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The Mind Screen

Identification Desire and Its Cinematic Arena

Georg Schmid

For well over a century cinema has exerted enormous influence, yet many questions regarding its fascination remain unanswered. Films work so well because the viewers tend to unconsciously identify with the actors/actresses. The desire to become another, substituting identity by identification, can be traced to the illusion that the filmic heroes/heroines are immortal – identifying with them raises the possibility of gaining «deathlessness.» Viewers can, without real life risks, experiment with the existential drafts presented; the power of imagination is mobilized. Based on a multidisciplinary approach (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, plus a healthy dose of film history), this book presents prolegomena of a philosophy of cinema.
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2 The Real Groucho

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According to Alice, the mirror’s surface is not something impenetrable. It is a kind of a membrane. In a way a door, making it is easy enough to step through to the other side. You can be mistaken about the mirror image, however. Even an ordinary window pane can present your likeness, it just depends on the lighting conditions. There are, in principle, residual (and reasonable) doubts: is, what I see on the other side of the glass, myself, mirror-inverted, or someone else altogether? In practice, to be sure, there is hardly any uneasiness about that. It still serves well to remember the mirror stage: regardless of whether the theory holds up, it is valuable as a starting point for reflections about the “I” and its imaginable “counter-Is” and doppelgängers.

In the Marx Brothers’ legendary Duck Soup (1933) the mirror–when Groucho already in some doubt, supposes to simply regard himself–is missing. Harpo, in order to delude Groucho, matches his moves, including the most absurd and over-elaborated ones. One of the most hilarious sequences ever shot, it only comes to an end when Chico, also disguised as Firefly (the “original” person) enters the frame, colliding with both Fireflys already on scene. Groucho’s doubts about this likeness–whether it is that or something, someone else–can easily be interpreted as uncertainty in regard to one’s own identity. (Let us nonetheless note in passing that all such analyses must not detract us from the enormously amusing...

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