Jeff Bridges in Fearless

“My pain is the hidden side of my philosophy, its mute sister”. (Kristeva, 4)

How can I write about sadness, about my cinematic griefs? How can the painful experiences of intense melancholy felt by specific individuals during cinema be analysed as part of a critical discourse? How does one successfully convey such moments while maintaining their authenticity? And given that melancholy is an inherently personal condition or response, what are the implications for the film theorist who undertakes such a project? This article will explore some of the difficulties involved in analysing male melancholy in the cinema, as well as those associated with film criticism and the writing of affect.

Some time ago I attempted to write a paper about Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971) and primary cinematic identification. However, as I re-read Christian Metz’s essay “The Imaginary Signifier”, I became more interested in his critique of cinephilia. Metz argues that the cinephile forms part of the ideological institution of cinema. By contrast, the scientific film theorist should make affect “the target for the very same scopic drive which had made one love it” (Metz, 15). The time of such attacks on cinematic pleasure has long passed in Cinema Studies. Rather, what intrigued me (and still does) about Metz’s comments was their tone, and the structural position he proposes for the theorist in relation to cinephilia. Metz asserts that the theorist should

Carry the institution inside one still so that it is in a place that is accessible to self-analysis, but carry it there as a distinct instance which does not over-infiltrate the rest of the ego with the thousand paralysing bonds of a tender unconditionality. Not have forgotten what the cinephile one used to be like, in all the details of his affective inflections . . . yet no longer be invaded by him: not have lost sight of him, but be keeping an eye on him. Finally, be him and not him. (Metz, 15)

Although Metz acknowledges that maintaining such a position is difficult, these remarks also display a certain anxiety about affect. He contends that cinema’s affective dimensions can and must be isolated under a regime of surveillance while the theorist is insulated against the dangers of cinephilia. Yet, how can Metz be certain that affect will remain quarantined, that there will not be a return of the repressed?

Metz’s ambivalence towards affect and the mental separation he proposes for the theorist resembles features of the psychic topography of melancholia, as theorised by Sigmund Freud and Julia Kristeva. Freud’s account stresses the importance of the patient’s relation to the psychologically internalised lost object. He argues that the melancholiac’s self-loathing disguises a hostility towards the lost, beloved object, indicating an underlying ambivalence towards it. However, the refusal to relinquish this object precipitates a crisis that is usually only resolved either through the unconscious killing-off of the object-relation or the patient’s suicide. One or the other must be vanquished (1).

Kristeva examines a more severe and narcissistic version of melancholia in which the patient does not mourn an object so much as the “Thing”. The “Thing” is a prototype of the mother that resists signification. The depressed narcissist feels as if he is “afflicted with a fundamental flaw”, that he is “wounded, incomplete, empty” (Kristeva, 12). Instead, he cedes his life to the Thing that he protects in a psychic vault, beyond the reach of language. Indeed, even if this leads to suicide, the Thing “will not be translated in order that it not be betrayed; it shall remain walled up within the crypt of the inexpressible affect . . . with no way out” (Kristeva, 53). Rather than a hostile attack on the other, suicide in this instance offers the final, perfect opportunity to merge with the Thing, with grief or affect itself. (Kristeva, 12-13)

Thus I wondered if was possible, let alone desirable, to follow Metz’s injunction. My own view was closer to that of Ilsa Bick: “If psychoanalysis is to have any future in film theory, the emphasis must shift to include, dissect, and integrate visceral experiences and self-vision, a post-structural mission if ever there was one” (Bick, 84). Instead of writing about Two-Lane Blacktop, a film that has never made much of an emotional impact upon me, I turned my attention to my experience of Fearless (Peter Weir, 1993).


