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Film, Freud, and Paranoia: Dali and the Representation of Male Desire in An Andalusian Dog

From: Diacritics
Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2001
pp. 35-48 | 10.1353/dia.2003.0010

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Diacritics 31.2 (2001) 35-48

An Andalusian Dog, one of the most universally acclaimed films in cinema history, is frequently mentioned by critics as a privileged point of reference for the Surrealist rebellion. The film remains enigmatic to this day. Criticism has concentrated on the validity and effectiveness of its images to exemplify the avant-garde attack against social conventions and against the exclusive dominance of rationality in epistemology and social discourse. But this contextual approach does not take account of the script's fragmented narrative, which finds support in Freud's psychoanalytical theories and articulates a radical proposal for identity and culture. Largely neglected by critics, this narrative has been highly influential in the history of cinema. An Andalusian Dog is central to a long list of films that explore different aspects of the irrational, among them Jean Cocteau's Le sang du poète, Hunt Stromberg's The Strange Woman, Guy Debord's script Howling in Favor of the Marquis de Sade, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, and Philip Kaufman's Quills. This impressive list underscores the need for an interpretative critical effort that accounts for the authors' proposal in the context of the Surrealist reaction to convention and tradition.

Conventionally An Andalusian Dog has been viewed as a film about sexuality; I suggest that sexuality appears in the film as the pretext for a discussion of the threat sexual desire poses for male identity. In this respect, the film develops ideas that begin to appear in paintings completed by Dalí after his initial contact with Freud's works in the mid-1920s. These paintings display male identity as a fragile form of subsistence unfolding between two alternate forces, desire and fear: the desire for sexual realization and the opposed fear that sexual intercourse will conclude in disease and ultimately in death. Given the scarcity of Buñuel's production prior to 1929, I suggest that Dalí's monumental production of paintings during these years served as a preliminary visual point of reference for the design of some of the images in An Andalusian Dog.

By concentrating on Dalí's work, I do not mean to suggest that he deserves exclusive credit for the film; a careful examination of Buñuel's writings clearly indicates that the movie included most of his interests as well. Nonetheless, I would like to correct what has become a common trend in the study of An Andalusian Dog. In the early 1940s, Buñuel and Dalí's friendship came to an abrupt end, and in the following years each claimed sole authorship for the ideas in the film. The conflict between the two artists contaminated critical attitudes, which were guided exclusively by Buñuel's pre-1929 writings on cinema. The recurrence of images in the filmmaker's subsequent work was employed to confirm critics' initial intuitions that the film was exclusively Buñuel's. As a result, Dalí's name became increasingly dissociated from the movie, as is illustrated by the absence of the painter's name on the cover of the English edition of the script. However, the antagonism that separated the artists more than ten years after An [Begin Page 37] Andalusian Dog premiered in Paris on June 6, 1929, should not be a consideration in our critical understanding of this work. Although Buñuel directed the movie and deserves to be recognized for his undeniable input, we should not forget that he eagerly sought the painter's cooperation in writing the script. Moreover, contrary to Buñuel's later practice of frequently altering the initial script during the course of the film's production, An Andalusian Dog closely follows the original plan. This furthers the idea of the importance of Dalí's contribution, and, despite the opposing claims made by both artists in later years, it certainly appears that they worked together on the design of images and themes that responded to common interests.

Yet it is surprising that the painter's prodigious body of work prior to 1929 is seldom mentioned in the interpretation of the movie. At best, critics make cursory references to...

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