Freud, Sigmund


Freud, Sigmund
(1856–1939)
   Now known as the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud enrolled in the University of Vienna in 1873 as a medical student; he later entered the General Hospital of Vienna in 1882 to qualify for private practice. He soon joined the staff of the psychiatric clinic at the hospital, presided over by Theodor Meynert, an outstanding anatomist of the brain. In 1885 Freud studied in Paris under Jean Martin Charcot, the renowned neuropathologist; 10 years later, in collaboration with his mentor and colleague, Josef Breuer, a famed Viennese physician, Freud would publish Studies in Hysteria. From 1892 to 1895 Freud developed his psychoanalytic method of therapy. In his essay on Freud and literature, Michael Zeitlin of the University of British Columbia gives Freud’s one-sentence summary of his theory: “The division of the psychological into what is conscious and what is unconscious is the fundamental premise of psychoanalysis. ”
   More precisely, literary critic Richard Rorty writes, “Freud tells us that each of us is steered through life by . . . a unique set of quirky, largely unconscious fantasies. These fantasies were installed in us as a result of childhood experiences and later family experiences. “The struggles and the conflicts of the original family drama,” contends Zeitlin, have a profound and lasting influence on the individual. Moreover, Freud maintained, in the words of Freud Scholar D. M. Thomas, that “a constant struggle goes on between the three components of personality: the id (the unconscious, the instincts), the ego (the conscious mind), and the superego (parental lessons and prohibitions). ” “The ego, or the self,” Michael Zeitlin explains,“is surrounded by powerful and unruly unconscious forces, or the id,” while it tries to honor the “demands and prohibitions of the superego, or the conscience. ”
   In 1899 Freud published his key work, The Interpretation of Dreams. In it Freud elaborated his theory that dreams are “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious. ” In essence, Freud argued that dreams, when properly decoded, opened a window on a person’s unconscious mind. “Freud placed into focus,” Zeitlin maintains, “the never-ending flow of unconscious fantasy into the everyday mental and social experience of the subject. ”
   This view of the unconscious was disturbing, fraught with forbidden desires, the Oedipus complex (a child’s conflicting love for his or her parents), and guilt complexes. Freud constantly revised the book throughout the balance of his career and defended the analysis of dreams as “the securest foundation of psychoanalysis. ” He wrote to Carl Jung that, “with The Interpretation of Dreams I have completed my life work. ” One of Freud’s last major works was Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). In 1938, in the wake of the Anschluss, the the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, Freud moved to London, where he died of cancer the following year.
   Freud’s explorations have helped define the way we study human behavior by enlarging our sense of the psyche’s life; no one has illuminated the human condition more than Sigmund Freud. Furthermore, Louis Breger, in his study of Freud, praises Freud’s huge contribution to human self-understanding, from his theories about dreams to his ideas about the emotional conflicts endemic to childhood. Psychoanalysis, contends Breger, still stands as a fascinating blend of psychology and literature. For example, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex he discovered the paradigm for the child’s conflicting love for his parents, whereby the child’s deep attachment to his mother causes in him a jealous resentment of his father; Freud called this phenomenon the Oedipus complex, which is the lynchpin of Freudian doctrine.
   A brief sketch of Freud’s influence on fiction and film is in order before considering the resonances of Freudian theory in STANLEY KUBRICK’s films. The relationship of Freudian psychology to literature has always been significant. In fact, Freud’s theories have been applied to the works of D. H. Lawrence and other major novelists. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913), an autobiographical tale of the obsessive love between a mother and a son, vividly illustrates the Oedipus complex. In addition, ARTHUR SCHNITZLER, a Viennese physician and writer and a contemporary of Freud, interested himself in psychiatry; his depiction of the role that dreams play in people’s lives in his fiction and plays shows his familiarity with Freudian theory. Indeed, he explored human psychology in novels like Traumnovelle (1926), which examine the complexities of the erotic life, often focusing on the corruption and deception of men and women in the grip of lust. Kubrick filmed Traumnovelle as EYES WIDE SHUT (1999).
