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Mott, G. (1997). Vertigo. Psychoanal. Rev., 84(4):631-635.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Review, 84(4):631-635

Flim Note

Vertigo

George Mott

The films of Alfred Hitchcock offer fertile fields for intellectual speculation. Theoreticians of every persuasion (religious, semiotic, deconstructionist, feminist, psychoanalytical, hermeneutical) have subjected them to analyses that can be as interesting, if not always as much fun, as the films themselves. Lacanian psychoanalytic theory especially has found a firm purchase in this realm (Žižzek, 1992). It was, of course, the world of French film theory that first approached Hitchcock as a Master, a “subject supposed to know.” Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol were among the first to explore their transferential relations to Hitchcock and his work.

A Hitchcock/Lacan correlation is intriguing if not so surprising. Almost exact contemporaries, both men had roots in Surrealism, employing many of its tactics in their work; both were steeped in Catholicism. Hitchcock frequently caricatures psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. In both Spellbound and Marnie they are figures with questionable motives. One need only think of the psychiatrist whose diagnosis “He is suffering from acute melancholia together with a guilt complex” evokes laughter from today's audience. In the same film James Stewart speaks dismissively of interchangeable “psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, psychoan, … uh … the family doctor.” The need to pander to popular fears and misconceptions about psychoanalytic theory may have been operative here. Hitchcock was a maker of popular films. But even so, by coyly denigrating precisely the kind of absolute authority that he wielded as the director of his own films, Hitchcock tended to problematize that authority.

Jacques Lacan's antagonism toward the American psychoanalytic establishment is well known. He attributed its faults (exemplified by ego psychology), to what he termed the C factor, the constant characteristic of any given cultural milieu —ahistoricism in the case of the United States. For Lacan, Freud's revolutionary discovery was pressed into service merely for the sake of an “American way of life” that revolved around signifiers such as happiness and adaptation.

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