Psychoanalytic film theory developed in the late 1960s and mainly focused on criticizing the various cinema ideologies and the role of a cinematic tool in these ideologies. Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey were among the central figures in the first wave of psychoanalytic film theory development; they were inspired by Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst. The psychoanalytic theory focuses on the ideological aspect of cinema. However, today, it has started considering film structure. Cinema is an effective tool that can be used to spread ideologies and a potential resource for psychic and political disruption. Thus, there are numerous instances indicating that Metz and Mulvey have more common views than disagreements. Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey have similar cases of using psychoanalytic theories from Lacana and Freudian in instances of voyeurism, fetishism and identification.
Identification, voyeurism, and fetishism are some of the terms used by these two authors in explaining the various ideologies of cinematic arts. Voyeurism is the practice or interest in overseeing people engaged in sexual scenes. Fetishism is the sexual interest arising from situations, objects or body parts. Identification is the notion that is used when one assimilates a character that transforms them partially or wholly.
The Little Death by Josh Lawson is the film that the paper will use to show the similarities and differences in Metz and Laura’s views towards fetishism, voyeurism, and identification. The film narrates the story of lives of five couples and their fetishes as well as the consequences of their interests. Christian Metz used the apparatus theory and semiotics background to formulate theories such as the spectatorship theory. The approach of Metz to spectatorship was one sided where the male is the only spectator, which formed a strong link between audience watching cinema products and the films. On the other hand, Laura Mulvey considered women’s behavior and introduced a new direction. She applied the approach of spectatorship to women in the audience and on-screen. In her work on visual pleasures, she introduced the term “To-be-looked-at-ness”, which is used in the analysis of Freudian film that examines such aspects as gender, race, and sexuality.
In the book The Imaginary Signifier, Christian Metz applies psychoanalytic terms only to males. He describes men being the spectators that are driven by sexual pleasures that can be seen in most films. In his discussion of the psychoanalytic analysis, he covers such terms as identification, voyeurism, and fetishism. Laura Mulvey similarly includes the same psychoanalytic terms in her book Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema but in terms of patriarchy implying that males dominate the film industry. According to her, males control the cinema industry by being the only active characters to gain pleasure from passive female characters. Therefore, these two critics differ in the way they apply cinematic texts to explain how pleasure is obtained from film and how filmmakers employ different techniques to keep their spectators entertained. Therefore, the paper further dwells on examining how these two critics have applied these three psychoanalytic terms – identification, voyeurism, and fetishism, and how they differ in their views.
Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema introduces the gender category showing how women aim at pleasing men. Mulvey develops the spectatorship theory that explains how the fascination of Hollywood narrative films is prompted by narcissism and scopophilia. The latter is the desire to see a scene that is associated with using other people as objects to derive pleasure. In this case, the active subject looks at the passive object, mostly women. Narcissism is pleasure arising from the identification of a spectator with the male character. Mulvey stresses that in the process of identification, the screen analogy describes the process, which is equal to the situation when an infant is thrilled by recognition of the best form in the mirror. Therefore, narcissistic pleasure is the result of the spectator’s identification of the perfect image of a human on the screen.
On the other hand, in his book The Imaginary Signifier, Christian Metz views cinematic identification in two different forms: the primary and the secondary cinematic identification. Primary cinematic identification implies identification with the projector, and secondary cinematic identification implies identification with a character. In contrast to how Mulvey relates the mirror to narcissistic pleasures, Metz connects primary cinematic identification with mirror stage and the way it fascinates the spectator when watching a film (Metz 25). In the process of watching a movie, the spectator loses their ego and becomes a new person through secondary cinematic identification. The ego is also reinforced by the application of the mirror stage. Stam et al. also agree with Metz on the point that the viewers of the film frequently lose and refine themselves after passing the first moment of establishing and identifying their identity.
In the film The Little Death, various characters try to identify themselves. For instance, in the third thread of the story entitled Dacryphilia, Rowena finds her identity in deriving pleasure when her husband Richard cries. She discovers this identity after Richard’s father dies and he cries because of the sad news he learns from a phone call. At that moment, Rowena becomes sexually pleasured. Therefore, Rowena hides their dog Roxy and makes her husband chop onion so that she could see her husband cry. She also falls back upon lies by saying that she might have cancer so that she could make her husband sad and satisfy her sexual desires.