Watching Fearless the first time was one of the strangest reactions I have ever had at the movies. I hated the film. I found its spiritual allusions, both Christian and New Age, clumsy and obvious. I thought the performances of Jeff Bridges (Max Klein, the film’s major character, an airplane crash survivor who led several people from the burning wreckage to safety) and Rosie Perez (Carla Rodrigez, a fellow survivor who lost her infant son in the crash) were excessive, and the narrative slant against Max’s wife Laura (Isabella Rossellini) unfair. My antipathy culminated in a conscious willing for Max Klein to die during the finale (in which he recalls the crash fully while experiencing a toxic reaction to a strawberry he has eaten deliberately). However, I was also shaking and weeping, and had been for some time. Afterwards I was distraught and numb, finding it difficult to talk to my companion.

The intensity of my response was due in part to the film’s ending. The crash sequence is terrifying: as the aircraft hits the ground, we see the fuselage disintegrate at high speed from the perspective of the passengers, that is, from inside the plane. The concurrent loud overlaying of Gorecki’s Third Symphony on the soundtrack (which extends well into the credits) increases the scene’s emotional effect. Max’s recovery in the last few seconds, thanks to Laura’s medical intervention, might normally have a cathartic effect on viewers, but the reverse was true for me. The ending increased my strong, if puzzling, reaction. This response had begun somewhere prior to a truly hysterical scene earlier in the film in which Max almost kills Carla and himself after driving their car into a brick wall in order to prove to her that she could not have saved her son in the plane crash.

While writing about such an painful and contradictory experience seemed appropriate, it proved a frustrating process. Whatever I wrote seemed too descriptive, banal or confessional to be useful, either theoretically or therapeutically. I did, however, arrive eventually at a provisional conclusion. I think that during the film I became its fearless spectator. By this I mean that I identified with Max Klein unconsciously in some way. Max insists that the crash has no negative effect upon him, instead treating it as an opportunity to embrace life fearlessly. On several occasions he exhibits what many people would call a death wish by engaging wilfully in life-threatening behaviour. He also prolongs his role as “Good Samaritan” by offering solace to Carla and Byron (another survivor who is about the same age as his son Jonah), even though these relationships threaten to break up his own family. It seems as if Max is trapped psychologically in the circumstances of the crash and displaces his own need for healing into counselling others. It is only after he asks Laura to save him (just before he consumes the strawberry) that he can begin coming to terms with how he was affected by the crash.

In this respect I would argue that Max is a secret melancholiac: he cannot commence mourning because he has not acknowledged that he lost something in the crash (among other things, his business partner dies in it: Max’s life is spared because of his last-minute decision to swap seats in order to comfort Byron). Max’s penchant for honesty could be interpreted as another feature of his melancholy. On several occasions he disrupts the rituals associated with bereavement and grief by refusing to lie or even stretch the truth, even though doing so would ease the pain (emotional and financial) of the survivors. He acts as if he has been liberated from social conventions (and responsibilities), perhaps because he no longer fears death: he tells Carla at their first meeting that they died in the crash, and at their last encounter he says that he feels like a ghost.

As I have mentioned, while watching Fearless I adopted a critical and disparaging approach towards the film on a conscious level. As somebody who knew Freud, I could interpret Max’s actions and their effects as a form of denial of loss, but this just added to the tedium I felt in relation to the film. Fearless appeared to be another male melodrama about illness and personal growth, like The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, 1991), The Doctor (Randa Haines, 1991), and Regarding Henry (Mike Nichols, 1991), all of which I disliked. I assumed that there was nothing at stake in Fearless for me on an emotional level. This, I would argue, parallelled not only Max’s psychological position, but what Metz suggested was the appropriate attitude for the film theorist. That I was wrong indicated the necessity of rethinking Metz’s argument. However, this was as far as I could proceed theoretically at that time.

