Thursday, January 24, 2013

Movie Interpretation: The Piano


The Composer and The Oaf: a Genetic Psychoanalytic Reading of The Piano

In this paper I’ll perform a genetic reading of Jane Campion’s film The Piano. This kind of reading seeks to match the character, or personality disorder, of a character in the film to the parental ‘imagos’ of a certain stage of psychosexual development and show that these imagos, and their inter-relations, are found in the images of the film’s narrative. In this way the charactergological interpretation is verified within the film itself by the existence of parental imagos that are paired with the creation of particular ego drives/ideals. While many psychoanalytic articles on The Piano refer to autism and early fixations, which very well may have an importance in Ada’s character, I’d like to return to the heart of psychoanalytic theory and what Freud called the ‘bedrock’ of character in the castration complex for this interpretation. I understand that the concepts I am using are old and have fallen out of favour with modern scholarship- maybe they were never even grasped by the majority of early analysts to begin with. However, psychoanalysis as a theory of personality stands or falls with the characterlogical importance of the castration complex and I’d rather join the ranks of others who have seen its supreme importance in mental life and seek to refine Freud’s ideas than those who throw them out and still call themselves analysts. Rather than using jargon no one understands, let me start immediately in defining the terms and concepts I will use before getting into my interpretation. 

Parental imagos are also known as object representations, which are the internal compliment to self-representations[1]. They take two forms in psychoanalysis. The first is a symbolic form that shows up in dreams or projective tests and a popularly known example is the phallic mother or ‘woman with the penis’. It is a non-universal symbol (i.e. isn’t produced or relevant to every person) and has been classically related to perversions and the phallic narcissistic stage. I’ll be focusing on the latter and will turn to it shortly. The second form is related to the psychoanalytic model of the personality that sees the mind as dynamically and inter-subjectively made. Freud writes:

Nor must it be forgotten that a child has a different estimate of its parents at different periods of its life. At the time at which the Oedipus complex gives place to the super-ego they are something quite magnificent; but later they lose much of this. Identifications then come about with these later parents as well, and indeed they regularly make important contributions to the formation of character; but in that case they only affect the ego, they no longer influence the super-ego, which has been determined by the earliest parental imagos. (NIL, p. 64, emphasis mine).

While the superego is commonly regarded in its form of conscience, specifically the conscience qua guilt formed after the Oedipus complex, it is clear from the quotation above that Freud regards it as being formed earlier[2]. However, I won’t be examining the superego in its form of conscience (with its aspects of prohibition and need for punishment), the aspect I’m interested in is the ‘direction-giving’ and ‘self-respect’ aspect of the ego ideal. Freud writes  
One more important function remains to be mentioned which we attribute to this super-ego. It is also the vehicle of the ego ideal by which the ego measures itself, which it emulates, and whose demand for ever greater perfection it strives to fulfil. There is no doubt that this ego ideal is the precipitate of the old picture of the parents, the expression of admiration for the perfection which the child then attributed to them (NIL, p. 64-5).

If the superego is determined by multiple parental imagos and one form of it, the ego ideal, has an aspect of striving for perfection in relation to emulating an ‘old picture of the parents’ them then I think it’s safe to assume there are multiple ego ideals. The form of perfection the ideal demands would be based upon the child’s cognitive capacity at a given phase of development[3]. Central to this paper is the designation of an anal ego ideal that is paired with a god-like father imago that is different from a phallic ego ideal that is paired with a father imago that represents not someone omniscient, but someone seen as knowing more in a field of work or being more skilled at certain work. This difference will be explored more later, but for now I’d like to say that I’ll make no differentiation between ego drives and the ‘direction giving’ aspect of the ego ideal. Freud uses striving for perfection to designate the active-egoistic form for both, and explicitly references that a grade in the ego (a conscience-like agency or internalized ‘parental criticism’) will measure how close to perfection a person is or how likely s/he is going to attain it (Freud, ‘BPP’, p. 42; ‘On Narcissism’, p. 95-7; ‘NIL’, p. 66). These tensions are experienced as guilt, inferiority, shame, self-pity, etc. depending on whether it is an ego or object drive/ideal and in what stage of development it was formed[4]

