This article investigates the topic of cinematic identification, using references from the film “Enter the Void” (2009) by Gaspar Noé. The article is based on psychoanalytic theory and cinematic techniques and considers the connection between spectator and main character through primary and secondary identifications.
Key words: cinema, film, identification, psychoanalysis, Gaspar Noé.
В данной статье исследуется тема кинематографической идентификации зрителя с использованием примеров из фильма Гаспара Ноэ «Вход в пустоту» (2009). Статья основана на теории психоанализа и кинематографических приемах и рассматривает связь между зрителем и главным героем через призму первичной и вторичной идентификации.
Ключевые слова: кино, фильм, идентификация, психоанализ, Гаспар Ноэ.
Watching movies allows us to appear on the other side of the screen. Having broken the fourth wall, the viewer gets an experience of the main characters, enhanced by cinematic techniques. Each time a new protagonist is incarnated, the spectator becomes actually a kind of residue of identifications with numerous movie characters. As cinema emerged at the same time with the psychoanalysis, the later became the foundation for understanding reasons of identification process.
To begin with, identification is one of the mechanisms of personality development, which is defined as an individual's experience of their identity with another person or object of reality. In relation to the cinema, identification is considered in terms of how «watching» becomes an instance of forming the subject's identity through audio-visual practices. In cinematic theory can be distinguished two stages of identification: primary and secondary.
Metz described the practice of cinema as “desire to see” and “desire to hear”, which are two sexual derives making spectator feel the passion for perceiving . Gaspar Noé fulfills this desire and places the viewers into an audio-visual trip, tearing them out of the comfort zone with familiar ways of perception. Trip itself becomes a purely subjective experience and despite the strange, uncanny surrounding, it allows spectators to immerse fully into the film. What makes “Enter the Void” even more exceptional and gives opportunity to use wide range of different techniques for experimenting with spectatorship perception is two aspects. Firstly, the film depicts the drug effect and hallucinogenic substances influence through cinematic means. Secondly, “Enter the Void” refers to “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” with metaphysical relation to the body. This mix of shamanism facing post-capitalist drug culture, dreams facing reality, creates new meanings and lets spectator to interpret everything within the framework of Freud's “The dream-work” . The main character of “Enter the Void” Oscar is experiencing flashbacks about his childhood that contain metaphors and metonymy to read and unusual sequences of actions. It also refers to Sergei Eisenstein’s “montage of attractions” where comparing two shots, new hidden meaning appears which will be discussed in following parts.
“Enter the void” is interesting for analysis from the point of identification concept because it is formed in terms of four motivic fields that each has individual form of altered perception: exhaustion and drug-induced highs, memory, phantom disembodiment, and hallucination/transgression . Reading such sequences through Anna Powell’s Deleuze-inflected lens of ‘altered states cinema’ illuminates how the film aims directly to affect the viewer’s brain and perceptive mechanisms during screening . Gaspar Noé was not trying to represent reality, but to generate Oscar’s perception, way of living. Thus, watching the film, we are receiving intimate cinematic experience with real drug effect, hallucinations, death-like feeling and flashbacks.
Early childhood is of special significance for psychoanalysis if we recall that the cornerstone of psychoanalytic theory is the unconscious and its specific dynamics; for the main feature of the unconscious is its connection with the infantile . It can be projected to the protagonist’s behavior to understand his motivation. In his flashbacks Oscar reviews significant moments of his childhood, for example, mother's breast, blood oath to his sister, attraction to the mother and jealousy of the father, that can be considered as a manifestation of the Oedipus complex.
Primary and secondary cinematic identifications are clearly represented in the chosen film. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, developing his concept of the «stage of the mirror», showed that the defining moment in the formation of the Self (child) is the situation of recognizing oneself in the mirror on the basis of identifying oneself with the image. This entry into the Imaginary precedes the entrance into the Symbolic. On the basis of identification with the reflection, the ability to all subsequent secondary identifications, identification with something, is formed . Jean-Louis Baudry deepened the concept of double identification that takes place in cinema: he argued that identification with the character, with the represented, is a secondary identification, the condition of which is primary identification — that is, identification with the subject of vision. In cinema, the subject is the one whose point of view is represented by the camera. Identification, therefore, is the result of a structural disposition of views, rather than a conscious desire of the viewer to identify with a particular (for example, a positive) character on the screen . In “Enter the Void” spectator firstly gets the protagonist’s point of view and then connects image they receive with Oscar’s personality after identifying him in the mirror reflection.
