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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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35 Particularities of Identification


The previous chapter permits some (still tentative) suppositions. One of them says that it matters much less than habitually assumed whether you identify with a fictional person, frequently idealized, or a real one, lending him- or herself for the “investment” of mental energy. This energy is furnished by the one-who-identifies-with but we don’t know whether the mind’s eye is more readily activated by real-life or by fictitious persons/personages.

With figures on screen you can say to yourself: I’d like to be like that (realizing in the recesses of your mind that all that is not quite “realistic”). The mental image of a real-life person (which can be idealized, too) requires more realistic conjuring-up, an active input which is nonetheless normally adduced in an automatic way.

A second assumption follows from our reflections on automation and automatisms. They are much more frequent than one is inclined to admit. Stimulus/response (as a rule remaining unconscious) reigns in human affairs to an extent hardly ever fully appreciated; indeed it seems to be the only way to master life at all as you cannot devote systematic attention to everything you are confronted with. Yet while the respective inevitability serves us well in routine situations, the examples provided by aviation teach us that it is not useful to let mere routine govern everything. Thinking–and acting after having thought a problem through, if with extreme speed in a dangerous situation–must trump reacting and functioning in an automated way...

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