Psychoanalysis and the Philosophy of Film

  • Nickolas Pappas


Psychoanalytic treatments of film encounter difficulties resembling those that Plato faced when he criticized tragedy: uncertainty over which persons are the objects of theoretical scrutiny; the call for the theorist’s anhedonia; and confusion between unperceived cognitive processes and those that are unconscious because disavowed. The uncertainty over objects lets us sort psychoanalyses of film according to whether they assess a film’s maker, its characters, the work, or its audience. Each approach shows promise but also comes with problems. Each approach also implies a stance on the refusal of pleasure. And the nature of the unconscious is always at stake. This survey of the field is sympathetic to the general enterprise but comments on the main objections that have arisen.


Psychoanalysis Pathography Freud Lacan Apparatus Mulvey 


  1. Baudry, Jean-Louis. 1974–1975. Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus. Trans. Alan Williams. Film Quarterly 28: 39–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Carroll, Noël. 1988. Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. ———. 2013. Psychoanalysis and the Horror Film. In Minerva’s Night Out: Philosophy, Pop Culture, and Moving Pictures, 145–157. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cavell, Stanley. 1981. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 1984. On Makavejev on Bergman. In Themes Out of School: Effects and Causes, 106–140. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 1987. Psychoanalysis and Cinema: The Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. In Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis, and Cinema, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 11–43. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 1997. Contesting Tears: The Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  8. ———. 2005. The Image of the Psychoanalyst in Film [2000]. In Cavell on Film, ed. William Rothman, 295–304. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  9. Copjec, Joan. 1982. The Anxiety of the Influencing Machine. October 23: 43–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Creed, Barbara. 1998. Film and Psychoanalysis. In The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, ed. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson, 77–90. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dayan, Daniel. 1974. The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema. Film Quarterly 28: 22–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Felman, Shoshana. 1988. On Reading Poetry: Reflections on the Limits and Possibilities of Psychoanalytic Approaches. In The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida, and Psychoanalytic Reading, ed. John P. Muller and William J. Richardson, 133–156. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  13. Freud, Sigmund, James Strachey, Anna Freud, and Angela Richards. 1966. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  14. Gabbard, Glen O., ed. 2001. Psychoanalysis and Film. London/New York: Karnac Books.Google Scholar
  15. Gabbard, Krin, and Glen O. Gabbard. 1987. Psychiatry and the Cinema. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gould, Timothy. 1987. Stanley Cavell and the Plight of the Ordinary. In Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis, and Cinema, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 109–136. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Greenberg, H.R. 1993. Screen Memories: Hollywood Cinema on the Psychoanalytic Couch. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hayman, Ronald. 1981. Kafka and the Mice. Partisan Review 48: 355–365.Google Scholar
  19. Jones, Ernest. 1910. The Oedipus-Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet’s Mystery: A Study in Motive. The American Journal of Psychology 21: 72–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaplan, E. Ann. 1990. From Plato’s Cave to Freud’s Screen. In Psychoanalysis and Cinema, ed. E. Ann Kaplan, 1–23. New York/London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Lacan, Jacques. 1973. Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ [1966]. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Yale French Studies 48: 39–72.Google Scholar
  22. McGowan, Todd. 2007. The Real Gaze: Film Theory After Lacan. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  23. Metz, Christian. 1977. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Mulvey, Laura. 1975. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen 16: 6–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ———. 1981. Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ Inspired by King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun (1946). Framework 15–16–17: 12–25.Google Scholar
  26. Palombo, Stanley R. 1987. Hitchcock’s Vertigo: The Dream Function in Film. In Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis, and Cinema, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 44–63. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Robinson, David J. 2003. Reel Psychiatry: Movie Portrayals of Psychiatric Conditions. Port Huron: Rapid Psychler Press.Google Scholar
  28. Rodowick, David N. 1982. The Difficulty of Difference. Wide Angle 5: 4–15.Google Scholar
  29. Rose, Jacqueline. 1980. The Cinematic Apparatus: Problems in Current Theory. In The Cinematic Apparatus, ed. Stephen Heath and Teresa de Lauretis, 172–186. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  30. Rothman, William. 1975. Against ‘The System of the Suture’. Film Quarterly 29: 45–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Samuels, Laurel. 1985. Female Psychotherapists as Portrayed in Film, Fiction and Nonfiction. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis 13: 367–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Singer, Ben. 1988. Film, Photography, and Fetish: The Analyses of Christian Metz. Cinema Journal 27: 4–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Thornham, Sue. 1997. Passionate Detachments: An Introduction to Feminist Film Theory. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  34. Žižek, Slavoj. 1991. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nickolas Pappas
    • 1
  1. 1.The Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations