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Priel, B. (2009). The Transformation of Sociogenic Autistic Defences in The Lives of Others. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 90(2):387-393.

(2009). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 90(2):387-393

Film Essay

The Transformation of Sociogenic Autistic Defences in The Lives of Others

Beatriz Priel

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.


Contemporary psychoanalytic studies of cinema underscore this art's ability to mediate between specific analytic ideas and questions of collectively experienced trauma (Mulvey, 2003, p. xvi). In her analysis of Murderers Among Us, Chasseguet-Smirgel considers the fact that great artistic creations “cannot escape the context in which they were produced, just as dreams contain the day residues that contributed to their formation” (2001, p. 184). Moreover, contemporary cinema, and contemporary theatre as well, can be seen as replacing the role the will of the gods played in shaping the fate of individuals in classical tragedy with that of the laws decreed by social institutions. The Lives of Others, (2006; director, Florian Hanckel von Donnersmarck) constitutes a masterful example of film's mediation between situations of long-standing collective trauma and the activation of specific defence mechanisms. This film represents and creates an experience of the special forms of protection undertaken vis-à-vis the terrifying primitive anxieties that are aroused as basic human freedoms are brutally limited, and human relationships are perverted by a sociopolitical system with unlimited power. As presented in The Lives of Others, these protective mechanisms can be understood as following patterns similar to those of the measures that develop to protect the individual from annihilating anxieties in the earliest developmental stages. Using Tustin's basic model of autistic processes (Tustin, 1986, 1990, 1991), these forms of protection can be seen as parallels to autistic defences, as a self-generated shell whose purpose is to protect the primordial self from intolerable states of non-integration. This film also represents important aspects of processes that facilitate the gradual abandonment of these autistic defences and the attainment of psychic growth. The process of change of basic autistic forms unfolds in this film through the fantasized relationships between the two main protagonists, Wiesler and Dreyman, against the background of Art.

Film overview

The specific historical context is East Germany in the Orwellian 1984.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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