First stage of identification is introduced at the very beginning by primary identification: camera sets the Oscar’s point of view (POV) as it is literally behind his eyelids. It follows the same visual perception and physical position, imitating the same range of motion as protagonist’s eyes. It is possible to feel Oscar’s level of intoxication and exhaustion with the usage of blurred vision and regular blackouts that show his blinking. The spectator penetrates into protagonist’s body, looking around through his eyes and hearing through his ears. This first person POV technique creates a verisimilitude of natural perception. The viewer is only able to see arms from all parts of Oscar’s body and they even do not have an opportunity to recognize in what character they appeared. Nervous handheld camerawork adds correlation between camera movement and Oscar’s perspective. Another trick that creates identification with protagonist’s sight is playing with focus: when Oscar lights up the DMT drug, the focus shifts from the general plan of the room to the pipe, showing that he pays attention to it. At the same time when the image gets out of focus or comes back to focus, it creates the feeling of falling asleep or losing consciousness.
Gaspar Noé represents hallucinations in form of colorful patterns and structures, appearing first time while Oscar is high. Not only psychological but also physical identification with protagonist’s body provides the viewer with the real drug trip where they can feel really stoned and therefore co-participate in this extreme experience which will last during the rest of the film. This is the first experience of “dreaming” with absence of time and space and flying neon images which hypnotize the spectators as they losing the sense of reality as well (trip scene lasts more than four minutes and they are passing unexpectedly fast and tiresomely long at the same time). Furthermore, during the trip Oscar’s spirit leaves the body for the first time, however, we still cannot face the main character and discern him.
In fact, the viewer can really get acquainted with main character’s (read: his/her, viewer’s) body is when Oscar, being revived by phone call, goes to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. Oscar stares at his reflection trying to recognize himself, similar to the mirror stage when an infant confronting his mirror image. Collecting “body into pieces”, the viewer gets the full appearance of protagonist’s body, identifying arms with it. Through Oscar’s eyes it is possible to see young man’s reflection. What is more, camera as technology is a medium between action and spectator, but Gaspar Noé makes it extension of one’s own body, not noticeable for eyes. In this scene camera is not visible through the mirror, which creates natural feeling for the spectator — full identification.
Another principle by Metz that explains cinematic identification is scopophilia and voyeurism. Spectator gets all-perceiving look of the camera, and this identification becomes a part of “the scopic drive”, appearing in desire to see and hear but in distance as voyeur . After his death, Oscar’s spirit and ubiquitous spectator with him are flying around Tokyo, following the lives of people he knows and even finds them in a compromising position (for instance, having sex).
Death of the main character draws a divide between something close to reality and endless dream. With this change Gaspar Noé adds new point of Oscar’s life: he introduces the “out-of-body” experience. After a 30-minute scene completely shot from Oscar's POV, the perspective camera leaves the scalp and begins to alienate from the dying body, initially hovering over it and looking down at it in another out-of-body experience. The same movement could be seen before while Oscar’s first DMT drug trip, but that time the viewer enters completely new transcendental dimension. Oscar’s consciousness turns from physical to metaphysical — and spectator with him. This new condition leads to the loss of Ego, that connects surrounding world with the personal perception and responds to the effects of the physical and social environment. Oscar turns into the disembodied ghost, noticing that he cannot feel his arms that means that he is not identified with the corpse anymore. To indicate a transition to a different state in camerawork, the director shifts from nervous image to rapid tracking shots. Disembodied ghost flies around the city passing through any material obstacles, and it creates spectator’s ubiquity that is expressed in ability to move through space while sitting on the chair motionlessly. Out-of-body experience refers to the same feeling in dreams, when person changes locations extremely fast and flies above the surface.