The ego ideal qua self-respect was also introduced in ‘On Narcissism’. It was from a dialogue with the work of Alfred Adler that Freud first understood the ego ideal. Instead of repression coming from moral values, he saw repression coming from the idealization of self or other (“idealization is possible in the sphere of ego-libido as well as in that of object-libido” ibid, p. 94). Additionally, he validated Adler’s ‘masculine protest’ that recognizes that neurotics have very high self-regard and linked it to the encounter of sexual difference in the castration complex.  I’ll turn to the castration complex shortly, but to sum up, repression proceeds from the ‘self-respect’ of the ideal that is one’s sense of personal perfection or perfection of the object. It is neurotics who possess high ego ideals and regard themselves, or the object, as special or ‘exceptions’ and many other people possess no such ideal. When the person with a high ideal doesn’t have the power to sublimate (i.e. have the IQ or creativity to live up to his high self-regard) then s/he’ll become ill. Important for my purposes here is the idea that the ego ideal limits the worthy sexual objects one can select[5]. If one has a high self-regard then romantic partners must come from those who come from a good class or have a good reputation in regards to their beauty, intelligence, potency, earning potential, (etc.). 

Freud’s characterlogical claim, that some people have a high ego ideal and that such people in the castration complex put up a masculine protest and are unable to be passive before the analyst was taken up by other analysts as a manifestation of the phallic-narcissistic stage of development[6].  Wilhelm Reich gets into minute clinical detail about how such “patients are wont to ridicule every analytic effort” and hold themselves superior to the analyst (Character Analysis, p.123). He notes that people who have made a ‘mother identification’ at the phallic-narcissistic stage appear as “arrogant, either coldly reserved, or contemptuously aggressive” to reinforce this defensive superiority (ibid., p.217)[7]. Similarly, Burgner, who revived this concept in the 70s, explicitly references its central importance in hysteria (Burgner, ‘The Phallic-Narcissistic Phase’, p. 179). She writes of

an inability to achieve a reciprocal relationship in which the object's real qualities and characteristics are recognized and valued, and in which the needs and demands of the object are accepted; a tendency to use the object solely as a source of admiration or condemnation, as a substitute for internalized approval or sanctions; an emphasis on exhibitionistic and voyeuristic behaviour in relation to the object; an incessantly phallic-competitive interaction with the object… we would further suggest that in the hysteric the phallic-narcissistic level rather than the oedipal one is the nodal point of the regressive behavior (ibid., p. 179)

Here Burgner is indicating both active-egoistic and passive-altruistic traits of the phallic-narcissistic woman. Regarding the egoistic side (idealization of self), I think that we all know women who don’t have friends of the same sex (or a token girlfriend who is beneath them) but have many friends of the opposite sex who are not very attractive but admire and spend money on them. They never sleep with these friends but use them for narcissistic supplies. Other women are regarded as ‘fake’ or ‘girly’ but really they are too competitive with other women to get along with them. I intend to build upon this example shortly but for the moment it’s important to understand that Reich and Burgner are only talking about the defensive operations that take place at this stage. I will turn to Joyce McDougall’s work to explain the non-defensive aspects of experiencing this non-universal stage and establish the relations of the imagos.      

McDougall understands the phallic-narcissistic stage and the phallic mother to be a non-universal stage (as opposed to claiming the phallic-narcissist has a fixation while others passed through the stage without one). The phallic stage, which is a universal stage, creates a phallic ego drive that I referred to as the ‘direction giving quality’ of the ego ideal. The ‘phallic drive’ or ‘striving for perfection’ at the phallic stage doesn’t have particular content. Rather, what is key is recognizing that different cultures will have different activities or pursuits that they deem as ‘good’ or ‘glorious’ but the drive or ideal is merely a relation of wanting recognition or having a good reputation among others (i.e. a social ontology). To not belong to the ‘good’ group of strong or potent people in the community means that an individual will experience distance between the ideal and the ego (self) and feel shame or inferiority next to someone who is more potent[8]. This social ontology exists earlier than the phallic stage but what is unique about the phallic drive is that cognition has advanced to the point that the child wants recognition for skills, knowledge, judgment and taste, (etc.). The child wants recognition from its mother for doing something well (i.e. ‘mommy watch me play this instrument’ or ‘watch me do a summersault’)[9]. However, the child at some point recognizes that it can never possess the admiration it wants from the mother. As Lacan puts it, the child notices that the mother desires beyond it (Lacan, ‘The Meaning of the Phallus’). This creates the father imago, as the object representation, or imago, of who gets the mother’s thoughts of awe and phallic perfection. The phallic-narcissistic stage for McDougall involves the mother splitting this paternal imago and creating a rival phallic image. “[S]he denigrates the father's phallic function… [and] gives the child in addition the feeling that he or she is a phallic substitute” McDougall writes, and “another model of virility was held up to the child, sometimes the mother's own father, or brother, sometimes a religious figure, or God is the one phallic object of value” (‘Primal Scene and Sexual Perversion’, p.381). The phallic mother is thus phallic not just in sexual imagery but in giving the child a rival ego drive/ideal that makes it superior (not defensively) to others and a rival to the father. In non-pathological functioning this phallic image will be one of many ego drives/ideals that fuse together to determine an individual’s actions. It might characterlogically register as the individual appearing confident if not ‘cocky’, while arrogance and superiority are defensive forms.