* * *

I turned instinctively to Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, a book much loved by some cinephiles but which I had not read previously. Barthes gives affect a prominent role in explaining both his response to certain photographs, particularly one of his mother as a child, and the essence of photography. This approach appealed to me (like so many others I found the text persuasive). I considered using his concepts of the studium and the punctum. “The studium is that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of various interest, of inconsequential taste: I like / I don’t like” (Barthes, 27). Photographs that possess a studium have an intellectual value for the spectator, but they are not loved. Rather, any emotional reaction to them “requires the rational intermediary of an ethical and political culture. What I feel about these photographs derives from an average affect, almost from a certain training” (Barthes, 26). It is in this way that a viewer can perceive the “intentions” or “myths” of the photographer, “fraternizing with them but not quite believing in them” (Barthes, 28).

I speculated that the concept of the studium could be deployed in film analysis to describe those discourses in and around the film through which, by the activation of his education and taste, a viewer might encounter the “intentions of the film”. By the term “intentions of the film” I mean not only certain narrative and visual meanings of a film, or the aspirations of the creative personnel associated with it, but all of the discourses surrounding a film, including those of production, distribution, exhibition, and reception; even film theory and criticism. Such “intentions” would be too broad to be classified as a formal code. These “intentions” would vary considerably with each film, and naturally would not be confined to the film in question or a single person connected with it. Spectators or critics could, for example, “select” the psychoanalytic framework of melancholia when making an interpretation, as one of several potential discourses surrounding a given film, if it suited them. However, as Barthes suggests, a spectator could just “fraternise” with such a perspective, without necessarily “believing” in it. While a film that is a discourse on melancholy or contains a melancholy visual style might be said to have a studium of melancholy, such a film would not necessarily induce a melancholy reaction in any specific audience member.

Raging Bull

An example of a film with a studium of male melancholy that could be read via Kristeva might be Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980). We might postulate that the melancholy object of the film is something like Jake La Motta’s hypermasculine body as his lost or continually disappointing ego ideal. The brutality to which that body is subjected in the graphic fight sequences can be contrasted with the slow motion sequences of La Motta shadow boxing (and their accompanying music). This difference suggests that La Motta was engaged in a literal and figurative fight with himself which was endless and futile. Furthermore, we might say that the viewer is encouraged to suspend judgement on a person many people would otherwise dismiss as repulsive, and instead bestow a state of grace which he only perhaps hints at reaching himself in the preparation for his nightclub routine. The film’s ending appears to emphasise this reading, but we are not compelled to grant La Motta dispensation, or even understanding.

By contrast, the punctum is an aspect of the photograph that disrupts the field of the studium. It can be a small detail or constitute the entire photograph. Although the viewer does not seek it, the punctum “rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me” (Barthes, 26). Uncoded, the punctum resists educated scrutiny. “It is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there” (Barthes, 28). A punctum of melancholy in a film would thus differ markedly from that of a discourse about melancholy in cinema. While the studium is a broad, public category, the punctum is a restricted one because it depends on the individual’s reaction.

These categories resonated with me. I considered using them in my analysis of Fearless. I thought I could interpret Max Klein’s behaviour in the film psychoanalytically (as I did above, briefly) and classify this as the studium of male melancholy in the film because this would be the meaning potentially available to an audience member. I could then compare such an analysis with those moments in the film that possessed particular significance for me (specifically the brief shot of Laura waiting for Max to leave hospital after crashing his car, and the slow motion shots of Laura giving Max mouth-to-mouth rescucitation during the finale in which a strand of saliva stretches between their mouths on two occasions before breaking), which I would have labelled as the punctums of the film. I also considered treating Fearless in its entirety as a punctum because it so wounded me with melancholy and Two-Lane Blacktop as a studium of melancholy because it might be approached as a discourse on melancholy in narrative cinema, particularly in terms of the impossible search for authenticity, but which contains no punctum for me.

* * *

At this point I encountered a problem: how to write about specific, personal affective experiences of the cinema? How can we bring a melancholy object into language? How does the Thing “escape” from the “crypt of the inexpressible affect” into the analytic situation, let alone a theoretical discourse on melancholia? Can this occur without the “betrayal” of the Thing, that is, without the destruction of its unique quality? Similarly, if the punctum is an entirely individual reaction how can it become available, that is, comprehensible, to others? While Barthes locates the meaning of photograph in a single example, he acknowledges that, “It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture . . . it cannot in any way constitute the object of a visible science . . . at most it would interest your studium . . . but in it, no wound” (Barthes, 73).