A similar case happens in the story of Phil and his wife Maureen. Phil identifies his sexual pleasure through watching his wife sleeping and wearing clothes he has bought. After his wife takes his sleeping pills and falls into deep sleep, he makes it a habit and puts the sleeping pills in her tea so that he could enjoy the pleasure of watching her sleep. The movie shows how different characters identify the various ways of deriving sexual pleasure and do everything to enjoy it. Such identification brings pleasure to the viewers of the movie and allows them to realize that the film is a representation of what happens in real life giving them a moment of pleasure and escape.
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Mulvey’s view on voyeuristic pleasures is based on the tandem of an active man and a passive woman. She notes that the unconscious being, which is created by the dominant other, can please the eye. The male dominated structures are portrayed by the visual and narrative techniques of the films and control the way a man derives pleasure. In classical films, the female character receives the scopophilic gaze because she is the powerless and passive one. On the other hand, the dominant male character receives narcissism gaze because he is always given the active role in improving the story. Therefore, the female character acts as an erotic object meant to please the spectators while the male character in the film controls the female’s behaviour.
Mulvey also argues that the cinematic gaze has three levels, namely spectator, camera and character, which combine to objectify women and pleasure the male character in the movie and, at the same time, pleasure men watching the movie. She intended to analyze this kind of pleasure created by women objectification and destroy it. She believes that it can be achieved if cinema industry stops using the oppression of women by breaking the normal expected pleasurable scenes and forms a new desire. This new language of desire will result in a new relationship between the cinema spectacle and the spectator. Spectators will stop viewing women as objects pleasing men.
In the film The Little Death, the couple Evie and Dan experience problems in their marriage, and when they seek advice from a counsellor, they are advised to try role playing. Role playing clearly shows how a woman is used as an object to please the male character. In their first role play, for instance, Dan, the male figure, acts as a doctor and Evie acts as a patient who is erotically dressed. She is made to dress in a way that can please the male doctor who believes that the role playing thing is helping resolve their issues. As Mulvey argues that women are the passive characters in cinema to please the active man, in this film, the passive female, Evie, is expected to act the way her husband wants because he is the one introducing plays that are meant to please him.
In his view on voyeurism, Metz argues that gazing drive is not similar to sexual drive as it is a combination of invocatory and scope drives, which clearly eliminates the presence of an object at a distance and the way it is maintained in its definition looking and listening. With psychophysiology, one can differentiate distance senses such as hearing and watching, and others that involve proximity and are referred to as the contact senses of smell, touch, kinesthetic and taste senses (Metz 76). Metz believes that voyeurism is similar to sadism at some point thus keeps the object being observed; it is also the source of drive, the organ, which in this case is the eye. The voyeur frequently does not maintain the eye contact. In addition, Metz states that desire depends on the boundless pursuit of the object being absent; thus, voyeurism and sadism are the desires that are spatially and symbolically evoked by the absence of the object.
In regard to fetishism, Metz views the whole cinema as a fetish because it can be considered as a body that is loved or an entity fully embodied. Fetishism is sexual arousal resulting from looking at cinema objects, physical objects or situations. Films normally fetishize situations and objects to please the viewers. Metz argues that spectators express a technique of fetishism and derive pleasure from the fact that a movie is well constructed to become a piece that pleasures their eyes so that they can watch they want to watch (Metz53). Today, fetishism is expressed in most films and spectators appreciate and understand various technological aspects that meet their needs and allow them to enjoy the movie thoroughly.
Metz also claims that fetishism has gained durability in films through playfulness of erotic scenes facilitated by framing and various camera movements. It implies that for an object to be viewed as a fetish by the spectator, the film should concurrently and playfully show desire and excitement. Object erotizing makes the object durable in the film market thus allowing the spectators to be more excited every time they watch. Therefore, their pleasure is increased in every watching experience. The film industry is now using various techniques that allow the spectators to enjoy this pleasure when they control lighting that shows extreme erotogenic parts of the body such as lips, feet, and legs. This technique can also be observed in the film The Little Death where various female actresses are made to show some of their body parts just to please the male spectators.
On the other hand, Mulvey believes that when male gaze comes to play, female become objects of desire that evolves a fetish. The male character’s look is broken; it shows the relationship of protagonist’s image with that of the spectator. Fetishistic shapes form the objects that spectator uses to gain pleasure. The fetish objects represent the actual figure that assures the spectator to feel safe when watching. Mulvey says that this representation forms a beautiful physical object that transforms into something satisfying. Sexual stars are created in this way, and they become sex symbols that spectator identifies with pleasure and sex. Therefore, it deprives spectators from the chance to see the acting skills possessed by these stars.
