Michel Valentin – Spiraling into Control or the Rape of the Lock in Hitchcock ’s movies

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Spiraling into Control or the Rape of the Lock in Hitchcock[i]’s movies[ii]

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How, from a fire that never sinks or sets would you escape.” Heraclitus.

While watching Hitchcock’s movies, one cannot help being struck by the recurring, uncanny presence of object-images whose role is not easy to determine. Moreover, these object-images are inscribed within a certain contiguity and continuity of shape and function that seem to be linked to key camera movements, as if these fragments had a life of their own, as if their apparent heterogeneity was breaking down the apparent homogeneity of the fantasy sustained reality of the outside world (Lacan). In many of Hitchcock’s films, there exist metaphorical or metonymical image-objects which escape the representational logic induced by the neurotic dimension produced by repression but obey a logic of their own which is not the logic of the fantasy/reality field. They are also filmically inscribed by, or participate formally or informally into a certain movement which we will qualify as helicoïdal or spiral-like. They correspond to a more ominous, tragic dimension and are products of the violent drama reenacted by a consciousness haunted by something which is not here or there, which does not belong anywhere…, what Lacan calls the Real.[iii] This shows that Hitchcock’s filmic mastery and art is not only the result of “a single, peremptory consciousness” that imprints “itself on the cinema’s industrial artifacts” but also the specific filmic rhetoric of an unconscious, Hitchcock’s unconscious. [iv] These artifacts have a quasi-hallucinatory dimension (betraying their unconscious origin), which means that the apparent visual domination/mastery of Hitchcock’s films passes through a written dimension which is “hieroglyphic,” (“ideogramatic”) and which belongs more to the order of what the film critic and theoretician Marie-Claire Ropars calls the figural dimension of cinema or “cinécriture.”

These image-objects are in/formed by a recurrent obsession which modulates them according to the specificity of each movie, but which keeps them on a tight leash and makes them converge towards the same cinematic goal. It means that one passes from one to the other diachronically, from film to film, via a glide, like in a musical glissando. The morphology of each one seems to obey the same morphing and metamorphizing as what occurs in the process known in painting as anamorphosis. Born during the Mannerist and Baroque periods, anamorphosis was the “representation” of a carefully calculated, geometrical deformation of the classical, orthogonal representation of Renaissance and Classical painting. What was painted and appeared on the canvas at first sight as a blob or a blurred cartouche revealed its true object only once the spectator had discovered the right viewing position—meaning that he had to squat, squint or look awry,[v] from a certain angle, at the canvas. One of the best known examples of anamorphic art is Hans Holbein the Younger’s famous painting The French Ambassadors (1533) which became a favorite seminal case for continental post-structuralist and postmodernist theorists such as Michel Foucault as well Lacan himself, not to mention Slavoj Zizek. The revealed image of the obfuscated cartouche generally represented a skull, something fecal, or genital: death, disgusting or obscene matter. The luminous luminal cartouche hovers like a subliminal stain in the liminal zone of the painting (at its bottom). That is to say (to take an epistemological short-cut), that something not metaphoric but directly metonymic or iconic of the very primary and forbidden objects linked to the pre-genital, original Mother whose access/enjoyment is barred by the law of the incest taboo guaranteed by the Name-of-the-Father and the Paternal function and the Phallic signifier according to Lacanian theory, returns and erupts on the scene of presentation/representation, puncturing it; something endowed with such a serious gravity that it deforms its field.

We want to show that Hitchcock’s strange image-objects mirror/echo/are similar to the results produced by the process of anamorphosis in painting, as if the filmic texture of his films were the result of a conscious and unconscious mapping out of what we are going to call his symptom, so as to deal with it—maybe make it, if not “palatable,” at least tolerable, if not enjoyable, and impose it on the audience by the same token, in the same move. Here one has to use the concept of “filmic unconscious” where the film is at once the result and agent of a mediation of an unconscious desire. Of course, let us not forget that Hitchcock himself made a conscious use of the Freudian concept of unconscious (Spellbound—1945 with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Berman, Marnie—1964—with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery). But he could not consciously make use of or manipulate his own unconscious for filmic reasons. This means that Hitchcock was written by his films as he was writing them.

