2008 – The complete, entire, and subjective pleasure of film

This archive has been prepared by John Izod and Scott Feaster

November – December 2008 – Like everyone, I am cognizant of the boundary that separates clinical from academic work. But my métier allows me to offer a third by way of bridging the clinical and academic divide: the complete, entire, and subjective pleasure of film.
In “The Inner World of Trauma” (1996) Donald Kalsched writes that therapy provides a place for individuals whose self-care systems have broken down to play. By play he means co-creating with the therapist childhood’s lost “transitional object”. The T.V. series, “Brideshead Revisited” (BBC, 1992), allows the spectator to experience a transitional object first hand. When he arrives at Oxford, Sebastian Flyte carries with him a large teddy bear, named Aloysius.  For the Anglo-Catholic Sebastian Aloysius refers to the wealthy Renaissance Italian youth who died young and still a virgin, the patron saint of students. The ten week T.V. series stopped most social intercourse in the United States on Sunday evenings for ten weeks. What viewers could not resist was Sebastian’s transitional object, which he carried to Oxford and then put back on the shelf (alas) when he made his first great friend, Charles Ryder.

Ideally, the lost transitional object in Jungian analysis is recreated for the traumatized individual through the transference. In his essay “The Psychology of the Transference”, (1946), Jung explicates the transference in the following way:

The unrelated human being lacks wholeness, for he can achieve wholeness only though the soul, and the soul cannot exist without its other side, which is always found in a ‘You.’ Wholeness is a combination of I and You, and these show themselves to be parts of a transcendent unity whose nature can only be grasped symbolically, as in the symbols of the rotundum, the rose, the wheel, or the coniunctio of Solis et Lunae. (16: 244-245).

In Jung’s words, the classic transitional object is a “transcendent unity”, bridging subjective fantasy and reality in the Eros of the consulting room. While some film art may be called by us “good” or “bad”, the concept of a film as a “transcendent unity” better accounts for the feeling of the spectator’s film going experience.

Take the example Clint Eastwood’s romantic love story, “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995). One can resist the love story. One can project one’s anxiety about the shadow upon the film. One’s projections come out as critical judgments and opinions. By contrast, if the spectator can sustain the images of Eros that we see in “Bridges of Madison County”, he or she may experience a “transcendent unity”.

The first flashback of the story depicts how Francesca meets the “National Geographic” reporter, Robert Kincaid, who stops to ask directions on a day that her husband and teenage children are away at the Iowa State Fair. Her separation from her family is the psychological situation, analogous to the archetypal situation with which a fairy tale or myth begins, by which her character must be interpreted.

Francesca’s character is revealed by how she first greets Robert on her front porch:

Robert: I have the distinct feeling I’m lost.
Francesca: Are you supposed to be in Iowa?
Robert: Yeah.
Francesca: Well then you’re not that lost.

The lines suggest that Robert is lost physically, but that it is the spirit that has gone out of Francesca’s life. A G. I. wife who came to Iowa from Italy, Francesca has lost the meaning of Eros not as just biological sex but as spiritual connection. And the soul of this connection is evoked for the spectator by the art of the film.

Because she can show him better than tell him the way to Rossman Bridge, Francesca accompanies Robert there. While Robert sets up his camera to configure the next day’s photo shoot (extravert sensation), Francesca stays on the bridge, reflecting on the experience (introvert intuition). Eastwood as auteur evokes her psychological situation by the diegetical (coming from the story) sounds. A fly buzzes around her face. She swats it. Otherwise silence, as Francesca walks to the shade of the bridge.

I read the bridge as a symbol of Francesca’s need not to follow collective norms. But what is more important than my interpretation of the bridge is that I admit that my interpretation is subjective.  The only “advice” I can give my colleagues as we embark on this seminar on a popular art form is to admit, lest we lose the pleasure, that how we read symbols is a matter of subjective opinion. More…