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Conley, T. (1996). Not Leaving Las Vegas. Psychoanal. Rev., 83(4):621-625.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Review, 83(4):621-625

Film Notes

Not Leaving Las Vegas

Tom Conley, Ph.D.

Those with stamina enough to watch prime-time television quickly discover that a system of disgust coordinates the content of films and the advertising that sustains them. Every ten minutes wrenching docudramas about serial rapists or abused children are punctuated by spots selling mouth gargle, cough medicine, and aspirin. The unremitting visuals of police shackling and frisking suspects against car trunks readies us for spots that, in the same style, tell us what we need to buy to alleviate the headache and nausea they all inspire. The ideology of prime time is based on a Freudian reality principle: It covertly tells us that a viewer who faces the hard facts and violence of everyday life needs fortitude (and Tylenol) enough to inhabit the space of contemporary culture.

Leaving Las Vegas is a film weaned on such an ideology. It exploits the same system across a gamut of spaces that are at once real, filmic, and psychic. The viewer who goes to the film, let's say in a mall or a cineplex that offers adjacent parking and a long bar of popcorn vendors and beverage dispensers manned by high school students, pays to enter into a nonspace. Spectators pass over a carpeted floor and by murals in a neo-deco style en route to getting their brains fried by images of life in America outside of the theater.

When Mike Figgis's film is seen in that typical decor it calls into question some of the implicit relations that hold between what we know of “psychoanalysis” and our experience of contemporary space. Viewers who bring to the cineplex memories some of the heady conclusions that Freud reached in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) discover themselves watching a story that rehearses much of what is said about the death-drive in two realms of experience. First, the artificial city of Las Vegas, the site to which the protagonists are led and in which their narrative unfolds, is virtually “introjected” in the less glaring and more inviting area of the cineplex, the latter selling itself as a domain in which viewers can study the representation of an impossible habitus with a sternly “critical eye.”


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