Like love, Hitchcock is a special enigma, a story wrapped in a mystery–and we know the filmic importance Hitchcock attaches to wrappings, knots and ropes) which he offers as a pretend conversation with the audience, in a similar fashion as an analyst would do with his/her couched analysand, except that in his case, the conversation is a one-way street.

On the one hand, he has access to the knowledge supported by the phantasm (as everybody else who is “normal,” i.e. “normative,” “neurotic,” “obsessional,” or somewhat “perverse”) he needs in order to decipher without undue perplexity the problematic and pathos of life and make fun of it via the public entertainment of the filmic medium. On the other, he knows how to represent psychosis as only a psychotic would (or an analyst maybe), as if he knew how to amplify the delirium inherent in himself, i.e. in any “I/me” construct but without ignoring the “ça” (it/id). In other words, can one delineate and analyze a “Hitchcockian symptom”? There is, of course, always a dimension of simulation/manipulation and conscious careful cultivation/entertainment in the staging of his own symptom by an artist. The author enjoys his/her symptom directly by representing and playing with it, and indirectly by enjoying (sadistically in Hitchcock’s case) the spectatorial enjoyment of it. But nevertheless, one should not forget that authorial jouissance does not escape authorial unconsciousness. So we can safely venture to say that by representing/analyzing the symptomatology of the body of the Western society via its principal intertwined symptoms sex and murder, Hitchcock was also dealing with his own symptoms, exorcizing his own demons, as Sacha Gervasi’s movie indicates in Psycho. In fact his symptom went beyond the neurotic or perverse activity usually attributed to film-makers of genius. It seems that it belonged to another dimension as Peter Conrad writes when qualifying Hitchcock’s films as a “private domain—an infirmary of moral qualms and mental ailments, a catacomb of curios…”[vi] In fact, the whole progression of the Hitchcockian thematic shows the tortuous route of the life of his symptom, with withdrawals, onto-genetic progressions, remissions, lapses and accelerations until the precipitation of the famous psychotic-like “passage à l’acte” of the last movies (Psycho, The Birds, Frenzy). Was Hitchcock trying to “auto-analyze” himself?[vii]   Is his fantasy a defense against a deeply seated and serious trauma?

Hitchcock’s films do not use art as a sublimation of/for a regeneration of the metaphor of the sexual relation (this rapport that doesn’t exist but “ex-sists” according to Lacan). In his movies, there is not much love (or transference) although there is much desire. On the contrary, his films focus on the impossible sexual relation, the dystopic and destitutive, incurable disease that language and sex operates/works out in the subject. It is also about the impossible, tabooed Mother as object of love and desire, and as cause of the failure of the sexual relation. Hitchcock is not a “mother lover,” like Proust or Houdini who worked out their lack of “separation syndrome” by creatively cutting or rearranging their Oedipal knots in their own peculiar ways. Hitchcock is something of a “mother fucker”…, this mother which one way or the other constantly returns in his films to haunt/terrorize/castrate/capture him his actors/actresses–his avatars.

How does the Mother return?