Although the mother splits the father imago and gives the child her own phallic image the child is invariably ‘betrayed’ by the mother in what is known as the ‘primal scene’. A single mother can raise a normal child so we must see that the child will fantasy the event even if he doesn’t see the mother in bed with the ‘brutish’, ‘stupid’, or ‘mediocre’ father or see the evidence of this in the mother’s pregnancy (ibid., p. 382). The primal scene provides the motivation for the identification with the father and formation of the ego ideal qua self-respect. While those who haven’t experienced the phallic-narcissistic stage have the threat of castration or fear of loss of love from the whole and powerful father imago, phallic-narcissists differ. Their motivation is partly derived from the primal scene and revenge upon the mother.
Freud is explicit about this repudiation of femininity in the castration complex (‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’ ,p. 250) Additionally, both McDougall and Chasseguet-Smirgel note that  “penis envy seems to be as proportionately intense as the maternal imago is powerful” (Chasseguet-Smirgel, ‘Freud and Female Sexuality’, p. 285, McDougall, ‘Homosexuality in Women’). The phallic mother who seduced one into thinking one was superior to the father or to ‘regular’ people has sex with the ‘brutish’ father, or someone like him in fantasy, and the child fully transcribes power from the mother to the father and the mother is viewed as castrated. The phallic-narcissist has a high ego ideal qua self-respect because he confronts the father imago closer to an equal than in comparison to the person approaching the whole father imago from the phallic stage. However, even though only the phallic narcissist has an idealized self-regard, all children establish anatomically based gender difference with the formation of this ego ideal. This is why Freud claims that ‘anatomy is destiny’ while claiming that everyone is a mixture of active-egoistic and passive-altruistic trends[10].

Freud’s last word on the Oedipus complex is that it occurs for the little boy before sexual difference and the difference between the generations is established, but for the little girl it occurs after this. He writes

[t]he boy enters the Oedipus phase; he begins to manipulate his penis and simultaneously has phantasies of carrying out some sort of activity with it in relation to his mother, till, owing to the combined effect of a threat of castration and the sight of the absence of a penis in females, he experiences the greatest trauma of his life and this introduces the period of latency with all its consequences. The girl, after vainly attempting to do the same as the boy, comes to recognize her lack of a penis or rather the inferiority of her clitoris, with permanent effects on the development of her character; as a result of this first disappointment in rivalry, she often begins by turning away altogether from sexual life”  (‘An Outline’, p. 155). “It is an interesting thing that the relation between the Oedipus complex and the castration complex should take such a different shape—an opposite one, in fact—in the case of females as compared to that of males. In males, as we have seen, the threat of castration brings the Oedipus complex to an end; in females we find that, on the contrary, it is their lack of a penis that forces them into their Oedipus complex” (ibid., p. 194).

Freud writes here that the Oedipus complex leads to latency but in other places he emphasizes that this is merely the establishment of the ‘nucleus’ of the superego in the ‘incest taboo’ and that it is followed by the establishment of the guilt conscience and the institutions of compulsive work, religion, and marriage in the following ‘father complex’ (‘The Ego and The Id’, p.37; ‘Civilization’, p.101, 135; ‘The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex’, p. 176; ‘ISA’, p. 139, 265). This is an important aspect of his work that seems to have been very much neglected, but I don’t have the space to enter into here. What’s important for our purposes here is that the castration complex is the regression point for the phallic-narcissist. Freud, in dialogue with Adler, made the masculine protest (inability to be passive before a male authority) and penis envy (inability to allow oneself to be the sexual object of a man) the ‘bed-rock of character’ in narcissistic neuroses (Freud, ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’, p. 250-3;Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, p. 127)[11].

