standing in for the unconscious

From a psychoanalytic point of view, we can find Freudian, Lacanian and even Jungian imagery and narrative elements in Moulin Rouge!.

That's an okay topic sentence, but I think I need an introduction. Most of the following entry will be part of my upcoming media theory paper if it goes well, so I've got to worry about structure and formal content a little more than usual. Still, I will interrupt if I need to, and just cut these parts later.

Anyway... Figuring on maybe looking at Moulin Rouge! in terms of psychoanalysis (which I will work on during this viewing), as a populist film and... probably queer theory, since I;m working on a presentation on queer theory for performance studies, or as an auteur film (except we're not expected to do research outside the readings we had for class, so that one might not be so doable. Our class defines musical as a genre even if I do not, so I could go with that. Whatever I end up using, the following should be a bit of what I'll be putting in for psychoanalysis.

But, let us backtrack.

A film musical filled with such big personalities as Moulin Rouge! has inherently invites a look into those personalities. Just because the characters are scripted does not mean that they do not exhibit personalities we can break down in psychoanalytic terms. As Mulvey does, this paper "intends to use psychoanalysis to discover where and how the fascination of films i reinforced by pre-existing patterns of fascination already at work within the individual subject and the social formations that have moulded him" (p. 305)* That is, by looking at psychoanalysis and looking at the characters and relational structures within the film, we can see why a particular film, this particular film can fuel the audience member's fascination and connection with its subjects.

From a psychoanalytic point of view, we can find Freudian, Lacanian and even Jungian imagery and narrative elements in Moulin Rouge!.

In Freudian terms, we can look at Freud's basics--the id, the ego, and the superego--but we must also look at the role of the Law and the Father, First, the three aspects of the psyche. The atmosphere at the Moulin Rouge is opulent, indulgent, so it is difficult at first to identify a character who correlates to the id. Toulouse and his cohort of Bohemian revolutionaries certainly push the central action toward more extravagance, more self indulgence, open sexuality and, of course, love. If we take Christian as a singular protagonist, then these artists certainly stand in as his id, driving him to act upon his feelings where his father--seen only briefly in flashback--dismisses his "ridiculous obsession with love." Christian's superego, on the other hand, comes from society, holding him back from his own belief in true love when Satine is forced to be with the Duke. Zidler, as the ringmaster of all the actors and performers and artists, then, serves as an extension of Christian's father as the ego, mediating between Christian's wants and needs and the urge toward satisfaction at all cost. Zidler, as the man in charge, serves also as the Freudian Father in some sense, but so also does the Duke. To be with Satine, Christian must "kill" the Father; he must defeat the Duke in terms of courting Satine and he must bypass Zidler's bidding to be with her as well. The Law, then, in Moulin Rouge! also comes from this patriarchal dichotomy of Zidler and the Duke. At one point, the Duke is even referred to as Satine's "Patron", not just the "financier" of the Moulin Rouge. Patron, of course, has the same roots as father. Zidler, as father, keeps vital information from Satine, as daughter, to protect her; he does not let her know that she has consumption. The Duke, on the other hand, draws up a contract to own Satine. Like an ancient marriage, Satine is sold by one father to, well, another. The law dictates that she go along with this, that she cannot be with Christian because he exists outside the normal societal roles; as penniless writer, he is not a productive member of civil society, not worthy of marriage. Moulin Rouge! reifies the patriarchal order even as it attempts to break it down. In the end, as Satine dies, order is maintained because there can be no improper marriage between her and Christian.

That may do for the Freudian section, but I really want to find a way to include this other bit from Mulvey:

Traditionally, the woman displayed [on screen] has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen. For instance, the device of the show-girl allows the two looks to be unified technically without any apparent break in the diegesis. A woman performs within the narrative, the gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined without breaking narrative verisimilitude. (p. 309)

It applies so damn well to Moulin Rouge! and Satine, but it doesn't fit any of the angles I figure on taking in this paper. This passage will probably come up again in a few days, when I really get into the details of the self-reflexivity, the way, for example, the short presentation in Satine's apartment for the Duke lays out the entire plot to come. And, the way "Spectacular Spectacular" begins with an echo of the "Diamonds" number from the first act of the larger narrative we are watching.

But, not today.

As far as Lacanian psychoanalysis...

That will have to wait, because I am over 1100 words already for today and the film is about to end.

Yada, yada, yada... tomorrow.

Works Cited

Mulvey, L. (1989). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. Screen 16(3), 6-18.*

* Note for anyone attentive: the page numbers in the text above may not match the page numbers in the source because, for the purposes of my class paper, I'm citing the page numbers from the copy the instructor provided (annoyingly, without complete information in the case of many of the readings) and, for the purposes of proper citations, I have found, where I could, the original source. The Works Cited entry should be the original source.


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