Trauma and Narration in David Cronenberg's Spider

By Liebrand, Claudia | PSYART, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Trauma and Narration in David Cronenberg's Spider


Liebrand, Claudia, PSYART


abstract

Trauma points to the Real, to that which - for instance, in the shape of an overwhelming situation capable of flooding its victim with pain and panic - fractures the integrity of reason and of the psychic shell. It quite literally wounds the order of the Symbolic. This wounding of the Symbolic, however, is productive, insofar as it leads to repeatedly generating narratives and representations which try to make this that withstands the possibility of full representation disappear. However, the screen memories fail to achieve this, they always remain false memories. Trauma, then, through which the 'real' breaches into the net of the symbolic, also functions as a machine unceasingly at work to produce fictions. The real, which promises a way out of the forest of fictions, leads - in a remarkably ironic turn - into an even more dense forest of fictions. That will be shown with regards to Cronenberg's SPIDER (2002).

Claudia Liebrand: Trauma and Narration in David Cronenberg's Spider

Trauma, so the theory goes, points to the Real, to that which - for instance, in the shape of an overwhelming situation flooding its victim with pain and panic - fractures the integrity of reason and the psychic shell. It quite literally wounds the order of the Symbolic. This wounding of the Symbolic, however, is a productive one, in as much as it leads to constantly generating narratives and representations which attempt to make this that withstands the possibility of complete representation disappear. But the screen memories, ultimately, fail to achieve this, they always remain false memories. Trauma, then, is that through which the breeches into the matrix of the symbolic, but also that which functions as a machine unceasingly at work to produce fictions. The Real with its implicit promise of a way out of the forest of fictions leads - in a rather remarkably ironic turn - into an even more dense forest of fictions. In the following, I will shed some light on this phenomenon with regards to David Cronenberg's dark psychological study Spider, an English-Canadian film released in 2002.

The narrative of the film follows the attempts of Dennis Cleg, a middle-aged man recently released from a psychiatric hospital, to piece together the puzzle that has become his life. At the beginning of the film, we see a train entering a railway station in a shot which references one of the most famous examples of early cinema: the single-shot-production L'Arrivé d'un train en gare de la Ciotat (English title: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat)[1] by the famous Lumière brothers Auguste and Louis from the year 1896. The single shot depicts for the duration of fifty seconds the arrival of a locomotive at a train station, focusing on the passengers leaving the train. Legend has it, that the first audience to see this early silent film was so alien to the concept of the new film medium that it felt threatened by the moving images of an oncoming train and took flight to safety. More recent scholarly work, however, has shown that this story, which is used to illustrate the traumatic potential of the cinema and its moving images, belongs to the realm of fairy tales.[2]

In Cronenberg's Spider, the protagonist is shown leaving the train in a confused, unbearably slow, almost catatonic and bent-forward manner, nearly overcome by the situation. Later on, the protagonist is seen on his way to the halfway house he had been assigned to, a refuge for released mental patients somewhere between assisted living and an open prison. The establishment, which houses several men, most of whom are older gentlemen, is governed by Mrs. Wilkinson, a determined, not unfriendly older lady, who has an attentive eye on her »guests«. The halfway house is located in a bleak working-class neighborhood - the same one Cleg grew up in. On his walks through the area the protagonist seeks out the places which meant something to him during his childhood - for example, the house of his parents and the shed in the allotment garden.

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