When the phallic drive/ideal is modified by the internalization of the incest taboo it possesses what Chasseguet-Smirgel calls a “maturational character” (‘Some Thoughts on the Ego Ideal’, p. 354). It has a place for a father-substitute who represents a higher level of knowledge, emotional intelligence, artistic expression, skill, etc. and who the individual identifies with and through who s/he accumulates more of the understanding held in his or her historical civilization[12]. If the person has experienced the phallic-narcissistic stage and regresses to the ego drive/ideal there then a conflict between the mother’s phallic image and the internalized incest taboo takes place. Attacking this paternal imago (the father’s possession of the mother as head of the family) is an attack on both sexual difference and the difference between the generations. Since this represents the ‘nucleus’ of the guilt conscience that is set up in the father complex, it’s comparable to attacking the roots of the tree (i.e. destroying all that has grown from it).

Along with the potential rivalry with a father-substitute who represents taking on more knowledge in civilization and seeking to once again strive after the mother’s phallic image there is a third option. Chasseguet-Smirgel also indicates that the ego ideal can become even more regressive and forgo both the struggle with the father substitute and realizing the mother’s phallic image and ‘introvert’ from the phallic to the anal level (‘Some Thoughts on the Ego Ideal, 356, 370). In this ‘introverted’ route the child doesn’t attempt to maintain the image of being greater than the phallic father imago with the mother’s phallic image but instead finds some secret route to regarding himself as competing for god-like knowledge, beauty, skill, etc. or deserving a relationship with a god-like person.

Those belonging to the class of fathers: educators, law enforcement, and those who can receive the transference of belonging to an older generation of a respectable class of society will negotiate one’s interaction in society and the acquisition of its knowledge. This follows the route of prestige, respectability, and social status. The possibility of finding great success or love that is mediated by the class of fathers even eclipses the conscience and the Oedipal father and Freud compares it to having the love of fate (‘Civilization’, p.126-7)[13]. Again, the phallic-oedipal class of fathers represent the gate keepers to following the path of prestige and avoiding ‘social anxiety’ from having peers and fathers know about one’s ‘sins’[14]. The anal-Oedipal class of fathers are represented by those at the top of society: the kings, presidents, popes, CIA directors, and certain artists or wise people (philosophers, mystics, etc.)[15]. They are historically seen as chosen by God (i.e. king’s divine right to rule), in communication with God (mystics or artistic inspiration), or, in secular sense, they are regarded as the closest to omnipotence or omniscience in society[16]. The phallic fathers are the gate keepers to the anal fathers and when knowledge really reaches you and changes your attitude towards life, it reaches down the anal father imago. However, it’s also possible that a cult, or some other group outside the ‘reputable’ phallic father class taps into the anal father imago and belief and faith trumps knowledge and the person is ‘indoctrinated’ or ‘brain-washed’. It may be that this cult has true knowledge but it’s only by being able to speak the language of the phallic fathers and holding one’s own with the ‘reputable’ knowledge that understanding is proven. Otherwise, it’s intuition or imitation at work and not understanding.

Thus, in the last account, the castration complex consists firstly of a phallic level rivalry with someone representing the father imago who would take away the love of the phallic mother. This can happen in the form of a triangular relationship or it can happen at the social level of the person feeling that he or she is superior to the father-substitutes in one’s community. For example, in the myth of Arachne and Athena, an egoistic woman can consider herself to be more beautiful, of superior taste, or more skilled in making beautiful things than a ‘father-substitute’ represented by a woman who has a better reputation for her beauty or taste. General public opinion occupies the place of the phallic mother and the woman of good reputation is the “social reality” (i.e. not necessarily the truth) that she is more esteemed (i.e. occupies the place of the father)[17]. Again, the mother’s phallic image gives one the ability to compete with those who represent the phallic father authority of social prestige[18]. Secondly, the castration complex also represents a possible further introversion to the anal stage in which one is no longer competing with a father-substitute to make one’s name eclipse his or her name in reputation or in a romantic triangle. Here names and reputation in one’s community aren’t important.  Instead one feels like one is in competition to be god-like in power or understanding or that one’s beauty, taste, etc. is powerful enough to attract a god-like being[19]. There are no shortage of intellectuals who stop progressing and decide that one theorist has solved the major problems of philosophy and decide to ‘worship’ him or personally feel that they are doing the only kind of work that matters. Like Casaubon in George Elliot’s Middlemarch who is working on ‘the key’ to all mythologies, illusion has trumped the phallic father or the desire of maintaining the image that one is greater than him. The narcissist drops out of ‘society’ and competing for status and turns to neurotic fantasies and obsessing. This regressive form of the castration complex is noted by Abraham who noticed that in egoistic female patients:      

