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  • Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Love:Lars and the Real Girl, In the Mood for Love, and Mulholland Drive
  • Tony Hughes-d'Aeth

The love scene is an idealized, highly conventionalized moment in cinema, so neatly ordered and condensed by Hollywood that "love" itself, whether consummated in word or flesh, often appears to be a single, homogeneous state of desire that minimizes the gap between the social experience of love and the libidinal fantasy that powers it. Much like continuity editing, classic Hollywood love scenes erase the ruptures in the audience's sense of time and space; variegated and sometimes deviant forms of desire seem coherent; actions of the characters are harmonized in the merger of erotic will; the circuitry of mutual gazes, of expectation and satisfaction, is completed; fundamental contradictions between bodies and minds are resolved.1 For conventional cinema, the homogeneity of love ultimately comes to define—and delimit—the vicissitudes of fantasy. Films such as Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007), In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000), and Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001), however, suspend these ideals, forcing love into an alternative—even pathological—form, splitting it off from fantasy and then exposing the latter as a determining force: a hidden primal scene of experience driving the manifest scene of erotic passion toward provocative and often disturbing new realities.2

Facing Bianca

In Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Lars is a cripplingly shy young man who lives in the converted garage of a house that had belonged to his father. Lars's older brother, Gus, lives in the main house with his pregnant wife, Karin. The early scenes in the film show Lars awkwardly trying to avoid any moment of connection or contact with the people in his small Wisconsin town, who are depicted as kindly and slightly bumpkinish. For Gus, Lars is both an embarrassment and a concern, and Lars's social phobia casts an unwelcome shadow on his new marriage and the expected arrival of their first child. Gus's wife, like others in the movie, tries gently to draw Lars out, but he politely stumbles out of their grasp, fleeing any possibility that he might have to be present as an emotional entity. The stalemate of this situation is broken in a surprising way. Lars announces to his brother and sister-in-law that he [End Page 17] has met a woman "on the internet" and agrees to bring her to dinner at Gus and Karin's house. Hope turns to horror, though, when this woman—introduced as "Bianca"—turns out to be a latex sex doll of the kind manufactured by the Californian company Abyss Creations and retailing for six thousand American dollars under the brand-name "RealDolls."3 The precise manner in which Bianca is a created "abyss" will become apparent, but, for now, the extreme discomfort of the dinner scene is set into a register of comedy by its direction, which features a slow pan from face to face, each registering a distinct affect. Lars ingenuously displays the pride of parading his first girlfriend to his symbolic parents. Gus displays the horrific realization that the brother he feels responsible for, and whom he thought merely troubled and a bit odd, has now entered psychosis. By contrast, Karin, though surprised, displays a humane grasp of Lars's complicated achievement at coming to dinner at all. "Bianca," understandably, remains serenely indifferent to the drama. But her face is the primal source of disturbance, because, Bianca, as a literal object of desire, cannot be assimilated to the socialized gaze.

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Bianca's face is where the gaze, with its social promise of love in this scene, dies; it is the (non)expressive crux of her lifeless, life-like form, the mise-en-abyme of the film. Once the gaze arrives at Bianca's face, it can be neither absorbed as pure object, because it is visually articulated as a "human" self, nor relayed to others as subject, because it lacks expressive potential, let alone articulacy. In this collapse of the social performance of desire, Bianca's presence evokes the degree zero of...


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pp. 17-33
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