Lacanian analysis

We can see how the basic elements of the Oedipus complex and its 'normal' resolution are present in the film, suitably rearranged. But we can also see that what is usually latent and hidden is here made explicit, indeed at once over-explicit and negated through the humour of situation comedy. It should make us alert to the resistance of the film to analysis - signalled by its 'knowingness' about psychoanalysis - and make us wary of the possible transference occurring between the analyst and the theorist, the latter using the film merely to corroborate a theoretical paradigm. A Lacanian analysis is helpful here: rather than insist on the Oedipal trajectory in its Freudian version (or apply Levi-Strauss's and Propp's model of narrative lack and its restitution/ resolution), Lacan's concept of identity does not, as we saw, imply a stable ego. Identity is nothing other than a play of shifting identifications: no identity without identifications, so to speak, and no identifications without anxiety and loss. The identifications are self-alienated and based on mis-cognition, and they concern something at once more fundamental and more fundamentally divided than identity, namely the conditions of human subjectivity. Thus resistance as knowingness, too, is only another version of anxiety, just as transference is only another manifestation of shifting identifications in a perpetually open field of identity formation.

According to Lacan, we mis-cognize ourselves as autonomous beings across a set of imaginary identifications and representations. The confirmation in the mother's look and in our reflected body image anticipates successful motor coordination and forms a (narcissistic) ideal ego, whose slave we will be for the rest of our lives. Back to the Future shows its anxious 'knowingness' even with regard to the mirror phase in its use of the photograph that Marty carries with him into the past, where he and his siblings can be seen to 'fade' in direct proportion to the unlikeliness of George McFly meeting/mating with Lorraine. But in true Freudian fashion, Marty's frantic self-scrutiny is double-edged: might his look not express the repressed wish of the narcissistic child that his brother and sister had never been born?

Other aspects of Zemeckis' and Gale's 'knowingness' in relation to film studies and psycho-semiotics are their references to voyeurism and their apparent awareness of the film-studies discussion around the concept of 'suture' (the way the act of looking represented in a film can 'stitch' the plot into the seamless narration of a self-consistent, realistic 'world'; see also Chapter 7). Voyeurism is thematized as a meta-theoretical issue in the scene where Marty watches George watch his mother. This sequence is a textbook illustration of the structure of the look, as it has been classically formulated by Laura Mulvey in her argument of the gender divide inherent in the act of looking (Mulvey 1989), where the male looks and the female is 'to-be-looked-at'. Wrapping himself around the phallic branch of a tree to steady himself as he watches Lorraine undress through binoculars (or ocular erection), George is observed by a disgusted Marty. Yet the very fact that George becomes a watcher watched makes him lose his grip on the tree, and he has to be rescued from a fatal fall by Marty, who sacrifices himself for his future father in the first of several filial substitutions. This one leads directly to his meeting his mother in place of his father.

The process of 'suture' is illustrated in the scene where Marty watches himself escape from the Libyans. In narrative terms, it is used to disguise the overlap of two temporalities, which succeeds by virtue of the ocular suture of the POV look. Marty is 'returning early' from 1955, in order to warn Doc Brown of the Libyans, but he arrives on the scene too late and can merely watch (from a safe distance) the original assault. Marty's act of looking and our sharing his point of view here makes us overlook the impossible fact of two time-worlds seemingly coexisting and therefore of two Martys existing simultaneously: the one who gets away from the Libyans and the one who watches the getaway. The scene might also be described as a typically Lacanian moment, because the look as optical point of view here substitutes, fetish-like, for the gaze of the Other, inscribed in the scene, as if to ensure that the subject 'Marty' survives his own disappearance (and symbolic death). The time-travel paradox could thus be reinterpreted in the light of these at once excessive and insufficient looks, where Marty's desire to assure his own procreation is a transformation of the Freudian primal scene into the register of spectacle and the look. What makes time-travel necessary is Marty's need to see himself seeing, a form of secondary narcissism that arises from the desire to assume the position of the gaze. In other words, he tries to gain control over the very economy of looking and being looked at, in an attempt to get at the gaze 'behind' the look.

0 0

Post a comment