Kristeva’s attempt to answer this dilemma is unsatisfactory because she insists throughout Black Sun that the Thing is the prototype of the familiar eroticised maternal object of childhood. Indeed, she writes that in the analysis of melancholia, “Freudian theory detects everywhere the same impossible mourning for the maternal object” (Kristeva, 9). Moreover, it is the metaphorical capacity of language to represent the unnameable, its ability to enact (the possibility of) meaning through the transference from the place of silence to the realm of signs, “that retroactively gives form and meaning to the mirage of the primal Thing” ((Kristeva, 41). That is, if the Thing is a metaphor for the maternal object it is because the concept of the Thing is always already a construct of (psychoanalytic) discourse.

Jacques Derrida’s commentary on Camera Lucida, “The Deaths of Roland Barthes”, is more useful. Derrida is concerned with the supplementary nature of the punctum, its quality of belonging to both the photograph and its spectator. He argues that the radical singularity of the punctum is not strictly opposed to the transmissible cultural and discursive field of the studium. Rather, the two “compose together, the one with the other, and we will later recognize in this a metonymic power” (Derrida, 267). Barthes writes, “However lightning-like it may be, the punctum has, more or less potentially, a power of expansion. This power is often metonymic” (Barthes, 45). Derrida contends this force derives from the ability of the punctum to divide or double itself, which permits the substitution or pluralisation of the unique, something that would otherwise be scandalous (Derrida, 286).

This capacity of the punctum to divide itself is also parallelled by, or found in, in the ghostly dimension of the punctum/studium combination which Derrida explores in terms of his mourning for Barthes, Barthes’ lament for his recently deceased mother in Camera Lucida, and the spectral quality Barthes detects in photography’s referential function. “Neither life nor death, it is the haunting of the one by the other. . . Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the dead other alive in me” (Derrida, 267). However, this haunting causes Derrida an ethical problem: how to speak of Barthes without either speaking only in Barthes’ voice or his own?

In both cases I disfigure, I wound, I sleep, or I kill. But whom? Him? No. Him in me? In us? In you? But what does this mean? That we remain among ourselves? . . .Roland Barthes looks at us . . . and we do not do as we please with this look. . . .It is within us but it is not ours; we do not have it available to us like a part of our interiority (Derrida, 270).

Derrida’s quandary is clearly reminiscent of the topography of melancholia: the other’s absence or death opens up a space of undecidability concerning how or where the self mourns the other without the destruction of the alterity of each party. Therefore, if one is to “let Barthes himself speak this point of singularity” and accept that the punctum “suffers neither contamination nor concession”, then how can one “still assure a certain generality to the discourse and offer it to analysis by submitting its concepts to a quasi-instrumental employment”? (Derrida, 284, 285 & 286) How is the singular integrated into the general or discursive without the loss of its integrity?

Roland Barthes

Derrida’s answer is in what Barthes calls the second punctum: time. Barthes contends that photography differs from other forms of representation insofar as its referent lingers long after its departure. Thus “every photograph is a certificate of presence” (Barthes, 87). The photographic referent is also “a kind of little simulacrum”, an “eidelon emitted by the object” that gives photography a spectral element because it “adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead” (Barthes, 9). Barthes says that through the photograph he encounters the inexorability of mortality: “I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake” (Barthes, 96).

Derrida contends that the potential of the punctum to inscribe both the unique and its passing implies that “it is more or less than itself, dissymmetrical to everything to everything including itself”, and this allows “the punctum to invade the field of the studium, although it technically doesn’t belong to it” (Derrida, 285). He argues that this disjuncture comes from time’s infinite capacity for substitution. In his opinion, as soon as the punctum

allows itself to be drawn into a system of substitutions, it can invade everything, objects as well as affects. This singularity which is nowhere in the field mobilizes everything everywhere; it pluralizes itself. If the photograph bespeaks the unique death, the death of the unique, this death repeats itself immediately, as such, and is itself elsewhere (Derrida, 285).