Again, to take a short cut, via the object (the bone of contention), i.e. the skull and its partial objects: spiral-like locks of hair (found everywhere in his movies on many of his actresses), gouged-out eyes (The Birds), the gaping jaw with full teeth, empty orbs and shock of grey hair, as well as Norman Bates’ “Mother-twirled lock of hair” shaped like a flat spiral on the floor of the cellar (Psycho), massive or monumental dark, ominous, man-made masses (Foreign Correspondent, Saboteurs, North by Northwest, Marnie…) These objects metonymic of an impossible desire are the products of an latent and forceful Oedipal crisis and bear a heavy tint of incestuous stain. The spiral or elliptical lock is often barred (like a barred galaxy). The bar stands for the trace of the original repression which normatively bars the subject, constituting “it” as such (like the scarifications/marks/incisions/cuttings/tattoo of the rites of passage into adulthood–sexuation). But then why the visual insistence on something that normally everybody has internalized as such in order to become a subject? This over-determining obsessional presence of the bar, or the twist ( barred circle) certainly indicates that something is returning from the past, something which was not normatively assimilated or inscribed, and therefore returns from the unconscious. The Nouvelle Vague film-maker Chris Marker discerned in Vertigo, in the whorl of Kim Novak’s blond chignon a figuration of time’s helix–illustrating the domination of the past over the future, the be-come over the to-come, where “avenir/à-venir” rhymes with souvenir. Marker was on track, since the non-discursive dominion of the past over the futures indicates the presence of the symptom. This (twisted/barred) lock located between the seen and the unseen is on the edge of consciousness since it escapes memory but is still omnipresent if one pays close attention or operates a trans-filmic close reading. Although it functions as a fetish it goes beyond it, and belongs to the order of scopic perversion/père-version. Most Hitchcock’s women are marked by/with this incestuously sealed stain via the spiral lock of hair such as Carlotta/Judith (KimNovak) in Vertigo, and Mrs. Brenner (Jessica Tandy) as Mitch’s mother and Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) in The Birds, two movies where Hitchcock hitches a ride on the wild side of madness (the line between madness and artistic creativity being always thin)…

Why does the Mother return with full force and potency in his movies? It is because for/in Hitchcock, the M(o)ther wants to become the Other (The Name-of-the-Father), the Other of the (primary/original) other—which is normatively impossible. This is made very clear in Psycho, Marnie and The Birds.

The internalization of the “bar” (so to speak) has not worked, because the Name-of-the-Father, the primary signifier of sexuation and symbolic castration or paternal metaphor is foreclosed, which means that it is not registered in the subject’s Symbolic. Interestingly enough, there is rarely a positive, strong father image/position in most Hitchcock’s movies. Hitchcockian fathers are not present on the screen: they are not part of the picture or shine through their absence. They form a series of passive, impotent or obscene, anal-retentive, villains, elderly figures, or aged husbands.[viii] In both cases the Hitchcockian place of the father is a negative one: they are out-of-place, out-of-range, or have been displaced. The name-of-the-father is negated but returns (since it cannot be erased, as such, out of existence) in what Lacan calls the Real, making a hole in the Symbolic. The paternal metaphor which holds in place the field of fantasy, generating the field of reality (since reality is structured by fantasy according to Lacan) and protects the subject from the logic and terror of the Real is negated, barred of access. The hole in the Symbolic produced by the lack of the paternal metaphor punctures Hitchcock’s filmic material. It corresponds in Hitchcock’s movies either to the spiral hair piece marking so many Hitchcockian heroins and mother figures, Mother’s twisted lock of hair, or to gouged-out eyes (or empty orbs of skulls) as in Psycho and The Birds. The obsessional image/object that Hitchcock literally twirls with, is the recurrent twisted lock of hair and its different avatars: circular braid (Notorious), spiral-like lock (Psycho), elliptic helicoidal lovelock (Notorious—19456)… In Psycho, prefiguring its Lacanian topological use, Mother’s shock of hair is twisted like a Moebius strip. In Vertigo’s credits, going over its/the limits, as if Hitchcock’s camera-eye was looking awry (à la Zizek), the elliptic ring or loop’s transformations  smoothly glide along a seriality of forms, following a continuous deformation (like a Jordan curve), going over the limits (from the eye’s pupil to a torus or the image of a barred galaxy), but nevertheless following a pattern that limits this apparently limitless drift in space (obviously the topological deformation is closed, i.e. made without cutting or gluing, following/obeying a certain homeomorphism)–the metamorphic directly ties up to the metonymic. What unites/re-assembles/conjoins the eye’s pupil (metaphor of the gaze) with a fetishized substitute for the mother’s pubic patch in this puzzling short-circuiting (reminiscent of an hallucinatory dream work)  is what Lacan calls the object a with its connection to what Lacan theorized as the Real.[ix] It is extremely interesting to realize that this iconic putting-together corresponds to the anamorphic skull with its hollowed out eyes in the trompe-l’oeil paintings of Mannerist and Baroque art, as mentioned earlier.

