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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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51 What if…


Freud conjectured that individuals affected by mental problems (to put it as guardedly as possible) attempt to convert their lives in a way that makes “their world” not necessarily prettier than they found it previously but at least so that it becomes “habitable” again. He referred to it as Umbau. We have been here before. In its more or less escapist guise, the filmic experience manifests a certain similarity. For one hundred minutes you can, “in dreams,” slip into another’s shoes; you can simulate to be him or her; you can test another personality blueprint. Would that be fitting for me? Could I copy that? What elements, if any, could I make use of–elements found in this or that fiction? What if I were, at least in part, like “him” or “her?”

What if I could slip into this role, taking it over, disappearing in that movie where I’d be a hero/heroine, not without problems, to be sure, but capable of solving them all? Attention though: this would only work perfectly in the fairy-tale movies where heroism is nothing but that and where one can always be sure of a happy end. That may seem very tempting at first, but wouldn’t it, over time, become a little boring? You don’t have to go so far as the films noirs which are given to stage the worse possibilities, variants, outcomes. Even most mainstream films today provide a rather nuanced picture, they do not insist on “eternal...

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