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Harrang, C. (2012). Psychic Skin and Narcissistic Rage: Reflections on Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 93(5):1301-1308.
(2012). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 93(5):1301-1308
Psychic Skin and Narcissistic Rage: Reflections on Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In
In this paper I offer some reflections from a psychoanalytic perspective on Pedro Almodóvar's most recent film, The Skin I Live In (2011). Given the ubiquity of narcissistic concerns presented by most, if not all, patients in psychoanalytic treatment, this work of art provides a useful opportunity to consider the implications of certain types of character pathology (e.g. destructive narcissism) outside of the responsibilities present in the consulting room. Specifically, I hope to show how the film's characters and central narrative exemplify two important analytic concepts and can be better understood in light of them. I am referring, firstly, to the notion of ‘psychic skin’ (Bick, 1968), or the mental membrane that encompasses our sensations, thoughts, and feelings analogous to the way our physical skin provides an anatomical protective barrier between the internal and external environment. This dual meaning of skin - literal and symbolic - is clearly alluded to in the film's title. Secondly, and perhaps less obviously, I have in mind the concept of ‘narcissistic rage’ (Kohut, 1972) or the smouldering fury and desire for revenge that follows from perceived threats to an internal omnipotent object or frame of mind. Rage, as distinct from other forms of aggression, such as anger and even hatred, emanates from an omnipotent state of mind that denies separateness between self and object. As such, I suggest that rage tears at the fabric of our psychic skin, eroding the boundary between inner and outer experience. The result, as shown in the film when rage cannot be contained, is often disastrous. Alternatively, when violent emotions such as rage and inconsolable grief are held in check and balanced with tenderness and an individual's capacity to depend on others, a more constructive outcome may then occur.
One of the great features of Almodóvar films is that the characters inhabiting his narrative are emotionally complex - often flawed, occasionally diabolical, at times heroic, and always tragic. By tragic, I do not mean predestined or doomed. On the contrary, his characters are enduringly engaged in universal psychological struggles, fighting for and against recognition of emotional truth in ways that have anything but a predictable outcome.
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