   For his part, Freud refused to have anything to do with cinema, since he apparently thought that the film medium, which was still young during his lifetime, was not an art form to be taken seriously. As a matter of fact, he declined to cooperate with the German filmmaker G. W. Pabst in the making of Secrets of a Soul (1926), a film about a hallucinating chemist who attempts to cut his wife’s throat. The movie’s dream sequences were something of a lesson in elementary psychology—but too elementary for Freud to be involved with.
   Still, Freudian themes cropped up in films as well as fiction. After all, dream sequences provide a shorthand method by which the filmmaker can project the subjective view of reality which the characters nurture for themselves. Indeed, by the 1940s, Freud’s titillating grab bag of theories about sex and dreams, and the dramatic case histories he utilized to exemplify them, gradually captured the public’s imagination on both sides of the Atlantic.
   Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) turned out to be the first in a series of films employing Freudian psychology to “explain” their characters’ actions. Spellbound is the story of psychiatrist Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), who must decide whether or not John Ballantine (Gregory Peck) is an amnesiac who is guilty of a murder that he cannot recall committing. The film’s most crucial scene is a heavily Freudian dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist painter.
   Hitchcock commissioned Dali to conceive the fantasy sequence because he wanted to have it photographed in the vivid way that Dali painted. Traditionally, Hitchcock explained, dream sequences in films had always been enveloped in swirling smoke and filmed slightly out of focus to make them look misty and blurry. But dreams, he continued, are not like that at all; they are very vivid. In fact, it has been said that Dali was closer to cinema than any other artist of his day, in part because he was obsessed by the power of cinema to make dreams immediate. Accordingly, the dream sequences that Dali devised for Spellbound display a visually clear-cut definition; and Kubrick followed suit in creating the fantasy sequence in Eyes Wide Shut, as we shall shortly see.
   One of Kubrick’s most obviously Freudian scenes occurs in KILLER’S KISS (1955), a scene that is permeated with Freud’s concept of the guilt complex. Davy, the hero ( Jamie Smith) wanders around the small apartment of Gloria, the heroine (IRENE KANE), a girl he has only recently met. Noticing some family photographs, he inquires about the people in the photos. One is of her sister Iris (RUTH SOBOTKA), who is wearing a ballet costume.
   As Gloria recalls her, we have an image of the girl dancing alone on a dark stage, illuminated by a spotlight. Gloria’s mother had died when she was born and her older sister Iris grew up to be the image of their dead mother. As a result, their father, Mr. Price, favored Iris over Gloria. When Iris was 20, she gave up her promising dance career to marry an older man who agreed to support his bride’s ailing father and younger sister in the bargain. Mr. Price died after a prolonged illness and Gloria hysterically berated Iris for making them all miserable. Iris then went to her room, turned on a recording of one of her favorite ballets, left Gloria a note asking forgiveness for meddling in other people’s lives, and slashed her wrists. As the vision of Iris pirouetting on the lonely stage fades slowly away, Gloria concludes her monologue by saying that she took her job at Pleasureland, the tawdry dance hall where she works as a hostess, partially as a penance for her ingratitude to her dead sister. “I told myself,” she concludes,“that at least Iris never had to dance in a place like that, a human zoo. And then I felt less unhappy. ”
   NORMAN KAGAN comments in his book on Kubrick that Gloria’s story, “besides being cookbook Freud, has little to do with the rest of the film. ” On the contrary, this flashback sheds light on Gloria’s character as surely as the stage spotlight illumines Iris. Through Gloria’s memories we learn how a basically decent girl like her wound up working at a shabby dance hall like Pleasureland, and why she continues to work there: out of a vague sense of expiation to her dead sister. Kubrick, who had read Freud’s General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by this time, knew better than to suggest that past traumas can easily be eradicated; consequently, Gloria continues to be burdened with a sense of neurotic guilt about her sister’s death. Kubrick had read Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” when he was preparing to make THE SHINING (1980). Kubrick expert Dennis Bingham points out that, for Freud, the uncanny is the revelation of an eerie, frightening element in an otherwise ordinary situation. For