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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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Cinema is an antidote against death. Heroes and heroines die in a film; in another one, some time later, there they are again. At least it is a resurrection, kind of. And even if the real actors and actresses who played in some specific movie are actually dead, their performance is never over: there can be reprises at the theatre or the multiplex, or you can reinsert a DVD or some stick (or whatever), and by doing so you recall them to life.

Obviously that’s an illusion–it is a matter of having a false (if comprehensible) idea: namely, of immortality. There is a fitting façon de parler: that some artist is “immortal.” A metaphor, no doubt. Metaphors often express deep-seated desires (normally rather well concealed in our unconscious). This type of immortality is not something religious about “raising someone from the death.” It is, on the contrary, very much about life, about living, the wish to remain alive.

The moving pictures move us (in the sense of “to affect with emotion”): they are emotive pictures. In the course of this book a large number of problems will be discussed, among them the fact that, parallel to the emotions they expose, films also strongly challenge our intellect. By proposing that everybody wants to escape or circumnavigate death, I prepare the terrain for a number of psychoanalytically motivated questions. (Thanatos, you might say, is a bit disclaimed by the movies.)

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