Academic journal article PSYART

The Lady in the Van and the Challenge to Psycho; on the Political Uses of Psychoanalytic Imagery in Film

Academic journal article PSYART

The Lady in the Van and the Challenge to Psycho; on the Political Uses of Psychoanalytic Imagery in Film

Article excerpt

There are many curious, subtle, yet also striking similarities between the seemingly disparate films Psycho (1960) and The Lady in the Van (2015). Even though the two films, released fifty-five years apart, are quite different in terms of genre and style, the more recent film borrows many images and tropes from the earlier film that invite comparison. This paper will explore the potential of The Lady in the Van for exposing and critiquing the ideological gestures of Psycho. What will emerge is a rich critique of the way that psychoanalytic imagery can be used to promote oppressive and persecuting notions of 'normal psychological development' that privilege conservative conceptions of heterosexual male dominance.

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Nicholas Hytner's film adaptation of Alan Bennett's memoir and play, The Lady in the Van, while prima facie appearing to be incomparable, share a variety of similar features. Firstly, both films' action takes place around a space of accommodation beside a three level house. Furthermore the accommodation is used by a female fugitive. In Psycho Norman Bates' three-level house sits perched above the motel. In The Lady in the Van, the action takes place around Alan Bennett's three-level house in Camden Town where his driveway operates as a place of refuge for the homeless Miss Shepherd.

Secondly, both films begin as a story about a female character on the run from the law before completely shifting to focus to concentrate on a male character's psychological problems. Thirdly, in both films the male lead character is dealing with issues to do the mortality of their mother. Also the mother figure in both films watches over the sexual behaviour of the male lead. Fourthly, both Norman Bates and Alan Bennett are presented as divided selves. Norman Bates takes on the personality of his dead mother, and Bennett is presented as two selves who talk to each other, the writer-who-lives and the writer-who-writes. (Actually, there is a third Alan Bennett, the real Bennett who appears in a Hitchcock-esque cameo at the end of the film). In both films the split personalities are resolved in the final moments. In Psycho, Bates and his mother become inseparable as Bates appropriates her persona entirely. In the more positive resolution of The Lady in the Van, Bennett is shown as no longer divided as if he has worked through his problems. What is important about this difference is that both Bates's decent into psychosis, and Bennett's ascent to authenticity are a result of their respective relationships to strong autonomous women. The Lady in the Van mimics the psychological framework whilst simultaneously inverting the invited reading of that imagery. To demonstrate the deconstructive potential of The Lady in the Van it is important to first establish the connection between the psychoanalytic framework of both films. Once this has been established the significant cultural relevancy of that deconstruction can emerge. The most useful way of linking the two films is through analysing the psychoanalytic imagery of the three-level house in each film.

In The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, Slavoj Zizek claims that the three levels of Norman Bates' house are analogous to the three level mind of Freudian Psychoanalysis - the same can be said of The Lady in the Van. Zizek describes the middle level of the house, the main living area, as Bates' ego. For Freud, the ego is the coherent organization of mental processes and these processes are what give rise to consciousness (Freud 443). The upper level represents his superego. The superego is the result of the Oedipus complex, where the infant internalises simultaneous feelings of love and anger towards the father figure, who is a source of love and also an obstruction to the enjoyment of the mother figure. The result of this ambivalence is the internalisation of a sense of guilt. The unconscious drives of the id are from then on presented to the ego through the superego. …

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