Thus the instance of death is marked by, and as, the (repetitive) death of the instant. The ephemerality of the punctum operates as a constant that permits it to haunt the studium even as the latter absorbs it. Derrida asserts that, “the relation to some unique and irreplaceable referent interests us and animates our most sound and studied readings: what happened one time only, while dividing itself already” (Derrida, 290).

However, the movement from the first punctum (the feature or detail which provokes my wound) to the second (that of time) overlooks the role the spectator’s affective investment plays in photography’s intensity. If the punctum can divide or double itself, it is because it comes from both the photograph and its spectator. Perhaps Derrida recognises this when he links the supplementary structure of the punctum to the divisibility of photography’s referential function:

Already a sort of hallucinating metonymy: it is something else, a bit come from the other (from the referent) which is found in me, in front of me but also in me like a bit of me (since the referential implication is also intentional and noematic; it belongs neither to the sensible body nor to the medium of the photogramme) (Derrida, 282).

The indeterminacy that Derrida describes here recalls aspects of melancholia: the object (detail or referent) is incorporated into the psyche of the melancholiac (spectator) in a manner that erodes the distinction of self and other. Yet what facilitates this crisis of alterity (for both self and other — one must perish) is the fact that lost object was originally chosen on a narcissistic basis. In terms of the punctum, it is not only “what is nonetheless already there“, but also “it is what I add to the photograph” (Barthes, 55).

Barthes also points to this uncertainty in his exploration of the madness of photography at the end of Camera Lucida. While photography catches those rays of light that emanated from the referent on a particular day in the past, testifying to its “stubbornness”, only some photographs of people capture what is unique about them (Barthes, 6). Barthes calls this quality the air. The air “is the luminous shadow which accompanies the body. . . .It is by this tenuous umbilical cord that the photographer gives life; if he cannot, either by lack of talent or bad luck, supply the transparent soul its bright shadow, the subject dies forever” (Barthes, 110). What is significant about this umbilical cord of light is that it connects the spectator and referent through a process in which the former suspends judgement of the latter. The air is “a kind of intractable supplement of identity . . . given as an act of grace” (Barthes, 109). Barthes suggests that the photograph is mad because it is an “identification of reality (‘that-has-been‘) with truth (‘there-she-is‘) . . . to that crazy point where affect (love, compassion, grief, enthusiasm, desire) is a guarantee of Being” (Barthes, 113). Barthes writes that it is through the conjunction of Photography, madness and love that he can clasp the referent in an act of pity. “I passed beyond the unreality of the thing represented, I entered crazily into the spectacle, into the image, taking into my arms what is dead, what is going to die” (Barthes, 117).

* * *

Metz writes, “Lost objects are the only ones one is afraid to lose” (Metz, 80). His attempts to retain the affective element of cinema while locking it in a particular spatial position in the psyche are a form of encryptment. While film theory needs the affective to provide the materials for the psychoanalytic study of the cinematic signifier, affect must be constrained, foreclosed, or concealed. If it does not remain entombed, affect will “invade” or “paralyse” a scientific discourse of cinema. It is the possibility of maintaining this rigid separation that the concepts of the “air” and the punctum, as well as the melancholiac’s fusion with the secret Thing, allow us to question. Such concepts point to the undecidability of affect, its existence in the self and the other, the film and the theorist.