In fact, in a sequence reminiscent of these Baroque tricks, Marion’s sister, during the famous fruit-cellar sequence, “unveils” the horrifying Mother’s skull with its exorbitant/ex-orbited hollowed-out eyes. Her hand touches Mother’s shoulder (similar to the squatting necessary to find the right point-of-view in front of an anamorphic painting) causing the stool to swivel around, revealing the horror…). In a scene worthy of a Gothic story, à la Edgar Alan Poe, panic-stricken, the same hand, then, hits the hanging light-bulb which oscillates back-and-forth, flashing its beam of light in and out of the vacuous horror. It is the pathological fantasy-object, inaccessible to the subject (it emerges out of the unconscious and is tied up to the mother, the impossible primary object of desire) that closes the gap of the Real, the void of nothingness; this is the nothingness that the lock of hair appeals to and repeals at the same time, as is masterfully illustrated in Vertigo, when the loss of Carlotta/Judi by Scottie (James Stewart) epitomized by the famous lock, turns into a helix-like descent into madness, into the maelstrom, where the lock turns into a super-twisted knot, carrying with it into its abysmal fall, the very own, severed head of Scottie: hairdo, head, vortex, skull, all fall into the same trap of an invaginating gaze, as if disappearing into the singularity horizon of a black hole. Here the impossible dimension of love and desire wrapped into madness, takes on a cosmic and tragic dimension, since the very kernel of the subject’s being is in the unconscious. Here fantasy, symptom and sinthome are condensed into one, into the form of what Lacan calls the object little a. According to Lacan, the formula for psychosis corresponds to a breakdown  of the signifying chain. It happens in many Hitchcock movies, such as in Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Frenzy. In Marnie, the signifiers of desire are locked into the mother’s fantasy molestation of her daughter and the subsequent murder of the “mother’s lover,” as in Psycho. In The Birds, the fantasy supporting the Symbolic, beneath the surface, structuring reality, is punctured—the phallic beaks of the birds literally tear apart flesh like the sound of the knife in Psycho and gouging flesh and eyes with such an unrelenting force and punishing implacability that it can only point to one culprit: the phallic Mother (à la Kali), Das Ding, the impossible maternal object of desire endowed with all the power of unleashed pent-up oedipal repression.

If one were to draw a taxonomy of Hitchcock’s movies, one would discover that many are binary composites or opposites paralleling, echoing each other over the decades (Sabotage–USA: The Woman Alone—1936)/Saboteur–1942), that some motives mirror each other, or that some themes in earlier movies find resolutions in later ones. Moreover, there is a concatenation of uncanny, quasi hallucinatory image-objects throughout his films which puncture (one cannot say “illustrate” because we have left here the domain of a fantasy-sustained reality in order to penetrate into it, or better tiptoe around another dimension, another realm, the one of the Real—since the Real cannot be represented as such but makes its presence/absence felt via holes, violent ruptures, paradoxes…, in the Symbolic filmic texture. As if Hitchcock had also been a student of Lacan all along, his movies point towards the impossibility of the sexual relationship: couples are tied up by chance (literally as in The 39 Steps–1935), joined into problematic marriages (as in Rebecca–1940 where Max continuously calls his wife “monkey-face”), or re/united by chance (Spellbound—1945) except in Saboteur—1942, where the triangle foreshadows the conjuncture characteristic of Hitchcock’s next stage: the Selznick period marked by a series of movies based on cinematographic narratives revolving around dysfunctional Oedipal triangles. This filmic grand narrative will progressively evolve by tightening its focus until allowing the staging of a pre-Oedipal stage; at this point the seriality will qualitatively transform itself and effectuate a literal jump into the hallucinatory dimension (Vertigo—1958) reaching a climax with (The Birds—1963), finishing with a serial killer (Frenzy—1972). It is as if the onto-genesis of the Hitchcockian symptom were unfurling itself like an origami. From Dial for Murder  (1951) to The Birds, there is a crescendo in what could be called the failure of the fight or resistance staged by the Symbolic against the disrupting intrusion of the Real, as if a magmatic brew under the crater of a volcano had been percolating before erupting in a grandiose/grandiloquent paranoiac cosmic way with The Birds(1963) where nature punishes mankind. In The Birds (1963), a grand coalition of the “bird genus” attacks the humans of Bodega Bay. Using the birds as proxy, something comes out of the Real to literally pick out the flesh and eyes of people: the symbolic castration has migrated from the Symbolic into the Real, losing its very symbolic dimension, because it was barred (negated) in the first place. These image-objects no longer signify but “significate.” They not only participate in the general innerly (internally) duplicated structure of Hitchcock’s movies but help “invaginate” (turn upside/down and inside/out) the very filmic surface (most famous example is Psycho’s shower sequence (1960) when the camera’s gaze following the water stream from the showerhead, disappears counter-clockwise into the shower drain in order to reappear a few seconds later  out of Janet Leigh’s dead-open pupil and eye. The famous shower scene illustrates the passage from one black hole and the re-emergence on the other side…. Where does the camera gaze disappear when it focuses down into the drain…. The traditional description of this hallucinating shower scene falls short of expressing the whole uncanny and metaphysical/cosmic dimension of the sequence:

