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Wrye, H.K. (1998). Tuning a Clinical Ear to the Ambiguous Chords of Jane Campion's The Piano. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(2):168-182.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(2):168-182

Tuning a Clinical Ear to the Ambiguous Chords of Jane Campion's The Piano

Harriet Kimble Wrye, Ph.D.

Projections of Psychic Reality on the Film Screen: The Piano as Rorschach

Jane Campion's powerful film, The Piano (1993), touches a deep chord in audiences, has sponsored animated discussion among male and female psychoanalytic colleagues, and provided a flashpoint for psychoanalytic patients. I have previously written about The Piano's oedipal themes and their reverberations in analytic work, but in this essay, I will discuss the universal chords the film strikes on preverbal levels of the psyche. The setting in the New Zealand swamp provides a haunting screen evocative of primative mental states. The film's imagery of ocean, labyrinthine marsh, and forest evokes the feminine body and the first sensually erotic relationship, the primordial tie between mother and infant. Many Victorian texts, including Freud's (1926p. 212), refer to the feminine erotic and aspects of the interior of the female body as an unknown “dark continent.” A propos, I will elaborate The Piano's deeply evocative meaning in clinical work with Theresa, an almost mute female patient.

Through by genre a romantic melodrama with heroes and villains, this film does not dichotomize the characters as is typical of melodrama.

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