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Greenberg, H.R. Gabbard, K. (1990). Reel Significations: An Anatomy of Psychoanalytic Film Criticism. Psychoanal. Rev., 77(1):89-110.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Review, 77(1):89-110

Reel Significations: An Anatomy of Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

Harvey R. Greenberg, M.D. and Krin Gabbard

If the little brute were left to himself and kept in his native ignorance, combining the undeveloped mind of a child in the cradle with the violent passions of a man of thirty, he would wring his father's neck and sleep with his mother….

Thus, two and a half centuries before The Interpretation of Dreams, Denis Diderot (1742) boldly anticipated Freud's meditations on the Oedipus complex. The heart's dark turnings, our occulted motives and buried passions were ever the artist's native territory. Freud was quick to acknowledge the groundwork art had already laid for psychoanalysis. In 1907, he wrote:

The portrayal of the psychic life of human beings is, of course [the artist's] most especial domain. He was … the precursor of science and scientific psychology.

Throughout his long career, Freud frequently cited artistic insights to ground his theories, and gave liberal credit to the aesthetic intuition that preceded psychoanalytic insight. He admired the uncompromising honesty of creators like Ibsen, discovering in their work a willingness to look passion in the eye absent from the psychology of the day. Very likely, he identified with the singular love of truth, regardless of consequences, evinced by another of his favorite “cases,” Leonardo.

The members of Freud's circle needed little encouragement to undertake artistic explorations. They possessed considerable culture, and sometimes formidable erudition.

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