“ in one of the most brilliant images in any film—we follow the bloodied water spiralling down the drain. In an extraordinary lap dissolve, we emerge from the darkness of the drain ouf from behind her eye, open and stilled in death. The journey into the depths of the “normal” psyche has ended in tragedy.” [x]  Something is slowly but inexorably spiraling out of control in Hitchcock’s films.

 

Let us draw a list of these paradoxical hallucinatory image-objects.

1)       the drums, hammers and cymbals in The Man who Knew too much  (1956). Metaphorically and metonomically they are linked to yonic and phallic representations as well as to death and castration, as well as ears and crushing sound-reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch ’s ear/knife juxtaposition in his Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510).

2)      The monumental objects which are at once part of the local color (iconic clichés), or part of a giant man-made the landscape. They participate in the wide-ranging symbolic dramatic dimension of the film (as diegetic elements), are invaluable parts of the plot, but also are symptoms of the intrusion of another dimension, the Lacanian  Real , referring to what Slavoj Zizek calls das Ding –or the unavowable incestuous object of desire. Some examples of those “image-objects”: the Dutch windmill of Foreign Correspondent (1940), the giant Statue of Liberty crawled over by Robert Cummings in Saboteur (1942) as well as the penile, giant heads and skulls (also seen/represented from the back) of North by Northwest (1959) gazed at by Cary Grant and crawled over by him and Eva Marie Saint (reminiscent of Baudelaire’s Giantess ), the black ship hulls (obviously cartoonesque) at the end of the street in the Baltimore harbor where Mother lives (Marnie—1964).

3)      The spy present in many of his movies. As a foreign agent/saboteur, he represents a foreign matter, analogous to the embodiment of the problematization of the gaze: 1) the blot  2) the fascinum in the scopic field. The blot is the sign which is not the sign of anything (the Lacanian Real). For instance, in North by Northwest or in Sabotage/Saboteur, the foreign element crawls onto a monstrous monumental head or sculpture (real representation of a giant head as phallic incestuous mother).

4)      The locks, spiral twists, helix-like curls or shocks of hair marking/affecting the hairdo of Hitchcockian women. Especially in the later movies, it leaves exposed a large white forehead giving to the face a penis-like appearance.