we come across phantasies which refer to the possibility of a recognition of the man and to the formulation of conditions under which the patient, after their fulfilment, would be prepared to reconcile herself to her femininity. I mention first of all a condition I have met with many times; it runs: 'I could be content with my femininity if I were absolutely the most beautiful of all women'. All men would lie at the feet of the most beautiful woman, and the female narcissism would consider this power not a bad compensation for the defect so painfully perceived… (Abraham, ‘Manifestations of the Female Castration Complex’, p.25-6).

Egoistic women in anal regression no longer compete for a socially esteemed man or to create the image that they are above all the esteemed women in their community (in line with their mother’s phallic image). Their libido is introverted from this phallic competition and they have ideals that they are superior to all men and women around them and that only a god-like man deserves them. They harbour the illusion that they are the most beautiful or tasteful woman in the world. 

After this long but very much needed theoretical edifice, I can finally say that we find Ada in the position of suffering from the castration complex and having an anally regressed ego ideal. Firstly, as Reich described, the phallic narcissist in his defensive aspect- “arrogant, either coldly reserved, or contemptuously aggressive”- Ada is initially portrayed as both. She contemptuously tells the seamen who brought her to her new island home that “she’d rather be boiled alive by natives than get back in your tub” and is both haughty and coldly silent to Stewart and other people representing the “society” of the settlement. Ada, initially, is only interested in her piano and her daughter. Additionally, even though Ada has some playful moments with her daughter her embodiment is seen as stiff, upright, and her face is disposed to a frown, scowl, or angry look. In the film, the new “society” of Stewart, his relatives and the priest, are portrayed as foolish. For example the priest is dressed up in women’s clothing and is portrayed as childishly interested in tricks and kid’s stories, Stewart’s relatives are shown as provincial, boring, and unattractive, and Stewart is shown as preoccupied with acquiring land while being tricked by the natives (his land deal falls though and the natives steal his jar of buttons). There’s no ‘public’ story that happens involving the society there. Instead Ada tries to get to her piano in order to play and then tries to get it back by giving Baines “lessons”.

From Flora, Ada’s daughter, we get the story that her “father” was a famous German composer. This story is briefly flashed as a cartoon that I interpret as showing its larger than life quality for the child while at the same time alerting the audience of its inauthenticity. Ada and her famous composer lover were on top of a mountain when he was killed by a lightening bolt as if Zeus or some other god was his rival for Ada’s love. Additionally, Ada’s piano playing is represented as being magical. In the script notes after Baines takes Ada and Flora back to her piano, which had been left behind at the beach, he is described as “magnetically drawn” to Ada’s “uninhibited emotional playing, and as he watches, he finds himself edging irresistibly closer”. Additionally, Aunt Morag is also moved by Ada’s piano playing although the passion conveyed is felt as disturbing to her ‘hollow’ passionless life. “To have a sound creep inside you” Aunt Morag says “is not all pleasant”  (Script).

Ada is first shown as uninterested in ‘society’ or having a good reputation or ‘name’ and her piano playing is shown as magical and tied to her having the capacity to attract a famous composer. From here, Baines manages to first re-awaken her sexual desire and then get Ada to love him. However, instead of seeing this as a return to hope and further progression and development in finding a new father substitute and acquiring more of the knowledge stored in civilization, something else occurs. Ada moves back to the phallic level and begins to care about her name or reputation in society but her ego ideal is perversely striving for notoriety or infamy. She lives with a man who has ‘gone native’ with a tattooed face and is eccentric herself because she is just learning to speak and has a metal finger. She isn’t looking to compete for being socially esteemed but delights in opposing the social order. In the end monologue she exclaims “I am quite the town freak which satisfies!” (script). Because of length I can’t get into a more rigorous definition of the ‘perverse’ operation of recognizing phallic society only in order to subvert, attack, or behave in a negativitistic relation to it. However, I will mention its relation to the imagoes and symbols later.

