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World Filmmakers: A Critical List of Books (February 2013): Psychoanalytic Film Theory

By Mark Emmons and Audra Bellmore

Psychoanalytic Film Theory

Psychoanalytic film theory examines the unconscious of the film’s director, characters, subjects, and sometimes the film’s audience.  Critics tend to apply the work of theorists such as Freud, Jung, and Lacan.  Psychoanalytic analysis is applied across the full range of international filmmakers, but no real pattern emerges.  The only filmmaker receiving more than one psychoanalytic treatment is Andrei Tarkovsky, with two explorations of the meaning of symbols in his films.  In The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, Vida Johnson first makes an in-depth examination of Tarkovsky’s life and working methods and then closely reads his seven feature films, using Freudian, iconographic (motifs of the elemental as well as mirrors), and cultural approaches to explore themes in his work.  In Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema, Robert Bird takes multiple approaches—primarily psychoanalytical (Lacan) and philosophical (deconstruction) to uncover elemental motifs of earth (material conditions), fire (narrative), water (structure of the image), and air (atmosphere).

In Bertolucci’s Dream Loom: A Psychoanalytic Study of Cinema, T. Jefferson Kline conducts a mostly Freudian analysis, with a bit of Jung mixed in, to analyze Bernardo Bertolucci’s films as dreams.  John Izod’s Jungian analysis in The Films of Nicolas Roeg: Myth and Mind finds that Roeg uses universal myths to reveal self-discovery in the individual.  Michael Bliss uses Freud, Jung, and Joseph Campbell in Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir to read dream motifs in the films in the context of Weir’s life and Australian filmmaking.

In The Films of Luis Buñuel: Subjectivity and Desire, Peter William Evans employs psychoanalysis and post-Freudian gender and sexual theory to view Buñuel’s films both as personal fantasies and as reflective of a wider culture.  Robert Gordon edges into cultural studies in Pasolini: Forms of Subjectivity, arguing that Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films and other works are subjective, promoting the visual poetics of the gaze, while focusing on the motifs of death, eating, and desire.

Works Cited