This frozen dimension of his symptom, its eternal temporality inscribes itself in a continuity, shaping his filmic form into a continuum. For Hitchcock, history is a stretched topology. This is why his filmic textuality is so open to psychoanalytic penetrability. It is also why all his movies have this special, slightly passé (or classy) type of melancholia which often comes out via the music in the sound strips of his films. The way he also graphically deals with his symptom makes Hitchcock a political conservative—something re-enforced by his aesthetics and values. Hitchcock was a multilayered “scandalographer” (murder he wrote and filmed) using and playing with anecdotes, clichés, puns, recipes—the ingredients of suspense. But the  Hitchcockian  suspension of disbelief of narrativity (mixing serendipity and black humor–a special British ingredient) allowed, unbeknownst to the audience, for the free play/ expression of his symptom. Suspension turns into suspense allowing for the insinuation of his own fantasy into the audience’s fantasy. He played tricks on the spectatorship, at their expense, revealing their own “hidden” truth, their own symptom (Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère….).[xi] His own calculated and controlled sadism aroused the audience’s voyeuristic and sadistic fantasies, making them accomplices in his own dark phantasm and symptom. At his most scandalous, he make the others “pay” for his symptoms (like a serial killer),[xii] by coaxing, seducing, terrorizing, fascinating them into enjoying their suspenseful representation.

The key to Hitchcock’s scandalous mise-en-scène is contained in the way he uses the gaze of the camera and the gaze of the spectator. It is also indicative of the seriousness of his symptom and the creative way through which Hitchcock alleviates it. He uses the troubling implications harbored by the duplicitous dimension of the look, turning around the spectatorial discourse of looking inside-out, “invaginating” this gaze and locking it until the climactic end.

As Lacanian praxis and theorizing has shown, the unconscious works (speaks) through assemblages of letters, pieces of the Real which work on the materiality of the signifier [xiii] which are unique to each individual, and which associate themselves unconsciously as partial objects or objects having departed (been cut off) from an  impossible wholeness, the Mother. They form an amalgam, or a “pure singularity” with a center of accretion and a horizon, like a cosmic black hole, as metaphorized by Slavoj Zizek. It corresponds, of course, to the object a of Lacanian  toponomic algebra.[xiv]

Hitchcock’s movies are at once the product of a repression and a fundamental foreclusion where the preconscious or primary process and the secondary process organize themselves into a phantasy, a coherent story, directly linked to the unconscious phantasy—yielding what Freud called a “half-breed” (hybrid).[xv] The obsessional metaphors in Hitchcock’s movies cause the filmic dimension to go beyond the simple story-line of pure entertainment to become the tell-tale figures of a tragic discourse masquerading as entertainment. Here a fiction of the unconscious becomes the unconscious of a fiction redoubled by the fact that Hitchcock’s world is his representation as well as his dream. In fact Hitchcock hesitates between the two sides of the same coin in movies such as Spellbound (1945) or Shadow of a Doubt (1943). This hesitation allows Hitchcock to not totally identify with his symptom (of which he was very certainly quite conscious—up to a point of course), and to create an opening where he inserts himself as ironic by-stander (cameo appearance). From the beginning to the end, his symptomatic creativeness inscribes itself in a temporal loop which strangely parallels the analytic experience. Beginning with the same obscure, undecipherable persistent ciphered and incomprehensible “image-message” like a message in a Klein glass bottle (“through a glass darkly’), except that the bottle follows a definitely oriented current/stream–as if Hitchcock had become a sinthom e, i.e. a subject that enjoys his symptom and has gone through his fantasy, who has gained a distance from  this fantasy-work/construct, but a subject whose symptom still endures, still attached to this impossible object of enjoyment incarnated in/by the mother. This fundamental fantasy gives consistency to a Hitchcockian side as more or less incarnated by his protagonists/heroes (acted out by Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart rehearsing Hitchcock’s self-doubts, disguised/metaphorized under avatars such as castration anxiety, paralysis, fear of heights, over-bearing maternal possession (Marnie/ North by Northwest…).