Long shots of travelling are interrupted by childhood flashbacks. They are non-linear, represent time shifts, where flashback sequence consists of repetition of different versions of the same scene. These variations depict that «Oscar is still “present,” and in the present, in so far as he is actively remembering» . At the same time, he is not able to recollect everything truly, as in his dream-like memories repressed feelings emerge: the disappearance of the parents in this flashback with crying Linda reflects a realization of their deaths and the siblings having had to look after themselves. What remains constant during variations is a close-up view of the back of protagonist’s head and shoulders. At that point the spectator looks not through eyes of Oscar but through his flying soul. When the camera is behind his silhouette, «we are possibly seeing Oscar’s memory of himself rather than truly objective, or third person, images» . The spectator can guess his age seeing child, teenager or adult body. The same way we would dream, imagining ourselves present, but only from the back. This method of remembering shows us that by physically placing ourselves in a scene, expanding ourselves from the first person to the third person in our memory, we are able to correctly estimate spatial distances and accurately assess our role in the action.
One more method of constructing flashbacks is the montage of attractions where shots follow associative logic producing new meanings with the help of metaphor or metonymy. The clear example could be a moment in the film when Oscar kisses the breast of his lover (mother of his friend) and then we see archetypical image of breast-feeding of a baby, then more subjective memories of his naked mother in bathroom together with his little sister and feeding of the sister and, finally, a portrait of a naked women on a painting in his friend’s art studio. The common element is woman’s breast and we can assume that Oscar has a desire to reunite with his mother.
References to childhood memories makes the spectator understand motivation of the protagonist for stronger secondary identification. We see conflict and feel identified with character that tries to fulfill his desire. If we follow Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the ending is a climax of Oscar’s Oedipus complex. From the shots of his memories we know he was asking his mother: «Do you love me? And father?» and then he witnessed his parents’ sexual act, which can be a sight of jealousy. Deprivation from mother after her death (another meaning of “void”) developed Oscar’s attraction by his sister: he is gazing at her and after death his spirit experience joining sex with her. Another mother figure is his friend’s mother. Their sexual bond becomes a probable cause of the friend’s betrayal. Becoming Linda’s child, Oscar’s soul again approaches the mother’s breast, so desirable in his memories.
In general, Gaspar Noé’s movies are referred to the New French Extremism in cinema. The film is focused on the extremely naturalistic depiction of scenes of violence, sex, deviant forms of behavior, which cast doubt on modern moral standards and, at the level of form, combine the techniques of arthouse cinema of recent years with various audio-visual experiments. Explicit sex and violence depiction is one more dimension of “Enter the void” that determines specificity of identification. Thus, the question is why spectator, watching pornography images or blood, still relates to the image and even enjoys it. Extreme body depictions such as open sex and wounds (bullet in chest, blood oath, death of family, Linda’s abortion) interconnect the idea of penetration, or ‘the void entrance’, on different levels of the film’s narration. In other films by Gaspar Noé like ‘Climax’ or ‘Irreversible’, the depiction of self-harm, lying on snow or a rape scene assert powerful impact on spectator’s body as we affectively share pain, cold or fear. We not only observe, but also live a character’s life (and death) due to our physical identification with the position of the camera.
To conclude, the film reflects Noe's philosophical reflections on the cyclicality of life and death, providing an opportunity not to observe from the outside, but to feel what is happening as your own sacred experience that is constructed by primary and secondary cinematic identifications. “Enter the Void” presents a very unique way of providing an affective bound between screen reality and a viewer’s body, distinctive for French New extremism. Its visual landscape creates a sense of embodiment to the character’s mind, and we follow his drag experience, death of his body, trips of his spirit through time and space. At the same time, the idea of penetration, “enter the void” (in terms of sexuality and wounds), initiates extreme feeling of body, and, therefore, more deep empathy response. Also, viewing traumatic memories or the experience of death, spectators can find out their own intimate fears and traumas. Empathy to “the void” in the lost characters’ souls may have an ethical and partly political dimension (in terms of perspectives for social critics): we treat them as equal despite of all shocking details of their lives.
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