Of Male Friendships and Spirals in the Lion King, Vertigo and the American Pie Saga

By Démont, Marc | Gender Forum, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Of Male Friendships and Spirals in the Lion King, Vertigo and the American Pie Saga


Démont, Marc, Gender Forum


1 In a heavy Oedipal reading of The Lion King L. Dundes & A. Dundes argue that "it is precisely this basic Oedipal plot that accounts for the remarkable popularity of The Lion King" (483). Without denying the importance of previous readings focused on race, ethnicity or gender, the authors conclude that "critics who limit their analysis to such issues, in our opinion, are mistakenly overlooking the importance of this modern rendering of a classical Oedipal story" (484). Even if L. Dundes & A. Dundes generously expose Hollywood and Disney's producers' ready-made recipe for popular success, the familialism promoted by this oedipal reading also tends to ignore other psychosocial dynamics.

2 In my opinion one approach to the movie has been particularly ignored. Interestingly enough The Lion King (Roger Allers) released in America in June 1994 is, in terms of release date, caught between different movies released the very same month and soaked in testosterone: the revengeful The Cowboy Way (Brian Grazer), the Shakespeare-in-the-army Renaissance Man (Penny Marshall), the boosted Speed (Jan De Bont), the oedipal Getting Even With Dad (Howard Deutch), the furry and musky Wolf (Mike Nichols) and the gunfight-at-the-O.K.-Corral-ish Wyatt Earp (Lawrence Kasdan). Even if read as an accidental calendar effect, it shows without a doubt that masculinity as a theme has saturated the movie production of this period. The variety of male bonds pictured in these movies makes the theme of male friendships particularly obvious and popular. If Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986) and Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner, 1987) were arguably the archetypal productions of the buddy movie of the 80's depicting the fortunes and misfortunes of hegemonic masculinities, the buddy movies of the 90's such as The Shawshank Redemption (1994) exposed a masculinity that required sensitive relations between men.

3 I will argue that even if the themes of friendship and masculinity have been mentioned in passing, most analyses of The Lion King have fail to systematize these insights, especially in relation with gender and sexuality. Borrowing Michel Foucault's skilful expression, I will show that a "Friendship as a Way of Life" is represented in this movie not in opposition to an oedipal reading, but as the negative of an oedipal narrative marked by the seal of reproduction. Therefore the success of the movie, to use Dundes' expression, cannot be separated from what the movie accounts for, clearly the superiority of a patriarchal and familialist Circle of Life, but also from what the movie stands against, that is to say, non-reproductive modes of relations and organizations. More precisely, I will argue that the real originality of the movie is not due to the reproduction of an umpteenth version of a somewhat dubious Freudian reading of the oedipal complex, but to the fact that the threat depicted in the movie is not a Freudian regression or a Lacanian foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father, but the threat of male homosocial bonds. In the first part of the essay, it will be established that, if in the Lion King and as we will see also in American Pie, male friendships can sometimes become a threat to the patriarchal organization, it is due to their particular temporality, defined here as the timeless jouissance of friendship, which jeopardizes the temporality of the Circle of Life. In a second part, I will suggest a graphic model of the straight time (patriarchal and familialist) through the figure of the spiral. It will suggest that the spiral model of time allows different (patriarchal) temporalities and their relations to particular narratives to be regrouped within a single model. Finally, in a last part I will apply this figure of the spiral to Hitchcock's Vertigo.

4 In his successful and somewhat polemical No Future (2004) Lee Edelman forges the sharp-edged word sinthomosexuality in reference to Lacan's sinthome and to homosexuality. In his lacanian anthropology, Lee Edelman stresses the different literary and cinematographic avatars of the sinthomosexual[1] who embodies the forces that threaten the symbolic order constructed for and by futurity, the family and their metonymical figure, the Child. …

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