Certainly unbeknownst  (up to a certain point) to Hitchcock, recurring shapes/ forms/patterns symptomatically inform/reform/deform/puncture the textual surface of his films, the self-enclosed linear narrative. These peculiar images are the results of a censorship overwhelmed by the successive, unrelenting blows of an unconscious bent at expressing an “out-of-the-box” maternal drive (a fundamental “desire”). These obsessional object-images must be read at the level of the letter of Hitchcock’s discourse that his movies constitute. It is not a question of decoding them as if there were a one-to-one correspondence between these filmic images/objects and Hitchcock’s scenic indications or even intentions. It is more a question of deciphering them as if one were dealing with a superimposition of staves on a musical score.  Hitchcock’s movies have to be taken à la lettre, as if dreams and analyzed semiotically, i.e. at the level of their filmic signifiers (moving images),   and not only at the level of first/surface meaningfulness or even at the level of their latent content.

These obsessional traits come out of the “bone of the symptom,” out of which the artist draws the substantial marrow feeding his creative act/move, which is why Lacan believed that there was more truth in the “special saying” that is art, than in all other discourses because art is directly more engaged in the Real of the symptom than in the reality of the Symbolic which often derives its symbolism from a natural analogy. At its most radical and seminal, art often locates itself beyond the Symbolic with its array/panoply of words and speeches.

The image/metaphor/ hallucinated (and hallucinating) object of the symptom of Hitchcock is a variation on the skull with its dark open orbits, its dented jaws and its withered, coiled hair stuck to the cranium. This recurring object stands for the irreducible object of Hitchcock’s symptom in so far as it suspends (upends, punctures…) the truth of the Symbolic, of the “normal,” everyday story. It literally objects to the truth of a value which bases its economy on the truth, joy and normalcy of human life. This economy sustains itself on a fundamental illusion and lie that Hitchcock, quasi-sadistically deflates/punctures.  Hitchcock destroys/subverts/taints the symbols and myths that sustain our normal approach to the fundamentals of life: love and sex, romance and romantic illusions, family ties…

This truth of the symptom is superior (according to the old Master) to the truth that reflects itself as a mirage in the eyes and mirrors of our lives. It is the Real truth that Hitchcock tries to wrestle out of his actors—especially women, again and again, in a quasi ravishing manner (aka the ordeal he put Tippi Hedden through). Our hypothesis is that Hitchcock suffered from psychosis and that he uses his symptom as a creative medium as well as a cure. This explains very well the duplicity of Hitchcock who lies with the audience and the subject matter (going to the extreme of even playing directly with the topic of psychoanalysis–

Every author puts a little bit of himself in his characters. Hitch as subject put more than he knew in his movies, because he was submitted to the machinery of the “other scene” or scene of the barred Other. He was defined up to a point by the m(o)ther scene not framed/limited by the Big O(ther). Hitch’s film-making exemplifies the work of the cinematographic apparatus as automatic writing/inscription of the other scene with a certain robotic dimension attached to the characters which then take on puppets’ or dolls’ roles. Hitch’s artifact verges on the artificial. Vertigo could be interpreted as the making of an imaginary doll—prefiguring the ‘perfect,’ ‘artificial’ women of Stepford Wives. This Hitchcockian fantasy is not based on the normal/normative fantasy of the displacement of desire onto the “other scene,” typical of the structure of the Freudian pleasure principle and the repetition principle, but a return to the primary scene (as illustrated by the origin of Marnie’s symptom.) The mechanical repetition of the syndrome and actuation of symptoms can be masterfully followed from film to film. The mechanical dimension, product of the rhetoric of the unconscious, works along a three-tiered path. As Slavoj Zizek explains, the Hitchcockian subject (character/hero/victim) is the tool of the orchestrated mechanical machination he produces (suspense, horror, etc…). Hitchcock himself is the victim/subject/tool of this machination (caught in the loop of his own machination). At another level, he is the tool with which “being” poses its question—the being before being, i.e. before the enactment of desire which wants lack, when the ego still pines for the mother. In this sense the cinema of Hitchcock is a cinema of the m(o)ther scene.

