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Movies and Identity


Explanations > Identity > Movies and Identity

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Movies (or films, depending on where you live), provide a splendid place for studying culture and identity, as they encapsulate cultural norms and patterns in a form that can be studied and re-studied in close detail. Movies are a signifying practice that reproduce hegemonic ideological formations.

The movie camera inserts or interpellates the viewer into the subject position in the picture. The person becomes sutured as they identify with positions.

The common shot/reverse shot method shows first the view from the person's position, then reverses the camera in front of them to show the person. The viewer is thus first placed inside the person and then outside. A similar effect is gained by reverse then forward shot.


Movies have also been linked with ideology, for example by Christian Metz, where the movie uses ideological framing.

Movies are structurally closed, in a controlled place where viewers look on and associate with the actors as in the Mirror phase.

Movies can also be structurally reflexive, for example in the way that multiple camera angles and changing perspectives break up the singular viewpoint, and where the spectator is forced to stand back and see not only the content of the movie but also the movie itself.

 From a feminist perspective, Laura Mulvey (1975) described the 'male gaze' in movies, where the camera and hence the viewer is invited to view women in voyeuristic and objectifying terms.

Suture refers to the means by which the subject is 'articulated' with available positions. The subject is thus made to appear at the point of origin of language, although they are actually absent.

In a Lacanian sense, the movie enables a joining of 'I' with the subject, thus creating the jouissance of the lost object, thus gaining a phallic sense of omnipotence where the division of the subject is made good and the subject at last speaks the discourse rather than being spoken by it.

The shot creates an Oedipal and scary experience of otherness where the camera stands in the place of the castrating, Law-bringing father, dragging the viewer into this place. The attendant anxiety drives the person to associate with the reverse shot. The person in the movie stands in for us, saving us from losing or 'disappearing in' (aphanasis) the text. As we are identify this, we are sutured to the text and accept its reality.

Movies such as Psycho (in the famous shower scene) create tension by delaying this suturing. The killer is portrayed as an unseen, violent and absent other. Short shots from odd angles breaks up the sense of wholeness, giving a sense of no place of safety.

See also

Masks, Death and identity, Suture

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