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Haneke, M. Wrye, H. (2005). Perversion annihilates creativity and love: A passion for destruction in The Piano Teacher. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86(4):1205-1212.

(2005). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 86(4):1205-1212

Perversion annihilates creativity and love: A passion for destruction in The Piano Teacher (2001)

Review by:
Director Michael Haneke

Harriet Wrye

This film, with a French, German and Austrian cast, and released simultaneously in French as La pianiste and in German as Die Klavierspielerin, is a viscerally clenching and dark cinematic portrayal of enmeshment, repression, sadism, masochism and destruction. The tight and conflicted characterization of Professor Erika Kohut, the piano teacher, portrayed by Isabelle Huppert, reveals a dark labyrinth of mother-daughter bonds and bondage. The tension of the film's dramatic narrative, augmented by a soaring romantic musical score, dramatizes the excruciating strangulation of creative jouissance and vitality that perversion can foster. The film portrays a life in which the exquisite humanism of the music she plays and teaches cannot ultimately save her tormented soul.

In this review, I will focus on how the film may be viewed from a relational psychoanalytic perspective, as an elaboration of the relationship between the early mother-child bond and sado-masochistic defenses. In this text, we see a pathological, hostile-dependent relationship between mother and child played out sado-masochistically in the construction of perverse sexuality in the daughter. I also consider how pianist daughter Erika Kohut's behavior can be understood in terms of her reactions to overstimulation of the primal scene as well as a desperate, unsuccessful attempt at separating herself from an intrusive mother's use of her as a narcissistic object. In her defensive identification with the male who has the power to possess and dominate the mother sexually, her perversion expresses itself as a need for control over the penis or, in Lacanian terms, the phallus.

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