Hitch’s cinema more than any other exemplifies the impossibility of the desire to finish the project of coming to terms with the original power-house of desire, i.e. the primary wound. This desire about/of a desire launches the subject into an endless deferring from film to film, although Hitch in a very calculated move progressively zeros in on his symptom with the final cinematic crisis (The Birds).  Hitch’s project is, from the beginning, doomed to incompletion and repetition since, as cinema of desire, it is fundamentally structured by the impossibility to come to terms with the desire. Desire is locked into a refusal of the signifier which brings about metaphorical substitution and locked into a lack of being which brings metonymic displacement.[xvi]

But the progression brings to life, animates and (re-)creates the symptom.  The machinery of repetition accelerates until the ultimate “passage à l’acte.” One can follow its metamorphic transformation from the stuffed birds, the stuffed mamma’s boy and the stuffed mummy of Psycho to the active, live, apocalyptic birds, the possessive but controlling live m(o)ther, the active and responsible mother’s son and the free-spirited, but in the end catatonic blond doll of the Birds.



[i] This essay in response to Sacha Gervasi’s movie Hitchcock (2012) adapted from Stephen Rebello’s Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.

[ii] This essay follows the work of the late Thierry Kuntzel and floats along in the wake of the seminal work of Slavoj Zizek.

[iii] This is why in Hitchcock’s movies the exterior of the field of vision is heterogeneous to its interior (in contrast to the classical or poetic realist films of the 30s and 40s such as the humanist films of Renoir) and why the naïve opposition between “hard reality” and the “dream-world” is problematized or displaced.

[iv] Peter Conrad. The Hitchcock Murders. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. New York, 2000. xii.

[v] Hence the title one of Slavoj Zizek’s books.

[vi] Peter Conrad. The Hitchcock’s Murders. Faber and Faber. 2000.

[vii] Karen Horney in Our Inner Conflicts wrote that “analysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.”

[viii] Except maybe in The Man who Knew too much (Cary Grant) and the C.I.A. operative in North by Northwest. In Notorious (1946) Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is caught between her Nazi husband or father –image and her love for the American journalist-spy Devlin (Gregory Peck). In Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the father of young Charlie (Henry Travers), doubled by his acolyte Jack, is a bumbling idiot, etc. In these darker movies of the 1940s, the story is generally related from the point-of-view of a woman caught between two men. A connection exists between the impotent, helpless father/father figure and the woman’s perspective. This is reminiscent of Lacan’s famous quote “What does the hysterical woman want?… A master but one whom she could dominate.” In Rebecca (1940), the heroine (Joan Fontaine) is married to a helpless, mournful, castrated husband still under the influence of his dead wife. This is reminiscent of the Bronte sisters’ novel Jane Eyre, where, at the end, the heroine is happily married to a blinded, helpless, father-like figure.

[ix]According to Lacanian theory, every screen of reality includes a constitutive ‘stain’, the trace of what had to precluded from the field of reality in order that this field can acquire its consistency; this stain appears in the guise of a void Lacan names object petit a. It is the point that I, the subject, cannot see: it eludes me in so far as it is the point from which the screen itself ‘returns the gaze’, watches me: the point where the gaze itself is inscribed into the visual field of reality.

In psychosis, however, objet a is precisely not precluded: it materializes itself, it receives full bodily presence and becomes visible–for example, in the form of a pursuer who ‘sees and knows everything’ in paranoia. In the Wrong Man, this kind of object which materializes the gaze is exemplified by the table lamp, the source of light. As Lacan says in his Seminar XI: ‘that which is light looks at me.’ ” Slavoj Zizek. All you Wanted to Know about Lacan and did not want to Ask Hitchcock. Verso Press. New York. 192.

[x] Donald Spoto. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. Doubleday & Cy. New York. 1992. 374.

[xi] Baudelaire’s introduction to Les Fleurs du Mal.

[xii] Like the serial killer Ed Gein that Gervosi’s movie Hitchcock uses.  

[xiii] Lacan Seminar XX—Encore.

[xiv] Cf Serge Leclaire’s work .

[xv] The Unconscious, vol xiv, p. 190, 1.

[xvi] Something well explained by Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. The Title of the Letter. A Reading of Lacan. Suny Press. 1992.