What is remarkable about The Piano is not that it has a particularly vivid portrayal of the castration complex in a regressed anal ego ideal. Rather, it is that that narrative of the film also includes the sequence of the parental imagoes as it occurs in the phallic-narcissistic stage. In this way my interpretation of her character is validated within the film itself. As I mentioned, from Flora’s point of view the characters of the film represent the general relations of the parental imagoes just discussed. We are given a re-enactment of the primal scene and castration of the mother and an identification with the father (incest taboo) that is made after Ada’s betrayal. Because Flora is Ada’s daughter and directly linked to her, is the age that Ada was when she stopped speaking, and moreover, and is literally represented as a part of her (i.e. her voice) I will interpret her as a ‘narcissistic’ object I think that experience says more about Ada than about Flora as a separate person.   

Flora’s relation to her mother shows all the hallmarks of a close, binding, and intimate relationship with her that is the hallmark of the phallic mother. She must go with her everywhere to speak for her and is often seems to be experiencing Ada’s feelings as she translates for her. Flora is told that she is special and other people are denigrated: “Actually, to tell you the whole truth” Flora says to Aunt Morag “Mama says most people speak rubbish and it's not worth the listen” (Script). Additionally, from her point of view, the mother’s phallic image is present the form of the German composer who was her father, and she tells his story with much enthusiasm.

As mentioned, the mother’s phallic image is based upon the splitting of the father imago so that means that there must be a denigrated half, upon which the mother’s phallic image is given strength, and a remaining half represented in the film. The former is obviously Baines who has ‘gone native’, has face tattoos, and seems lecherous for trying to exchange sex for the piano. Early in the movie this denigration is made explicit by Ada. Flora, speaking for her says; “She says it's her piano, and she won't have him touch it. He's an oaf, he can't read, he's ignorant” (Script). The remaining half of the father imago is Stewart who initially in the film is more important in his patriarchal function, as the man who Ada’s father traded or gave his daughter to. Initially Flora intended to ignore Stewart: “I'm not going to call him Papa.  I'm not going to call HIM anything. I'm not even going to look at HIM” (script). This betrays her disinterest in the remaining half of the father imago.

The first shift occurs when Flora sees Baines (the denigrated father) and her mother having sex in the primal scene. Both Flora’s understanding that it was sex and the change of her relation to Stewart (the remaining half of the father imago) is illustrated after the event.  After the primal scene Flora joins the Maori children in a sexual game of kissing and rubbing up against trees. Stewart shows up and says that she shames both herself and the trees, takes her home, and punishes her by having her clean he trees later. After this Flora mentions that Ada never gives Baines a turn at the piano and essentially tattles on her which leads to Stewart going to Baines place and having the primal scene played a second time for the endopsychic eyes of the father imago. 

There is a problem in this genetic interpretation of the movie to the extent that Flora has to be betrayed twice by the mother. Now this can mean a number of things. It can mean that the transition from the phallic-narcissistic to identification with the father involves two steps itself that theorists are unaware of. It can mean that though the primal scene is one of the determining factors of the story that it isn’t the only one and it was doubled up in some way. It can also mean that I’m wrong about the film representing the transition. However, I think that with the power of the symbolic images: primal scene, phallic mother, and castration of mother that there’s a strong case for a genetic reading. Although I’d need empirical examples from other films to support it, I’d venture that the double betrayal represents the social-sexual parallelism I’ve indicated in repetitions[20].

Although Flora catches her mother with the brutish Baines she can chalk it up to the lust of the body or something she has to do to get her piano back. Flora can tell herself that her mother doesn’t love Baines or to the extent that the mother represents not just a private relationship but a nascent relation to public opinion in the ego ideal, she can say that her mother is still grooming her to be someone others will recognize as having superior taste or inner beauty. However, in the scene in which Ada removes a key from the piano and writes a declaration of love upon it to Baines, he is symbolically given the mother’s symbol of refinement and superior taste. This scene is central because the long phallic piano key gives us the image of the phallic mother. Moreover, because Baines can’t read and Ada sends the key/phallus with Flora, it is symbolically a message for Flora herself. Despite Baines’ previous denigration Ada is now seen to prefer sex with him and to be giving up the ability to play the piano for him (the public or social dimension of the ego drive/ideal).

