This unique volume collects a series of essays that link new developments in Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and recent trends in contemporary cinema. Though Lacanian theory has long had a privileged place in the analysis of film, film theory has tended to ignore some of Lacan's most important ideas. As a result, Lacanian film theory has never properly integrated the disruptive and troubling aspects of the filmic experience that result from the encounter with the Real that this experience makes possible. Many contemporary theorists emphasize the importance of the encounter with the Real in Lacan's thought, but rarely in discussions of film. By bringing the encounter with the Real into the dialogue of film theory, the contributors to this volume present a new version of Lacan to the world of film studies.
These essays bring this rediscovered Lacan to bear on contemporary cinema through analysis of a wide variety of films, including Memento, Eyes Wide Shut, Breaking the Waves, and Fight Club. The films discussed here demand a turn to Lacanian theory because they emphasize the disruptive role of the Real and of jouissance in the experience of the human subject. There is a growing number of films in contemporary cinema that speak to film's power to challenge and disturb the complacency of spectators, and the essays in Lacan and Contemporary Film analyze some of these films and bring their power to light.
Because of its dual focus on developments in Lacanian theory and in contemporary film, this collection serves as both an accessible introduction to current Lacanian film theory and an introduction to the study of contemporary cinema. Each essay provides an accessible, jargon-free analysis of one or more important films, and at the same time, each explains and utilizes key concepts of Lacanian theory. The collection stages an encounter between Lacanian theory and contemporary cinema, and the result is the enrichment of both.
Salon.com 2004 Writing in the Margins, Scott Thill Speaking of unhealthy delusions, the 9/11 hearings were a bracing primer on the ways reality can rear its ugly head and disrupt the best-laid plans of postmodern America, a place where sound bites, confusion and capitalism casually trump material evidence on a sometimes daily basis. That mechanism of delusion, whatever its form, has continually fascinated thinkers and doers everywhere, although the French seem particularly taken with it. Shortly after the first Gulf War, the notorious Jean Baudrillard -- a guy who takes particular glee in pushing buttons and punching holes in reality -- wrote an audacious book called "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place," which categorized Bush 41's cowboy excursion to save Kuwait as a bloodless media event. That piece of Swiftian scholarship cost him dearly, but his penetrating insights about media and war (and media war, to be specific) seem like prophecy today, as the American military wades through a similar quagmire in the same damn country.
While Baudrillard's work often touched every base in the stadium, French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's output seemed to stick most capably to film studies. For a time there in the '60s and '70s, if you were studying film, most likely you were doing it through Lacan's prism, because his theories of the self involved a subject struggling to distinguish its own desires from the real world. What made Lacan cool was the fact that he realized that human beings constructed fantasies they convinced themselves were reality, while the material world they occupied resided far outside of their constructions. He might have partially agreed with the popular advertising slogan -- "Perception is reality" -- because so much of his work is built upon misrecognition.
Or maybe it's that way because, as author Todd McGowan explains, Lacan fully understood how tangled the knot of desire and confusion can become, especially in cinema. "The focus of Lacanian theory on the operations of desire and fantasy make it invaluable for film criticism," McGowan says. "Lacan orients psychoanalysis around the desire of the subject, and he relates all questions -- ethical, religious, aesthetic -- back to this desire. Cinema is also organized around the desire of the subject. As spectators, we choose the films we see because of the way that they promise to mobilize our desire. Lacan understands that this desire is always unconscious -- so that we don't know why we desire what we desire. So Lacanian theory allows us to interpret films in a way that uncovers their unconscious appeal, not just their conscious appeal."
McGowan and Kunkle's book is doing its best to reclaim film studies for Lacaniacs, and that is a good thing, because film culture is filled to the breaking point with characters continually misrecognizing their personal fantasies for reality. Almost everything Kubrick and Hitchcock made comes to mind (although the latter was partial to Freud), as well as most of film noir and the cinema of Charlie Chaplin. But "Lacan and Contemporary Film," as its title suggests, slaps scores of more recent films -- "Pi," "Memento," "Holy Smoke," "Breaking the Waves," "Eyes Wide Shut" and many more -- beneath Lacan's microscope to see what pops up.
Even better, these essays keep the jargon to a minimum; the excellent Slavoj Zizek (who helped explode Lacanian film study with "Enjoy Your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out") dives right into his critique with barely any setup at all. "Lacan's theories are notoriously -- and even intentionally -- difficult," McGowan added. "All of our contributors, however, are fully committed to presenting Lacan's thought in an accessible manner. This is one reason why each of them has been drawn to the analysis of film. Film allows us to see Lacan's theories in action, to transcend the difficulties of terminology that haunt many readers."
The result is a collection of brainy film essays that make Michael Medved look like a hack (well, like the hack he is).