The symptom does it sustain or subvert the system

Second, a question thus arises about what in the film functions as the symptom around which either a deconstructive or a therapeutic reading can organize itself. What is the element, in other words, that sustains the 'reality' of the film, its verisimilitude as a fiction? In classical Hollywood it is often said that gender sustains the film (i.e. women as objects to be traded between men, or as objects to be possessed by the look underpin the narrative functioning), but that this mechanism of gender imbalance is present without being problematized/ thematized. Feminist symptomatic readings have therefore focused on both demonstrating and deconstructing the mechanism in question, even arguing that women are the 'trouble' that is necessary for the classical text to function at all. As already briefly discussed above, and taken up once more in Chapter 9, earlier feminist theory tended to imply that so perfect was the ideological operation of the classical film that it made the gender asymmetry 'invisible' or hidden. However, there was one genre that attracted feminist film theorists, as well as Lacanians, because it seemed to be hysterical in relation to femininity, highlighting it as excessive. This genre was film noir, where it is th efemmefatale that marks the excess inherent in the (male) classical text, while underscoring that its disruptive power is irrecuperable.

Such an assumption, however, also redefines the traditional (Freudian) notion of woman as unknowable, and Lacan's formula of woman as the 'symptom' of man (see ┬┐izek 1992: 31-67). Gender trouble can now be seen as the element that (still) sustains the film as a classical text, but it also subverts its perfect ideological functioning, by keeping suspended the resolution between the two ways of reading the figure of the femme fatale. At once necessary and excessive, the femme fatale is the reason why, to the New Lacanians, film noir already announces the slow agony of classical patriarchy. Paradoxically and parodistically symbolized in the underworld boss, corrupt politician, or drug baron, the father figure is readable as the embodiment of excess and superego lawlessness, not least thanks to the pastiche versions and cross-generic revivals of film noir in the 1980s and 1990s. According to ┬┐izek, this figure represents the paternal authority not subject to castration, the obscenely 'enjoying' father. Outside the law and yet executing the law, he invariably counts among his possessions th efemmefatale, keeping the hero in thrall but also leading him to (self-)destruction. We have already come across a particularly over-explicit version of such 'superego enjoyment' in Chinatown's Noah Cross (see Chapter 4), who 'owns' Mrs Mulwray, the film's femmefatale, several times over. Yet one could equally well cite Pulp Fictions Marcellus Wallace, over-explicit as a traumatic figure of transgression and excess, in that he is black and can call one of his henchman 'my white nigger', while also owning Mia, his white wife. She, in turn, is 'playing at' being a femmefatale as well as being positioned as such by Vince (notably in the initial discussion with Jules as to whether a foot massage for the boss's wife is a transgression or a transaction).

Compared to these films, Back to the Future would seem to be classical, rather than post-classical, in that gender sustains the narrative but does not subvert it. The women are shown to be perfect specimen of male Oedipal identity formation: the flirtatious/prim division of Lorraine is played out, in order to be followed by the integrated, totally passive 'I love you/I wait for you' Jennifer, unproblematically passed from her Daddy to Marty. What is missing, in other words, is the subversive presence of a femmefatale and her power to sustain ambiguity. But given that the film is so explicit about the hero's Oedipal fixation and incest fantasies, the symptom, it is safe to assume, has shifted, as has the enjoying superego, now also located elsewhere.

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