If the bond with affect is so disturbing it is because the affective bond disrupts the autonomy of the subject (not to mention psychoanalysis). What Freud calls the Gefühlsbindung, or the social or emotional tie, which we know as primary identification, is that link to the other that constitutes the subject in affect. In his reading of Freud, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen proposes that the subject is “born” via an “archi-incorporation” in the collectivity of the other (Borch-Jacobsen, 181). Thus,

The “other” whose identity is thus incorporated sinks into an oblivion that precedes memory and representation, never being presented itself to any subject — and it is “myself,” the unutterable affect of my birth. As Freud suggested in connection with anxiety, birth is the primordial affect, and we might add that that is so because it is identification, mimetic Gefühlsbindung. Because “I am the breast” (in Freud’s famous phrase), because I am nothing before this earliest identification and because such is my birth, affect comes about — in other words, my being affected (affection) by an otherness (altérité) that is my identity or my “selfness” itself (Borch-Jacobsen, 60).

Affect causes anxiety because the emotional or affective tie “relates me to all those ‘others’ with whom I identify myself unknowingly, whose place I take without ever representing them before myself, without ever knowing or recognizing myself in them” (Borch-Jacobsen, 154). Of course, the will to identity and representation is predicated on not only the radical forgetting of the link to the collective but on the violent suppression of its very existence. The birth of the self depends on the obliteration of the other who I am: “To identify oneself with the object is to put oneself in its place or to place it within oneself, to kill it and live off its death. . . .This first bond, this first copula that makes me what I am, is also the first unbonding, the first annihilation of alterity ” (Borch-Jacobsen, 181).

Hypothesis: writing is also a state of affect. How can this be? Surely affect and writing are opposed: one belongs to representation the other does not. Yet we know since Derrida that writing is not secondary. Borch-Jacobsen says of affect: “It is, indissociably, thinking and acting, acted thought, thought in actu” (Borch-Jacobsen, 145). The “air”, the punctum and the crisis of the self in melancholia are indicative of the instability of the boundary between the cinema and its theorist, and thus to how they dwell together in the affect of writing. Affect is the birth of the critical text, of the critic and the text, in the social or emotional tie. “My identity is a passion. And reciprocally, my passions are always identificatory” (Borch-Jacobsen, 73). Derrida argues, “By taking a thousand differential precautions, one must be able to speak of a punctum in all signs (and the repetition and iterability structures it already), in any discourse” (Derrida, 289).

* * *

I could not write about Fearless because I was simply too close to it. The punctum I felt could not be translated. I know why I was so affected by the film. Indeed, I think I always knew, but I was surprised that an old issue, apparently resolved, could still hurt me, and to such an extent. However, the reason is intensely private: I choose to protect my melancholy object by not naming it publicly. My attempts, though, to use Freud and Kristeva in my analysis of Two-Lane Blacktop were rather peculiar and unsatisfactory. Psychoanalysis is not an appropriate discourse for analysing the film. I also had a lack of feeling for the film (I did not “get” it intuitively), which led to an (intellectual) inability to approach the discourse on authenticity it seems to construct. There was no affect in anything I wrote about it.

I needed to work on another film in order to bring my affect into writing as writing. Thus I chose to examine another film-viewing experience, one that fell between these two extremes, a Third Way if you like. I moved towards Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992), perhaps because it is about the quest for grace. However, when I first saw it, I damned it as a typical Eastwood vehicle that privileges violence and revenge. I only felt the punctum of the film almost three years later, during and after watching The Bridges of Madison County (Clint Eastwood, 1995).

The Bridges of Madison County

I was cautious initially during Bridges, assessing things such as Clint Eastwood’s performance as a romantic lead, Meryl Streep’s Italian accent and the editing of the scene in which they first have dinner. However, I put these things aside gradually as I began to enjoy and admire a pretty good film. By the end I was weeping, no doubt swept along by the romantic story. At some point I forgave Clint Eastwood. I entered into the spectacle and took pity on that solitary figure standing in the rain, waiting in vain for Francesca (Meryl Streep). The sight of a bereft Eastwood, inconsolable at the loss of the great love of his life, reminded me of other Eastwood films. I recalled that moment in Tightrope (Richard Tuggle, 1984) in which Eastwood’s character, Wes Block, pulls away from the touch of Beryl Thibodeaux (Genevieve Bujold). I moved past Dirty Harry’s anger and sensed his melancholy. I also took heed of the subtle lighting of several scenes in Bridges and connected this to Eastwood’s directorial style in other films.

