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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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13 Who’d You Actually Identify With?

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Pending if not a definition, a discussion of identification–what it really means to slip into somebody else’s shoes–can suitably proceed by referring to a couple of films that approach our enigma from a somewhat different perspective. Think of the films that expressly depict creative processes, and accept, at least provisionally, that identifying oneself (whatever its true meaning might turn out to be) is a kind of creative process, too. I hasten to interject that we’ll continue sparing no efforts to be as precise in choosing our words as possible: by saying “what it really means” I exactly intend to refer to reality which, for the time being, should simply be considered as what exists outside the cinematic universe. Roughly the same solicitude should be kept in mind with words such as “true:” there is no intention of discussing, in strict philosophical terms, “what is true” or “truth,” at least not yet. So, generally it refers to “correct” or “tenable.”

Another lateral remark seems, in parenthesis, called for. It will not have escaped the attention of careful readers that I tend to use the words/concepts cinema, film, movies virtually in an interchangeable fashion. This is not imprecision but is intended to express that in my view there is no higher venerability to art house films or silent movies or the origins of the cinema than to what is going on today in mainstream cinema, in some respects the boundaries are becoming more fluid anyway (just...

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