also became interested in the analogy between psychoanalysis and cinema: the importance of sight (Jean-Louis Baudry), the different meanings of the word "screen" (G. Rosolata), the place of the spectator in Persona (N. Brown), fetishism and film noir (M. Ernet). However, theory shouldn't cause us to overlook the many studies of individual films and directors. Raymond Bellour (1975) provided a psychoanalytic analysis (the murder of the father, the castrating mother) of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), a film said to be frivolous and entertaining. Minutely dissecting the sequence of the airplane attack, he reveals the importance of sight and its role in the film. Similarly, T. Kuntzel (1975) made use of the Freudian discovery of the presence of the unconscious in dreams to analyze The Most Dangerous Game (E. B. Shoedsack and I. Pichel, 1932). Patrick Lacoste (1990) examines The Mysteries of a Soul (1925) from a strictly psychoanalytical point of view and Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor (1994) analyzes the way the "anxiety of fiction" operates on the spectator of Hitchcock's films. Throughout the nineteen-eighties American film theory looked at a number of films made between 1945 and 1960 from the point of view of psychoanalysis and feminism. In several analyses that could be described as "feminist psychoanalysis," Laura Mulvey, Janet Walker, and M. A. Doane attempted to show how the role of women in cinema reflected their role in society. The approach taken by E. Ann Kaplan, which was part of this movement—one that was more sociological than psychoanalytical—emphasized issues of race in society, which the cinema reflected. But making use of psychoanalytic concepts to examine films from a sociological perspective (feminist or antiracist) was bound to be unsatisfactory as long as these readings involved distortion and reduction; the film and its analysis became a pretext to defend, and in a way that was not always rigorous, questionable intellectual ideas. Psychoanalysis is often a pretext in the service of a discourse; once abandoned, it is seen to be an element inessential to the logical structure of the argument. Isn't this the reproach made to cinema whenever it represents psychoanalysis, a filmic representation that is generally incomplete and often a form of caricature? If film often "fails at" representation of the psychoanalytic situation, it is no doubt because "the unconscious, like the being of philosophers, rarely makes itself visible" (J.-B. Pontalis). Moreover, "the rhythm of analysis is very different from that of film, and it is quite difficult to provide an accurate representation of the sensation" (Mijolla, 1994). A film cannot be judged on the accuracy of its portrayal of psychoanalytic notions—within certain limits, of course—but on the relevance of the use of those notions for the dramatic presentation of its themes. "From this point of view—[the use of language and the language of images as fundamental Freudian reference points] between psychoanalysis and cinema—is formed a variant of the situation of the analyst as always being between two languages" (Lacoste, 1990). More work needs to be done on the complex relationships that are created between psychoanalysis and cinema, beyond the application of psychoanalytic concepts to the art of film.

See Also


  1. Metz, Christian. (1979). The imaginary signifier: Psychoanalysis and the cinema (C. Britton et al., Trans.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.