Psychoanalytic Film Theory

Todd McGowan

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Psychoanalytic Film Theory

Show Summary Details


Psychoanalytic film theory occurred in two distinct waves. The first, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, focused on a formal critique of cinema’s dissemination of ideology, and especially on the role of the cinematic apparatus in this process. The main figures of this first wave were Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, and Laura Mulvey. They took their primary inspiration from the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and they most often read Lacan through the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser’s account of subject formation. The second wave of psychoanalytic film theory has also had its basis in Lacan’s thought, though with a significantly different emphasis. Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this manifestation of psychoanalytic film theory, which continues to remain productive even today, shifted the focus from cinema’s ideological work to the relationship between cinema and a trauma that disrupts the functioning of ideology. In Lacan’s terms, the terrain of psychoanalytic film theory shifted from the axis of the symbolic order and the imaginary to that of the symbolic order and the real. Although psychoanalytic film theorists continue to discuss cinema’s relationship to ideology, they have ceased looking for ideology in the cinematic apparatus itself and begun to look for it in filmic structure. Cinema remains a site for the dissemination of ideology, but it has also become a potential site of political and psychic disruption. The main proponents of this second wave of psychoanalytic film theory are Joan Copjec and Slavoj Žižek. Though the latter has received much more recognition and has produced far more work, one could contend that Copjec’s early work was more revolutionary, as it was her reading of Laura Mulvey’s critique of the male gaze as a Foucaultian critique rather than as a Lacanian one that genuinely commenced the new epoch of psychoanalytic film theory. According to the main figures of the second wave, the initial wave of psychoanalytic film theory failed to be psychoanalytic enough, and the result was a hodgepodge of Marxism and psychoanalysis that produced a straw position that anti-theorists such as David Bordwell could easily attack. The initial aim of the second wave was to create an authentic Lacanian film theory that would approach the cinema with the complexity that it merited. Though there have been isolated works of film theory and criticism dealing with other psychoanalytic thinkers (such Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, or D. W. Winnicott), the primary source for both waves of psychoanalytic film theory has remained Jacques Lacan and, to a lesser extent, Sigmund Freud.

Article.  11812 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.