Freud it is “something which ought to have remained hidden but which is brought to light. ”The hidden brought to light is a recurring theme in ghost stories and hence turns up in The Shining. In the film Jack Torrance (JACK NICHOLSON), his wife Wendy (SHELLEY DUVALL), and their son Danny (DANNY LLOYD) are living in a summer resort hotel, now closed for the winter, where Jack is caretaker. As in the novel by STEPHEN KING on which the film is based, the uncanny intrudes into their seemingly routine situation. Jack, apparently under the influence of the ghosts which haunt the hotel, gradually descends into madness and threatens the lives of his wife and son. An Oedipal struggle erupts between Jack and Danny, as the boy takes refuge in his mother as a source of safety from his deranged father. Mother and son join forces to escape from the monstrous father, who is bent on committing mayhem. Novelist-screenwriter DIANE JOHNSON, who collaborated with Kubrick on the screenplay for The Shining, told the New York Times that the director was drawn to the novel because of its “psychological underpinnings. A father threatening a son is compelling. ” In fact, she adds, the horror in the film does not reside in the ghosts, but in the Oedipal tensions within the family.
   Bingham confirms Kubrick’s use of the Freudian Oedipus complex in the movie, citing film scholar William Paul:“There is an almost naked Oedipal pattern in Kubrick’s film: the father is killed, and the child goes off with the mother. ” Both Bingham and Paul see The Shining as a recasting of Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, in that in Freud’s scenario, the father does not really wish physical harm on the son, as the boy fears. But in The Shining the father is in fact murderous, and therefore the father-son conflict is resolved only when the father is actually destroyed. To that extent, Bingham concludes, “in Kubrick’s film childlike fantasy exceeds the Freudian Oedipus complex. ”
   When Kubrick was a young filmmaker, he not only discovered the writings of Sigmund Freud, but also came across, in his wide reading, the novels and plays of Arthur Schnitzler, a Viennese physician and friend of Freud’s. In 1968 Kubrick began to consider filming Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story). The filmmaker’s widow, CHRISTIANE KUBRICK, remembers him asking her to read the book at that time, but she was not impressed by it because she was “allergic to psychiatric conversations. ” Asked to explain her remark, she told Nick James that she was familiar with Schnitzler’s work when she was growing up in Germany, and she was aware of Schnitzler’s reliance on Freudian psychology. In the 1950s, she continued, there was a reaction in Europe, which she shared, against the American preoccupation with psychoanalysis:“When I came to America with Stanley, I was astonished that so many people were in analysis,” and spoke so freely about their most intimate personal problems—something that Europeans seldom do. So, with this negative attitude toward the way that, in her view, Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming a mere fad in America, she felt that Schnitzler’s work was not worth filming. As she told her husband, after finishing Dream Story, “It was dull Viennese stuff. Forget it. ” Nevertheless, Kubrick remained interested in the novella and finally got around to filming it a quarter of a century after first discussing it with Christiane. As a matter of fact, Schnitzler had been inspired to write Dream Story by his conversations with Freud about the significance of dreams in understanding an individual’s psychic life. Indeed, Freud was at times astonished at the way that Schnitzler’s psychological insights matched his own. James Howard, in his book on the director, cites Kubrick as saying that Schnitzler’s work “was psychologically brilliant and greatly admired by Freud. ” Kubrick goes on to explain that he was fascinated by Dream Story because it explores sexual conflicts in marriage “and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and ‘might-have-been’ reality. ”
   In Eyes Wide Shut, as in Dream Story, Alice Harford (NICOLE KIDMAN), taunts her husband, Bill (TOM CRUISE), a physician, with the tale of a brief encounter she had at a seaside resort the previous summer, where she cast a lascivious eye on a naval officer. Nothing came of it. But, she adds, in lines nearly identical in book and film: “Had he called me—I thought—I could not have resisted him. . . . If he had wanted me for only one night, I was ready to give up everything for him. ” Bill stalks out of the apartment in a fit of jealousy. Throughout the ensuing night, while he is wandering around contemporary New York City (which Kubrick substituted for Schnitzler’s 19th-century Vienna) he is haunted by powerfully erotic fantasies of his wife making love to the naval officer.
