Tales of Transference:A Study of Psychoanalytic Thought in the Films of Woody Allen

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1 English Irene Fowlkes Tales of Transference:A Study of Psychoanalytic Thought in the Films of Woody Allen Essay

2

3 Tales of Transference: A Study of Psychoanalytic Thought in the Films of Woody Allen by Irene Fowlkes

4 2 I was in analysis with a strict Freudian if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss (Alvy, in Annie Hall) A great deal of allure of contemporary American filmmaker Woody Allen s art is attributed to the popular doctrine of psychoanalysis. The generally acknowledged founder of the movement is among the director s main figures of inspiration. Adopting the notion, that there is overlap of autobiographical events with imaginary occurrences in many of Allen s movie plots, a playful and deliberate oscillation and slippage between his [Woody Allen s] existential director persona and his fictional actor persona 1, the character Mickey s contemplation Freud - another great pessimist; I was in analysis for years, nothing happened in the 1986 picture Hannah and her Sisters 2 illustrates in essence the philosophical world view Allen projects from his own experience through a psychoanalytical lens onto the screen, as it alludes to the basic Freudian premise of Thanatos, which radically interpreted renders life meaningless. Beginning with his early films, Allen stages this death force principle as a central idea, whether in terms of the theme in Sleeper 3, where the protagonist is frozen by a team of scientists in an experiment aimed at defying human decay or in regards to the main character s major fear as a source of anxiety since childhood, as it is hyperbolically depicted in Love and Death 4. A survey of the comedian s cinematography then reveals a preoccupation with the psychoanalytic theme over the course of his entire thirty year artistic output, in the context of which its various conceptual and methodological elements are debated. They are intertwined with narrative structure, character development and formation of dialogue, technical aspects as well as the nature of comedy versus tragedy as implicit in the question of the general purpose of art. Freud, Oedipus, incest, anxiety and depression, neurosis and psychosis, guilt and shame, paranoia and narcissistic wounds, therapy sessions, analysis terminable/indeterminable, the logic of case studies, Witz, Freud s mind model and his writing: all these elements appear as 1 Alain J.- J. Cohen, in Woody Allen and Freud, in Celluloid Couches, Cinematic Clients Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in the Movies (Albany: State University of New York Press 2004), p.128 Further references to this excerpt are given after 2 Hannah and her Sisters. Dir. Woody Allen. United Artists Further references to this film are given after 3 Sleeper.Dir. Woody Allen. 20 th cent. Fox further references to this film are given after 4 Love and Death. Dir. Woody Allen. United Artists Further references to this film are given after

5 3 Allen s natural ether and everyday discourse. They make manifest the lifelong dialogue that Woody Allen, as a filmmaker, has systematically entertained with the world of psychoanalysis. (Cohen, p. 128) The following is thus an attempt to interpret selected scenes from the Allen movie collection, whereby special emphasis is given to Annie Hall 5, Manhattan 6, Husbands & Wives 7, Zelig 8 and Hannah and her Sisters (Allen,1986), as these films arguably lend themselves especially well to an examination of the representation of psychoanalysis. Mentioned briefly in the context of the introduction, unresolved childhood trauma is a basic recurrent motive. Examples are Lee s alcoholism in Hannah and her Sisters (Allen,1986), Leonard s pathological need to be liked in a late compensatory attempt to please his abusive parents in Zelig (Allen, 1983), and Gabe s attraction to women who are great but nuts due to some childhood guilt as Jack puts it in Husbands & Wives (Allen,1992). It s the main reason for the characters continuous undergoing of therapeutic intervention in the narratives, as that phase in life provides the key to the unconscious, which explains people s behaviour and transference issues in their relationships. Analogously to clinical sessions, which aim to link the past and present by allowing the patient s free flow of associations, Allen uses a variety of filmic forms and methods to deconstruct chronological sequencing of events and traditional modes of conveying thoughts and memory in order to illuminate the character s unconscious. The planetarium scene in Manhattan (Allen, 1979), where the character s shadows are projected onto a wall, invoking Plato s cave allegory, when Ike s double tells Mary s double that nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind; everything valuable has to enter you through a different opening, if you forgive the disgusting imagery (Ike, in Manhattan, 1979) is a brilliant and comprehensive illustration of the concept. In Hannah and her Sisters (Allen, 1986) voice - over serves as a device for the indirect expression of Holly s feelings of rejection by a man, whom she likes while sitting in the back of a yellow cab, sensitively letting the audience in on her sense of despair. Rather rarely 5 Annie Hall. Dir. Woody Allen. United Artists Further references to this film are given after 6 Manhattan. Dir. Woody Allen. United Artists Further references to this film are given after 7 Husbands and Wives. Dir. Woody Allen. United Artists Further references to this film are given after 8 Zelig. Dir. Woody Allen. United Artists Further references to this film are given after

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