Lacanian Psychoanalysis Meets Surrealist Cinema Analysis
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis
  2. Core Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
  3. Overview of Surrealist Cinema
  4. Common Themes in Surrealist Cinema
  5. How Lacanian Psychoanalysis Can Be Applied to Surrealist Cinema
  6. Case Study: Un Chien Andalou
  7. Case Study: The Seashell and the Clergyman
  8. Conclusions and Future Directions

Imagine stepping into a world where dreams take shape, and reality bends like a Dali painting. Welcome to the realm of surrealist cinema! Now, imagine tossing in a dash of Lacanian psychoanalysis into this mix. Intriguing, right? This blog post will guide you through the enchanting labyrinth where Lacanian psychoanalysis meets surrealist cinema.

Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis

First things first, let's get familiar with Lacanian psychoanalysis. Created by Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, this theory is not just a new way to understand the mind—it's also a fresh lens to view art, culture, and even film.

So what's unique about Lacanian psychoanalysis? Let's break it down:

  • The Mirror Stage: This is a phase in a child's development when they first recognize themselves in a mirror. Lacan believed this is when we start creating our identity—a mix of how we see ourselves and how we think others see us.
  • The Three Orders: Lacan's theory revolves around three orders or dimensions of human reality: The Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. The Real is the world as it is—raw and unfiltered. The Symbolic is the world of language, norms, and laws. The Imaginary is the world of images and fantasies that shape our desires and fears.
  • Desire: For Lacan, desire is not just about wanting something. It's a lifelong quest to fill a void we feel inside. This desire influences our actions, thoughts, and dreams.

Now that you have a basic understanding of Lacanian psychoanalysis, it's time to see how it intertwines with the dreamy world of surrealist cinema. But before we dive in, let's get a quick overview of the surreal cinema landscape.

Core Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis

Okay, let's dig a little deeper into the realm of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Here, we'll focus on three concepts that offer a solid foundation for understanding this theory: the "Big Other," the "objet petit a," and "jouissance."

  • The "Big Other": This term refers to the societal norms and expectations that influence our behavior. It's the voice in our head that says: "What will people think?" Lacan believed that we're always trying to meet the expectations of this "Big Other," even if it's an impossible task.
  • The "Objet Petit a": This is a fascinating concept. It's the unattainable object of our desire. Lacan believed that we're always chasing this elusive "thing" that we believe will make us complete. But the irony is—we can never really possess it.
  • Jouissance: This French term translates to "enjoyment," but in Lacanian psychoanalysis, it has a deeper meaning. It's a type of pleasure that goes beyond the limits of ordinary satisfaction—a pleasure that is so intense, it borders on pain.

These concepts might seem a bit abstract, but don't worry. They'll start making a lot more sense when we apply them to the world of surrealist cinema. Speaking of which, let's take a quick detour and explore what makes this genre so unique.

Overview of Surrealist Cinema

Now that we've got a grip on Lacanian psychoanalysis, let's dive into the captivating world of surrealist cinema. This is the place where dreams and reality blur, where logic takes a backseat, and where the unusual is the usual.

Surrealist cinema emerged in the early 20th century, hand in hand with the surrealist movement in art and literature. It's a genre that breaks away from traditional storytelling. Instead, it embraces the irrational, the symbolic, and the bizarre. Think melting clocks in a desert landscape, or a hand crawling with ants—yes, it's that kind of weird and wonderful!

What's really interesting is that surrealist films don't just aim to shock or confuse. They encourage us to question our perceptions and challenge our assumptions about reality. It's almost like they're saying: "Hey, why not look at the world from a different angle?"

And this is where Lacanian psychoanalysis comes in. It provides us with the tools to decode the rich symbolism and complex themes in surrealist cinema. But before we dive into that, let's quickly explore some of the common themes that characterize this genre.

Common Themes in Surrealist Cinema

In the enchanting realm of surrealist cinema, certain themes pop up like visitors from a dream. Let's check them out:

  • Dream Logic: Surrealist films run on 'dream logic'. Sequences can be disjointed, with sudden shifts in scene, character, or time. It's like trying to recall a dream upon waking—you remember bits and pieces, but they don't always fit together neatly. This isn't a bug; it's a feature of the genre!
  • Surreal Imagery: This style of cinema is famous for vivid, often unsettling images. A chopped-off hand crawling across the street, a razor slicing an eyeball—these are not your average movie scenes. They're meant to provoke, to disturb, and to mesmerize.
  • Symbolism: If you're watching a surrealist film and you're feeling a bit lost, don't fret. These films are rich in symbolism, often drawing from the subconscious mind. Lacanian psychoanalysis can be a handy tool here, helping you decode the film's deeper meanings.
  • Disruption of Reality: Surrealist films love to twist and distort reality. A man might transform into an insect, or a room might suddenly fill with sand. It's as if the film is asking: "What is reality, really?"

Now, with these themes in mind, let's explore how Lacanian psychoanalysis can help us make sense of surrealist cinema. Are you ready to venture deeper into the rabbit hole?

How Lacanian Psychoanalysis Can Be Applied to Surrealist Cinema

Picture this: you're watching a surrealist film, and suddenly a loaf of bread turns into a fluffy cloud. What's going on? That's where Lacanian psychoanalysis comes in, acting like a decoder ring for the surreal mind-bending cinema.

Lacanian psychoanalysis, named after the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, provides a framework for understanding the human psyche. This framework can also be applied to the chaotic and dreamlike world of surrealist cinema.