The film The Little Death is a good example of how today’s movies are associated with pleasure and sex where women form the image that most spectators will enjoy watching. With different threads showing different sources of sexual pleasures, such films give the viewer the reasons to watch the movie, which is especially important for women and men with different means of gaining pleasure. For instance, the movie starts with the scene where Maeve, Paul’s girlfriend, is enjoying her boyfriend playing with her feet. The image of feet is meant to act a fetish that many male spectators will enjoy watching. Similarly, in the last thread of a deaf teenager calling a sex hotline and having a woman translating, there is the use of vulgar language where real sex language is used. Here, the film used the vulgar language as an object to satisfy the spectators who are pleased with such language. There are also other instances in the movie where women undress in scenes that fetishize them as objects of pleasure and desire thus making the film sexually reassuring.
Fundamentally, according to Sigmund Freud psychoanalysis, which Laura Mulvey applied in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, the desire that drives individuals to develop a need for watching for pleasure is linked with them objectifying other people that surround them. Therefore, voyeurism is a condition that has been developed from extreme cases of scopophilia, which is an excessive desire for sexual pleasure. The sexual desire is practically achieved by an individual watching in a pervasive or obsessive manner, or in other words, sensational following. In the process, they derive pleasure as they play the role of active subjects who are looking at passive objects for satisfaction (Lisa Folkmarson).
Considering the facts presented by Mulvey in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, there is an actual separation of the individuals viewing a particular movie from the cinema, which is being presented on the screen (Mulvey 45). The individuals on the scene are unaware of the presence of the audience, which is watching the screen. This is imposed by the rule, which applies to the characters in the movie, to always ensure that they do not look at the camera but maintain the role play. Maintenance of role play will ensure illusion of separation during the process of relaying of content via the screen (Greenhill 89). Mulvey believes that opposition of the passive and active sides forms the essence of pleasure in the active side created by the dominance of the active over the passive. According to Mulvey’s spectatorship theory, the less powerful spectator provides satisfaction, and, therefore, the powerful spectator derives voyeurism.
Similarly, Christian Metz relates to his explanation of “keyhole effect”, which is the same as “Peeping Tom” by Michael Powell. Metz’s objectivity in Loving the Cinema is crucial in determining different perceptions among individuals in a cinema (Metz 36). Metz uses voyeurism in an expansive relay for attraction and effect to apparatus of the cinema. The embracement of objectification, imagination and symbolism in understanding perception is more or less the same as Mulvey’s visual pleasure concept of using a situation for satisfaction. In this case, Metz agrees with the concept of using perception in attaining particularly pleasurable feelings. Metz implies that cinema is an art whereby perception is used more to evoke the inner imaginative feeling of spectators and the cinema.
In the movie ‘The Little Death’, the concept of a situational objectification of a particular situation for sexual pleasure is evident in the second thread, “Role Play Fetishism”. The thread features Dan and his wife Evie who have issues with their sex life as a couple. The two seek help from a doctor, and he advises to consider role play to improve their sex life and save their marriage. The role play is supposed to reveal their desires towards each other; therefore, Dan dresses up as a police officer and Evie as a suspect. Dan and Evie act as if they were totally different individuals and their spectatorship through the roles each plays develops the sexual desire and pleasure. Even though their nakedness is not revealed, they see themselves through their roles through the concept of “keyhole effect.” The aspect of objectifying each other’s role as a means of achieving sexual attraction in different scenarios is connected with the essence of perception by a spectator to a cinema and how the relationship is combined with satisfaction.
Perception is vital in role play and helps in creating an image that at bay, spectators can actively and momentarily leave their real selves. Extreme scopophilia is observed in the part when Dan denies his normal life by saying that the new he is better. The situation deteriorates when Dan gets obsessed with role play and diagnoses his wife diabetes when playing a doctor and a patient. The obsession distorts the perception, and Dan loses Evie’s objectivity in the role play; thus, pleasure is lost. Hence, perception through the spectator should not be lost to maintain the process of deriving pleasure.
