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Perry, T. (2007). Impersonation of the True Self. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(6):975-989.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(6):975-989

Impersonation of the True Self

Ted Perry

There is real transcendence … in the power to impersonate others. — William Arrowsmith, Cesare Pavese

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Mother Night

I watch movies for many reasons — entertainment, pleasure, information — but I also watch films to learn something about my own inner life. No worthwhile film gives concrete answers, but some movies offer a fresh perspective on the struggles of the self. My interest is focused now on three films: Michelangelo An-tonioni's The Passenger, Roberto Rossellini's General Della Rovere, and Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha. I will argue that their significance can best be understood within the context of certain psychoanalytic theories, particularly self psychology.

The Passenger (1975) tells the contemporary story of an American journalist, David Locke, who lives in London and is on assignment in Africa, but who is unable to make contact with the rebels he wants to interview. Given the opportunity, he trades identities with another man and eventually begins to follow that person's itinerary. Knowing that it might be dangerous, Locke goes to one of the man's appointments, only to be killed because he is mistaken for that man.

General Della Rovere (1959), set in Italy during World War II, has as its protagonist a con man and gambler. Caught in one of his schemes, he is forced by the Nazis to impersonate a Partisan leader, General Della Rovere, and to go into a prison in order to get information for them.

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