Most of all, I felt a punctum in Unforgiven. Richard Jameson argues that the scene in which Will and the Kid discuss death while waiting for the prostitute to ride out from Big Whiskey “is classicism at its most august — and the gateway to something beyond” (Jameson, 14). He locates that quality in the final shot of Beauchamp and others standing in the street at night in the rain, staring at Will’s receding figure: “there is something more in the shot than any interpretation can account for” (Jameson, 14). For me, there is indeed something more in Unforgiven, but it comes in the scene inside Greely’s in which Will wreaks revenge on Little Bill, Skinny and the incompetent deputies.

It is difficult for me to articulate, but I was affected by the conjunction of lighting, costuming, and the melancholy, homicidal figure of Eastwood in the final shootout in Greely’s. The mise en scène of this confrontation repeats that of the night of Will’s beating at the hands of Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman). The lack of contrast in lighting and the orange and brown colours of both the characters’ costumes and saloon setting cause the characters to merge into their surroundings. It is literally difficult to see what is happening. While William Munny and the Eastwood persona are constructed as unforgiven in this scene, somewhere in the gloom I found a metaphor for the ambivalence of their forgiveness across the entire film. As a result, I declined to judge this “notoriously vicious and intemperate” figure, as he is labelled in Unforgiven. Instead I forgave him. I saw his thinning hair and the wounds engraved on his face, and reached out to tend to them. Forgiveness was the punctum which I found in Unforgiven and which is already there in the text, if ambiguously.

In bestowing forgiveness upon Eastwood, I found a means to resolve this uncertainty. Accordingly, I began to reconsider his work. I did not ignore the violence or masculine aggression of the Eastwood persona, but put it aside as I watched films I had ignored or dismissed previously. I suspended my ideological criticism while I engaged in close analysis and searched for the authorial traits (2). Instead, I read and wrote Eastwood differently. My forgiveness had the singularity of an event. The “unique and irreplaceable referent” that is, “what happened one time only, while dividing itself already” for me is that which animated my discourse on Unforgiven and Clint Eastwood (Derrida, 290) (3). But I cannot write your cinema/sadness . . .

This essay was refereed.


Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Trans. Richard Howard, London: Vintage, 1993

Bick, Ilsa, “To Be Real: Shame, Envy, and the Reflections of Self in Masquerade”, Discourse, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1992/3, 80-93

Borch-Jacobsen, Mikkel, The Freudian Subject, XX

Derrida, Jacques, “The Deaths of Roland Barthes”, Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy Since Merleau-Ponty, ed. Hugh J. Silverman, New York and London: Routledge, 1988, 259-296

Jameson, Richard T., “‘Deserve’s Got Nothin’ to Do with It'”, Film Comment, Vol. 28, No. 5, (1992), 12-14

Kristeva, Julia, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, Trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1989

Metz, Christian, Psychoanalysis and Cinema: The Imaginary Signifier, Trans. Celia Britton et al, London: Macmillan, 1982

Smith, Paul, Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993


  1. See Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia”, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Trans. and ed. James Strachey et al, London: The Hogarth Press and London Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1953-1974, Vol. 14, 237-258
  2. In particular, I put to one side the quite troubling issue of the representation of Ned’s ethnicity, and the general construction of ethnicity, especially Afro-American subjectivities, in Eastwood’s work. On this issue, see Paul Smith, Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production.
  3. See Tim Groves, “The Un/forgiven Director”, Screening the Past No 12 (2001). It is in the writing of this article that the punctum I felt during Fearless lies encrypted. See also “‘We all have it coming, Kid’: Clint Eastwood and the Dying of the Light”, Senses of Cinema No 12 (2001).

About The Author

Tim Groves currently teaches in the Media Program at RMIT University.

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