The description that Laura Mulvey uses in identification is analogous to the mirror concept, which is the explanation provided in The Mirror Stage, an essay expressing Lacanian psychoanalysis (Mulvey). Pleasure is derived from the identification of a particular object by an active individual in a certain situation that is desirable for satisfaction (Gabbard, Litowitz and Williams 73). The essence of the mirror is the provision of a reflection of what one is picturing in their mind as a satisfying revelation. Through Lacana’s perception, Mulvey implies that the pleasure that is derived narcissistically is achieved through proper identification of a counterpart who will objectively implement what is inside for the purpose of pleasurable moments after identification of a human figure.
On the other hand, in Loving the Cinema, Christian Metz agrees with objectifying an individual that has been identified for pleasure. He also uses Lacana’s and Freudian psychoanalysis in imaginary perception. The spectators may identify themselves within the cinema because with having human characters, place themselves on the same stage imaginatively and get the same perception being mirrored to them as the characters. Therefore, the pleasure is derived from cinematic identification since the spectator loses their real self and becomes part of the cinema as an active spectator, but in this case, imaginatively (Campany 57). In order to derive pleasure, the mirror moment of the spectator is merely temporary until the pleasure is achieved. Even though the screen is not a mirror, objectively, the spectators identify themselves with the objects on the screen. The perspective is creating a ground for considering the concept of the spectator getting a mirror effect through the identified objects and subjects on the screen.
At the beginning of the film, in the initial episode, “Sexual Masochism”, Maeve, Paul’s girlfriend, asked him a tension-raising question if he was willing to rape her for her fantasy to be fulfilled. The situation that Maeve identifies herself with to derive pleasure is extremely disturbing for Paul, but he is willing to try to make Maeve happy even though they are yet to be married. The situation that Maeve identifies connects with Freudian psychoanalysis on imaginary perception shared by both Mulvey and Metz. Maeve sees herself in a situation where she wants to experience a forceful encounter for her sexual desires to be fulfilled. The imaginative fantasy evokes the mirror effect of how Maeve pictures herself being raped and fulfilling her “La Petite Mort”. The phrase is used to refer to a French neutral term for an orgasm. The temporality of the concept of the mirror is clear since Maeve asks to be raped by Paul at least once to fulfil her fantasy. The implication is that for her appetite for sexual satisfaction to be achieved, the identified situation where she mirrors herself to be part of must come to play. In this case, Maeve has identified her counterpart in the situation, and that is Paul.
In addition, in the “Dacryphilia” scene, Richard and Rowena, who derive sexual pleasure in seeing a person cry, in this case the sexual partner, are trying to get a baby. In the process, they learn about the death of Richard’s father. Rowena finds out that Richard’s sadness makes her sexually satisfied compared to the previous encounters with Richard. Rowena decides to be deceitful by hiding Richard’s dog for him to be sad in order to satisfy herself sexually. She continues reminding Richard of his dead father and putting the pictures of his father around the house to create an environment for Richard to be sad. Rowena is almost caught by Richard in her lies, and she says that she is pregnant, which prevents Richard from leaving.
For Rowena’s situation, the perfect moment is identified when grief sets in her life and her husband provides a convenient situation for “La Petite Mort.” The scenario provides a contrary but the same presentation of an aspect of active, subject and passive object from the concept of a mirror. Even though roles of male and female have changed in the film, the concept of seeing Richard as an object for satisfying Rowena maintains the girth essence. The ground for cinematic identification is meant to play with Rowena’s lies for her sexual gains. Lacanian psychoanalysis is applied when Rowena mirrors her pleasurable moment through the grief of Richard thus providing an identified situation for objectifying the spectator.
The “Telephone Scatalogia” scene depicts an erotic arousal from phone calls from persons who are unknown to the each other. Monica is an online sign-language translator who translates the words of a sex hotline woman to a deaf caller named Sam. Monica continues translating for the two persons even after Monica tells Sam that the translation is too obscene. The sexual intimacy is expressed in words, and Monica acts as the one conveying the responses of Sam and the woman. The experience eventually connects Sam and Monica for a moment after the call is cut by the woman.
In the thread, Sam identifies a situation that arouses his sexual desires whereby Monica is a passive spectator who eventually relates with Sam. There is a moment when Sam says that the other woman must do what he is asking because it is his money. Sam has identified a situation, which he can use with his financial power to derive pleasure from. On the other hand, Monica tries to say that it was inappropriate to translate what Sam was asking of the woman. The scene providently plays out Lacana’s and Freudian psychoanalysis on imaginary perception in a symbolization of the moment through imagination.