Here's how:

  • Symbolic Order: Lacan proposed that our sense of reality is structured by language and symbols. In surrealist cinema, everyday objects often take on strange, symbolic meanings. Lacan's idea of the symbolic order can help us understand why a loaf of bread might transform into a cloud, or why a door might lead to an underwater world.
  • Mirror Stage: According to Lacan, as infants we form our sense of self by identifying with our image in the mirror. This concept of the 'mirror stage' can shed light on scenes where characters confront their mirror images, or where identities are fluid and shifting.
  • Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic: Lacan divided reality into three orders: the Real (what truly exists), the Imaginary (our dreams and fantasies), and the Symbolic (the social world of language and symbols). Surrealist films often blur these boundaries, creating a world where the Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic overlap and intertwine.

By applying Lacanian psychoanalysis to surrealist cinema, we can peel back the layers of the film, revealing deeper meanings and insights. So next time you're watching a surrealist film, remember Jacques Lacan. He might just be your guide through the dreamlike landscape of the surreal.

Case Study: Un Chien Andalou

Let's apply Lacanian psychoanalysis in surrealist cinema through a deep dive into a classic film: Un Chien Andalou. This 1929 silent short film, co-created by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, is a feast of bizarre and dreamlike images.

One of the most memorable scenes involves a razor, an eye, and a cloud passing over the moon. If you've seen it, you know it's not an image you forget in a hurry! But what does it mean? Here's where Lacanian psychoanalysis shines.

  • The Symbolic Order: The razor and the eye are both everyday objects, but in the context of the film, they take on a symbolic meaning. In Lacanian terms, the eye can represent our perception of reality. The act of cutting the eye with a razor could symbolize a violent disruption of that reality.
  • The Mirror Stage: Un Chien Andalou contains many scenes where identities seem fluid and shifting. For example, a character who appears to be a woman suddenly transforms into a man. This could be interpreted as a reflection of Lacan's 'mirror stage', where our sense of self is unstable and subject to change.
  • The Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic: The film constantly blurs the boundaries between what's real and what's imaginary. For instance, ants crawl out of a man's hand, a scene that's both physically impossible (the Real) and a potent symbol of decay (the Symbolic).

So, you see, Un Chien Andalou is more than just a collection of random images. It's a journey into the subconscious, a puzzle to be solved. And Lacanian psychoanalysis, my friends, is one of our most valuable tools in deciphering it.

Case Study: The Seashell and the Clergyman

Now, let's shift our focus to another cornerstone of surrealist cinema where Lacanian psychoanalysis can be aptly applied - "The Seashell and the Clergyman". Directed by Germaine Dulac and written by Antonin Artaud in 1928, this film is a masterclass in surrealism and a perfect case study for our analysis.

The film revolves around a clergyman's obsessive desire for the general's wife. It's filled with strange, dreamlike sequences that seem to defy logic. Yet, when we apply Lacanian psychoanalysis, we start to see patterns and meanings emerge.

  • The Desire and the Other: The clergyman's longing for the general's wife can be seen as Lacan's concept of Desire. Lacan believed our desires are not our own but are derived from the desires of the 'Other'. In this case, the clergyman's desire is a reflection of societal norms and expectations.
  • The Mirror Stage: A key scene in the film shows the clergyman looking into a mirror and seeing a different version of himself. This mirrors Lacan's theory of the 'mirror stage', where the self-image is constantly shifting and evolving.
  • The Imaginary Order: Throughout the film, the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, reflecting Lacan's Imaginary Order. The clergyman's visions of the general's wife, for example, blend seamlessly with the film's reality, leaving us questioning what's real and what's imagined.

Therefore, when we view "The Seashell and the Clergyman" through the lens of Lacanian psychoanalysis, a new layer of understanding unfolds. It's not just about a clergyman's desire, but about how that desire is shaped, manipulated, and ultimately, unfulfilled due to societal constructs. And this, dear reader, is the beauty of employing Lacanian psychoanalysis in surrealist cinema.

Conclusions and Future Directions

Hopefully, by now, you're starting to see the value of using Lacanian psychoanalysis in surrealist cinema. It's a tool that can help us unravel the complex, symbolic narratives of surrealist films - and perhaps even give us a deeper understanding of our own subconscious desires and fears.

Looking at films like "Un Chien Andalou" and "The Seashell and the Clergyman", it's clear that Lacanian psychoanalysis can provide a fresh perspective on their seemingly chaotic and irrational narratives. Using Lacan's concepts of the Mirror Stage, the Imaginary Order, and the Other's desire, we can uncover new layers of meaning and interpretation.

But that's not to say that our exploration ends here. On the contrary, this is just the beginning. There are countless other surrealist films waiting to be discovered and analyzed — each one a unique puzzle box of symbols and metaphors. And who knows? Perhaps you'll be the one to crack the code.

So, where do we go from here? Well, the future holds exciting possibilities. As we continue to delve into the world of surrealist cinema, the insights we gain from Lacanian psychoanalysis can inform not only our understanding of film but also our understanding of the human psyche.

So, whether you're a film buff, a psychology enthusiast, or simply someone who enjoys a good puzzle, there's no denying the intriguing potential of Lacanian psychoanalysis in surrealist cinema. It's a fascinating journey, and I'm glad you're on it with me.

If you're fascinated by the intersection of Lacanian Psychoanalysis and Surrealist Cinema and want to further explore the world of surreal art, don't miss the workshop 'Intro to Surreal Art' by Andrea Orejarena. This workshop will provide a strong foundation in understanding and appreciating surreal art, allowing you to dive deeper into the analysis of surrealist cinema from a fresh perspective.