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  • The Hysteric’s Wound:Productive Failure in Narrative Film
  • Spencer Mackoff (bio)


How is that we know who we are? We might wake up in the night disoriented, and wonder where we are; we may have forgotten where the window or the door or the bathroom is, or who is sleeping beside us. We may think perhaps that we have lived through what we just dreamed of, or we may wonder if we are now still dreaming. But we never wonder who we are. However confused we might be about every other particular of our existence we always know that it is “us,” that we are now who we have always been. We never wake up and wonder, “who am I,” because our knowledge of who we are is mediated by what we doctors of the mind ourselves call schemata—the richest, most stable and most complex memory structures we have. They are the structures, which connect us to our past and allow us to imagine our futures. To lose those connections would be a sign of pathology, a pathology called amnesia. But it makes no sense to begin this story here without its history, its past. So, let me take you back to a proper beginning, to a time before identity has been confused.

Suture (1993)

Going to the movies is often thought of as an escape, a break from everyday life where we can get away from our duties, our concerns, even our worries. In this sense a trip to the movies is fuelled by our desire to be transported to a foreign place, a different time, another reality—a wish to be immersed in a world free of the people and things that give our lives their physical and existential weight. When a film is effectively able to consume us in this way, we find ourselves in another field of experience; we momentarily lose touch with our surroundings, as our being-in-the-world is eclipsed by the reality of a mimetic representation. As the images flicker in front of us, so then does our sense of where and who we are—to be seduced by a film [End Page 327] means not only to be delivered to another place, but also, another perspective, another identity, another sense of self.

To experience a sense of immersion in a film requires that we, in a way, temporarily forget who we are. As spectators our capacity to lose ourselves in a film relies on our ability to adopt a persona or perspective internal to the world that a film proposes. As film scholar Todd McGowan explains, it is “through identification with the camera and characters, that the spectator attains a sense of proximity and involvement with what transpires on screen” (2007, 2). The sense of participation that we experience is therefore always mediated and facilitated by a fictional perspective, a discursive construction. And it is precisely the mediated structure of this engagement that sustains our ability to apprehend a film as mere entertainment. When a film ends, we can always say that we never really were the character that we imagined ourselves to be—a retroactive maneuver that allows us as spectators to “avoid any encounter in the cinema that might challenge or alter [our] subjectivity” (McGowan 2007, 2).

There is however always the potential that a film will in some way affect our lives—the possibility that its contents will somehow transform the way in which we perceive our duties, our concerns, our worries. In other words, a film can function as something more than an entertaining distraction or diversion, if it “touches” us in the right way. When the images on-screen are able to move past their diegetic confines and speak to vital aspects of our lived reality, we can come to feel quite moved. In certain circumstances these effects can stay with us even after we have left the theatre; a film can develop into something that persists and clings to the present, refusing to fade into the past. It is in these rare moments that a film becomes more than just an object that we consume and dispose of; here it becomes something...


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pp. 327-344
Launched on MUSE
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