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Christian Metz uses fetishism as one of the apparatus in Loving the Cinema to create an effective attraction through perception. Metz explains that perception is the most influential factor in relating to objects on the screen to derive pleasure. Through perception, symbols are formed and nature of reality is easier to explain the derivation of pleasure through the eyes of the active subject to the passive object. For heterogeneity to be a reality, a fetish situation of having a castrated penis, female phallus, and a fully erectile penis, normal penis, must be in existence for supplementation between the two. One must be reduced to be objectified for the derivation of pleasure through perception, which creates moments of pleasure.
In Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey applies the similar concept of objects or parts of conceivable pleasures but at a more personal level between the involved characters (Mulvey 718). The aspect gives male characters more power in cases whereby pleasure is their need. The female counterparts play the role of possession of the desirable parts that the considered powerful male counterparts view for deriving pleasure. The female spectators are denied the freedom to relate to their “similar” characters and, therefore, “forced” to play the part of male spectators instead. By the mere lack of erectile function of female, phallus signifies a perception of a subjective counterpart for the satisfaction of the male characters.
The movie provides another story, “Somnophilia”, which is described as a sexual arousal that is derived from a person watching another sleep. Phil and Maureen form a family with two sons, and the couple experience problems in relationship. Maureen is ill-represented in the thread since she is depicted as a wife who constantly has issues with everything that Phil does and yells all the time. Phil relentlessly watches his wife Maureen during the night for a sensational moment with her quiet side. The only way Phil can be happy is when Maureen is asleep thus keeping him awake and affecting his work while sleeping pills are recommended for him. Accidentally, Maureen takes Phil’s sleeping pills, and he realizes that he can be able to be close to Maureen without her interfering. Phil discovers that he can be able to dress up Maureen the way he wants and touch her face, and he loves her more.
Maureen is attracts Phil when she is asleep, and Phil derives pleasure from this. The discovery leads to a series of moments, which Phil uses to project Maureen as an object of pleasure when he buys clothes for her and puts her make-up for different moments. Maureen is the desirable counterpart when she is asleep, and Phil is considered to be the powerful active male who uses her as an object of pleasure. Nevertheless, going back to the scene of Monica and Sam with the telephone sign-language translation, the objectivity of the woman for Sam’s pleasure is vivid in the scene. At this point, Monica was forced to play the part of the male counterpart and let not to enjoy the moment. The conversation is imaginatively relayed in mind and the way Sam identifies the female human figure for pleasure.
Categorically, despite the need for pleasure in the movie and the ideological ways of deriving sexual pleasure, the film reveals that not only male counterparts are powerful and active subjects. The female counterparts can also play the role in objectifying the male characters for the derivation of their pleasures. Subsequently, the female spectators can be dissatisfied by male dominance in the cinema; in this way, it may destroy their unconscious desires over certain ways that are considered pleasurable. Furthermore, excessive scopophilia may cause the destruction of pleasure since the female counterpart may not be at the moment in excessive action, which is the harm caused by voyeurism.
Decisively, voyeurism is the most valuable of the three accounts and dominates over fetishism and identification. Voyeurism is structured in a way that combines both passive and active axes in the derivation of pleasure by a dominant side. Identification forms part of voyeurism since the essence of narcissistic gaze is used before a certain scenario is applied to derive pleasure to the powerful male character. Fetishism comes in voyeurism when levels of cinematic gaze are combined to objectify the female character that plays the possession role of the parts of pleasure. The three accounts appear as one since there is the identification of a particular scenario and object for voyeurism to have meaning in the derivation of pleasure.
It is evident that although Metz and Mulvey are two critics living in different times, they differ and at the same time share common views on fetishism, voyeurism, and identification. The reaffirmation of the thesis that Metz and Mulvey share numerous common ideas is proved by the fact that both agree with Lacanian’s views on the mirror analogy. Metz uses fetishism in creation of an effective attraction through perception, and similarly, Mulvey applies similar concept involving different characters in conceivable pleasure. They both support the mirror aspect of how individuals see themselves in different identifiable situations. From their analysis, it is evident that voyeurism dominates identification and fetishism because they both form part of voyeurism to derive pleasure. Hence, Metz and Mulvey share numerous similar views on accounts of voyeurism, identification and fetishism.