1. Lacan’s theories on psychological identity formation have been a huge contributing
factor in understanding film on the next level. One of Lacan’s more notable theories is called the mirror stage. In the mirror stage, “… the human infant takes in images and transforms them, and some of these images bear greater importance to others, particularly those of other human beings” (Sadler 12). The mirroring stage infants go through in real life, film characters have the capacity to do the same thing. The best example of this being replicated in film is Michel Poiccard in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.
One of the more glaring examples of the mirror stage happens early in the film. Michel looks at the perfect Humphrey Bogart poster and he tries his damnedest to imitate him down to the mannerisms. Michel the frenchmen wants so bad to have a piece of the American dream, to be immersed into the culture like the scenery of this film. Michel’s obsession with Bogart in this scenes implies that he does not feel connected to his own identity. Michel strives to be whole and in his mind, Bogart, in fact, the American persona is the missing piece to his equation. As the film plays out I notice how much Michel really is Bogart in his mind from the cigarette placement to grazing his lip with his thumbnail. Another reason why this scene is so good is because when Michel looks at the poster, I notice how he is fulfilled by how perfect his impersonation is and I see how much of a failure he is because at the end of the day, he is no Bogart.
A second example of mirroring in the film is in the setting. Starting from the opening, I
can tell all the ways France was mirroring America. The film had many forms of ads, product placement, the cars, and overall style that left me feeling as if this film was trying to play like it was set in America at the time of its release. Seeing the way the film develops from script to characters would lead someone to think that the film is trying to be as American as possible. Michel is fond of stealing American cars and attempts to woo an American girl in a way that could suggest that Michel envisions American women as a type of fetish. Michel even dresses like a gangster would as casted in a Hollywood film. There are even a moments in the film where it is implied that a French hero cannot attain the same status as the American hero. For example, the cars Michel sought after would get him in trouble and the American girl ends up leaving him. As a French New Wave film, it tries its best to make nods to American cinema and its conventions. Almost as if the film is trying to say it had something akin to the American identity.
Lacan’s mirror stage is the idea of infants mimicking their environment and even other
people. Lacan’s mirror stage applies to Godard’s Breathless on a couple levels. First, it applies to Michel as he has a great sense of identity with Humphrey Bogart and the American lifestyle. Secondly, it applies to the setting of the film as it left ideas of longing within the American mythos. Michel tried to personify America while France did its best to imitate the environment.
2. Sexuality plays an important part in the formation of identity. Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl, does a great job at showing the duality of sexuality. On one side of the coin you have Elena, a typical girl that believes in romance and the power of love. On the other side of the coin, Anaïs, Elena’s younger sister, and best described as, “… a precocious cynic; she separates sex from love, think virginity worship is ‘stupid’ and, with a wisdom far beyond her 12 years, confronts the eventually betrayed Elena with the tough truth that her summer seducer has ‘already forgotten you’” (Fox-Kales 17). Their opposite characterization leads me to think they would certainly have different attitudes about sexuality.
Elena is considered the more attractive of the sisters. She has a summer lover named
Fernando and there is a scene in particular that really puts forth her identity. The scene I am referring to is the 20+ minute long take of the two going at it in a long take. As the scene plays out, Fernando only gets more aroused and eventually tries to sweet talk Elena into sex. She turns him down at every attempt because she wants some appreciation or a token of love. There you have it. For whatever reason, Elena is married to the notion that sex cannot be had without a declaration of love. Elena thinks of her as royalty by mentally placing herself on a pedestal. As if her virginity makes her a hot commodity. Fernando even goes for hail mary by offering up anal that way Elena is still “pure”. The irony in this moment was that Elena was into it because there was gonna be no vaginal intercourse. How can she still be considered sexually “pure” in her mind when she is willing to have sex in another way? There is not even a moment where she questions the hypocrisy of it all. That is how in tune she is within herself. How much her virginity is giving her meaning in her world.
Though Anaïs is the younger of the sisters, she is arguably the more realistic of the two.
Anaïs’ identity is clearly largely formed through sexuality. In that same scene with Elena and Fernando, Anaïs plays voyeur and watches them with such an intensity I got the impression she was learning from it. As she was bookmarking it in her memory for a later time. There are various scenes in the film where Anaïs explores her own sexual prowess in private. She is more mentally ready for sex than physically. There is a moment where she is in the bathroom, looking at her naked body and insulting herself by saying slut. I got the idea she learned those insults from TV or her sister because she must know she is far from a slut. Another way I can interpret that scene is she was calling herself that in an attempt to try to make herself feel hurt like maybe her sister does, assuming she’s ever been called a slut. Anaïs’ identity formation through sex has made her so mentally strong to the point that she knows that the concept of love is sham. Or enough of a sham to know in her heart that she would rather her first time with any man just to get it over with. A complete anti-thesis to her sister. So complete to the point that she knew Fernando’s intentions, or at least had a sense of his goals, from the beginning while Elena remained none the wiser. Which makes her stern response to her sister’s woes even more noteworthy in regards to identity because she knows sex is not the same as love. Sex is primal, animal, and biological yet somehow it got romanticized at some point over the development of the world and now many people cling to their virginity for some odd reason. I could see thoughts like that in Anaïs’ head at various points throughout the film.
Elena and Anaïs are two sides of the same coin indeed. On one side you have Elena, the
girl who holds on to tiresome modern traditions, love will conquer all. On the other, Anaïs, more mature for her age than what is seen, yet, more realistic as she knows the inner workings of the world more than her older sister. Is one more in their thinking more than the other? The thing about life is that it is so ambiguous, much like this question. In my opinion, no one is wrong in their thinking. It is a matter of how these ladies both interpret and internalize sex in terms of a viable indicator of their identity. Elena was under the impression that she had it all figured out once Fernando offered her a “family heirloom”. However, it was Anaïs that enlightened her to the error of her ways. With Anaïs, her sexuality defined her more than most because she was so young and she was so invested in that world. She was invested by the way she watched Fernando and her sister like a fly on the wall and internalized all the trades of the game. Internalized enough to know she does not want her first time having sex to be with someone she loves. Enough to know that Fernando was playing games with her sister’s emotions. And enough to know that sexuality is not a bad thing. Both ladies provide viable ways to own sexuality as an identity.