   Like the dream sequence in Spellbound, Bill’s fantasies of his wife making passionate love to the officer are visualized clearly; they are not murky and blurry as dream sequences in films often are. Kubrick, like Hitchcock, believed that dreams are quite vivid to the dreamer and should be depicted accordingly on film. In the course of Bill’s nocturnal journey, he has several opportunities to exact revenge on his wife by engaging in sex with a variety of provocative strangers. He ultimately invades a grotesque costume ball on a wealthy estate, where the masked orgiasts disport themselves with great abandon. But for various reasons Bill does not indulge in a sexual escapade with any of the potential partners he encounters, both before and during the saturnalia. He eventually returns to his wife and makes a clean breast of his wayward activities during his night on the town.
   Summarizing the Freudian implications of Eyes Wide Shut, Janet Maslin calls the picture “Kubrick’s posthumous dream work, a voyage into sexual mistrust and the uneasy balance” between the id (instinct) and the superego (propriety). The picture is a nightmare concocted by a director “who never lost Freud, Sigmund n 123 his fascination with the dissolution of man’s civilized veneer. ”
   As film historian Hans Feldman contends, Freud maintained in Civilization and Its Discontents that civilization progresses as it develops forms and institutions to control the spontaneous expression of the id’s primal, instinctual urges. Kubrick shows in his films that the converse is also true: a civilization in decline would be marked by the increasing ineffectuality of those forms to control the expression of the id. ” The debauchery in Eyes Wide Shut, epitomized by the orgy scene, exemplify the broad-ranging jabs at the modern world that punctuate the film. They further demonstrate that in his last film, like all those that preceded it, Stanley Kubrick was still intent-like Sigmund Freud before him—in taking the temperature of a sick society.
   References
   ■ Bingham, Dennis,“A Reception History of The Shining,” in Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick, ed. Mario Falsetto (New York:G. K. Hall, 1996). pp. 284–306;
   ■ Breger, Louis, Freud; Darkness in the Midst of Vision (New York: John Wiley, 2000);
   ■ Feldman, Hans, “Kubrick and His Discontents,” in Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick ed. Mario Falsetto (New York: G. K. Hall, 1996), pp. 191–200;
   ■ Harmetz, Aljean,“Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson, and The Shining,” New York Times, May 20, 1977, sec. 2, p. 11;
   ■ Howard, James, Stanley Kubrick Companion (London: Batsford, 1999), pp. 175–184, “The Interpretation of Dreams: Freud Unlocks the Unconscious,” in Our Times: The History of the Twentieth Century, ed. Lorraine Glennon and John Garraty (Atlanta: Turner, 1995), p. 12;
   ■ James, Nick, “At Home with the Kubricks,” Sight and Sound 9 (September 1999): 12–18;
   ■ Kagan, Norman, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick, rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 1989), pp. 21–31;
   ■ Maslin, Janet, “Ten Best Films of 1999,” New York Times, December 26, 1999, sec. 2, p. 10;
   ■ Phillips, Gene D. , Alfred Hitchcock (Boston: Twayne, 1984), pp. 116–19;
   ■ Rorty, Richard, “Freud KO’s Plato,” New York Times Book Review, October 22, 2000, p. 14;
   ■ Thomas, D. M. , “Freudianism Arrives,” in Our Times (Atlanta: Turner, 1995), pp. 6–10;
   ■ Zeitlin, Michael, “Sigmund Freud,” in A William Faulkner Encyclopedia, ed. Robert W. Hamblin and Charles A. Peek (Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1999), pp. 141–144.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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