Psychoanalytic film theory

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As Psychoanalytische film theory is called a flow of the film studies or film theory , that the method of psychoanalysis to the phenomenon of film and cinemas applied.


From 1969, as a direct reaction to the riots of May in Paris , a theoretical examination of the medium of cinema , based on a mixture of psychoanalysis , semiotics , structuralism and Marxism , developed from France , more precisely from the part of French film critics educated. Psychoanalytic film theory formation reached its peak in 1975: The articles "Le Dispositif: approches métapsychologiques de l'impression de réalité" by Jean Louis Baudry and "Le film de fiction et son spectateur (Étude métapsychologique)" by Christian Metz advanced to yours most influential and powerful texts.

The focus of this film-theoretical debate was on the audience and their relationship to cinema. The starting point was the deliberations of the French theorist Jean Louis Baudry and the film-theoretical writings of Christian Metz, whose Le signifiant imaginaire. Psychoanalysis et cinéma (1977, German: the imaginary signifier. Psychoanalysis and cinema ) really opened the discussion. Metz attempts to transfer psychoanalytic terms - especially Jacques Lacan's theory - to the field of cinematography.

Psychoanalytic film theory primarily tries to work out how the unconscious supports the reception of film events, or how film and cinema trigger unconscious, irrational processes in the viewer and thus make watching films a pleasurable experience. If the film, as has always been maintained, can be brought closer to the dream , then it must be possible to approach it with the means of psychoanalysis (analogous to a dream interpretation ).

Christian Metz paraphrases the question of psychoanalytic film theory as follows: “What contribution can Freudian psychoanalysis make to the knowledge about the cinematographic signifier ?” It quickly becomes clear that this is a research area that can do without the analysis of individual films or genres . The aim of the discussion remains to make statements about the cinema as a whole and its arrangement, whereby the audience is always the focus of the occupation. Accordingly, it was never the task of psychoanalytic film theory to work out how the unconscious can be made visible on film (e.g. through dream sequences, the representation of visions , flashbacks, etc.). Nor is it dealing with films that deal with the portrayal of psychoanalytic problems or those of psychoanalysis itself.

The role of the viewer should therefore be decisive, not the role of individual actors or authors. Such a new psychoanalytical method, which began to develop in France in the mid-1970s, could no longer look at film in isolation, but had to include the entire cinema environment. In doing so, the new theorists came across two existing currents of earlier film theoretical discussions, which they supplemented with the question of the cinematic unconscious: On the one hand, the realism discussion about André Bazin , which assumes that the screen functions as a window to the world , that the Objects and the space outside the canvas already implies that none of their relevance has been lost. On the other hand, there is the formalistic position of Eisenstein and Rudolf Arnheim , who see the canvas limited by its framing , whereby this limitation forms and positions the image visible on the canvas.

Jean Mitry brings both metaphors back together by granting cinema both the status of the window and that of the frame. By adding another metaphor, the new theory finally develops: The canvas is now understood as a mirror . The terms reality (window) and art (framing) are thus linked to the question of the viewer, the discourse of psychoanalysis and the concept of the unconscious are brought into the discussion. So it's about more than just film - two systems are related to each other: the cinema and the psyche .

Jean Louis Baudry assumes that the viewer's relationship to the picture, like the central perspective in painting, suggests control and omnipotence. However, this turns out to be self-deception, since the “apparatus” actually creates the image.


The classical psychoanalytic film theory began in 1916 with the release of Hugo Münsterberg's study The play of light . Above all, it makes use of Sigmund Freud's concepts ; the most important concept here is the unconscious processing of oedipal or narcissistic structures.

In addition, since the 1970s there have been approaches based on the theories of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan , which were taken up by film scholars such as Laura Mulvey and Christian Metz. Important aspects here are identification and symbolism as well as Lacan's conception of the imaginary based on the concept of the mirror stage .

What is striking when dealing with psychoanalytic film theory is the almost exclusive preoccupation with films from classic narrative narrative cinema ( Alfred Hitchcock's films are particularly popular here ), while considerations about avant-garde and experimental films are usually completely ignored.

See also


  • Laura Mulvey : Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema . (1975). In: Liliane Weissberg (Ed.): Femininity as a masquerade. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1994, pp. 48-65.
  • Christian Metz: The imaginary signifier. Psychoanalysis and cinema. Nodus, Münster 2000 (Paris 1977)
  • J.-L. Baudry: The dispositive: metapsychological considerations of the impression of reality. In: Psyche. 48/1994, pp. 1047-1074.
  • Hermann Kappelhoff: Cinema and Psychoanalysis. In: Jürgen Felix (Ed.): Modern film theory. 2nd Edition. Bender, Mainz 2003, pp. 130-167.
  • Renate Lippert: Gone with the wind. Film and psychoanalysis. Stroemfeld, 2002.
  • W. Bergande, M. Rautzenberg, P. Rupert-Kruse: Psychoanalytical image analysis. In: Netzwerk Bildphilosophie (Ed.): Image and method. Theoretical background and methodological processes in image science. Halem, Cologne 2014.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Markus Kügle: 50 years of suture! Everything you always wanted to know about the beginning of psychoanalytic film theory * (* but were afraid to ask Oudart). In: March 12, 2020, pp. 206–222 , accessed on July 31, 2020 (abstract, PDF version available from here). Link to direct download of the PDF version. (PDF) . Edition of the complete journal: No. 5 (2020), table of contents. In: March 12, 2020 . ;