Cinema and The Mirror

Film Theory

Hugo Münsterberg (1916) – Psychologist

  • Parallel between the structure of the human mind and the filmic experience
  • Only concern the conscious mind, not the unconscious
  • Conscious experience of the spectator predominated in film theory

Psychoanalytic Film Theory

Jacque Lacan – Psychoanalyst

  • The process of spectator identification understood through the idea of the mirror stage
  • Mirror stage occurs in infants between six and eighteen months of age, when they misrecognize themselves while looking in the mirror.
  • The infant sees its fragmentary body as a whole and identifies itself with this illusory unity
  • This self-deception forms the basis for the development of the infant’s ego
  • This idea for film theory is readily apparent if we can accept the analogy between Lacan’s infant and the cinematic spectator

Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry – Psychoanalytic Film Theorists

  • The film screen serves as a mirror through which the spectator can identify himself or herself as a coherent and omnipotent ego
  • Spectatorship provides derives from the spectator’s primary identification with the camera itself
  • Identification with the camera provides the spectator with an illusion of unmitigated power over the screen images
  • The camera knows no limit: it goes everywhere, sees everyone, exposes everything
  • The camera inaugurates a regime of visibility from which nothing escapes, this complete visibility allows spectators to believe themselves to be all-seeing
  • It remains unconscious and the spectator sustains the sense of being unseen
  • Once the camera itself becomes an obvious presence rather than an invisible structuring absence, the spectator loses the position of omnipotence along with the camera and becomes part of the cinematic event.
  • Reality effect: events on the screen are really happening and not just the result of a filmic act of production

Louis Althusser (1970) – Marxist Philosopher

  • Thinking about the political implication of the mirror stage
  • Fundamental ideological deception: ideology hails concrete individuals as subjects, causing them to regard themselves mistakenly as the creative agents behind their experiences

Traditional narrative film: the process of ideological interpellation and control

Hollywood film: invites spectators to accept an illusory idea of their own power, and in doing so, it hides from spectators their actual passivity

Laura Mulvey (1975)

  • Link psychoanalytic film theory to feminist concerns
  • Link the process of spectator identification to sexual difference
  • A secondary identification with character accompanies the spectator’s primary identification with the camera

Reference: Psychoanalysis, Cinema and The Mirror


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