Preceding this event we see that Stewart’s father imago is gaining in strength but that Ada is still seductive towards Flora. After the primal scene Stewart boards up the house in order to keep Ada away from Baines and Flora, far from ignoring, helps her father:

FLORA and ADA stand in the hut while fierce hammering can be heard outside. STEWART is boarding over the windows, barricading them in. FLORA joins in the spirit of be exercise gaily pointing out any slats STEWART has missed. FLORA Here Papa! (script)

From the point of view of Flora, Ada continues to be sexually seductive even after the primal scene:

It is night. ADA is tossing in the small bed beside FLORA, her hair wound across her face, she makes low moaning sounds as she pushes her face and body up against the sleeping FLORA. Her movement and moans increase until she wakes suddenly sitting bolt upright (Script).

Although Flora could be interpreted as innocently telling Stewart about Baines, being innocent in enthusiastically helping him keep her mother locked in the house, and Ada is portrayed as innocently asleep when she is sexual with Flora, the images are what is important and not the narrative. In this kind of reading the maternal, combined parental, and paternal images or imagoes, which comprise the unconscious, are connected by their sequence in psychosexual development or in defensive operations. Although Ada is asleep when she seductively touches Flora and the audience is left with the impression that she is dreaming of the man she loves (Baines) and is in the throes of a sex dream about him, what matters for us here is the image in itself and that it occurs before Ada’s castration and that it isn’t shown before the father imago is denigrated (if pre-phallic-narcissistic images were available in the sequence of images shown in the narrative).

Once again, after Flora is betrayed by Ada, with the piano key/phallus declaring her love for Baines, Flora betrays her by telling Stewart about the message. This leads to Ada’s “castration” when her finger is chopped off. After this Flora becomes Stewart’s voice or agent when he sends Flora with his own message to Baines. Stewart wants Baines to know he’ll chop off another finger, and another…, if Baines tries to see Ada again. This links Stewart to the symbol of Bluebeard from the church play but importantly sets him up as the symbol of the recognition of sexual difference. 
Now that Flora is the agent of the remaining father imago she must acknowledge sexual difference and as Chasseguet-Smirgel indicates, accept her castration in order that she can diminish the power of the maternal (phallic mother) imago who betrayed her. When Flora takes the message to Baines from Stewart we are given such an image. It is important to notice that it is in the script and not just a random detail included by the director. Campion writes: “BAINES notices the blood on FLORA'S dress, he touches it, she shys away” (Script). Suffice it to say that this blood isn’t on the upper half of Flora’s body and that the castration of the phallic mother initiates sexual difference which means that Flora too is castrated.  

The next relevant scene to this sequence involves Ada’s telepathic communication to Stewart. Ada is shown to be in a feverish, semi-conscious state after her ‘castration’. Ada makes some sensual gestures and Stewart sees this as an opportunity. Campion writes:

A new thought occurs to him, a terrible thought, but as he has phrased the thought to himself, he cannot resist it. He glances at her face still fevered and unconscious. Quietly, stealthily, he begins to undo his belt buckle. He bends across her to gently separate her legs. As he moves his body over her, he looks towards her and to his shame and horror she is looking directly back at him, her eyes perfectly on his, perfectly focused
The sound of his own voice makes him blink. He watches her as if listening to her speak in a voice that is so faint, and distant, that only with great concentration and perseverance can he make it out. As he watches her his face transforms; his eyes fill, his lips soften and his eyebrows take on the exact expression of her own (Script).  

In her feverishness Ada makes sensual gestures and Stewart intends to rape her but before this occurs Ada speaks to him telepathically and he stops. Stewart afterwards asks Baines if Ada has spoken to him in words and when Baines answers in the negative we see the power dynamic changed between the two. Now Stewart is powerful and in control of the interaction. He expresses that out of love for Ada he will let her leave with Baines[21]. I understand this supernatural phenomenon of Ada somehow putting her unspoken words in Stewart’s head as the “transcription of power” from maternal imago to paternal imago. Once again it seems that an event in the sexual or private realm (primal scene, literal castration) must have a parallel event in the social or public realm (giving up piano playing to send Baines a message, telepathic transfer of words). This event conjures up the mythic image of Athena being born of Zeus’ head and the Orestes trial in which paternity and the father as procreator trumps the maternal realm of blood and kinship. Both of these events are coordinates set for the transfer of power by Chassaguet-Smirgel (‘Freud and Female Sexuality’, p. 284-5).

The remaining half of the father imago receives the transfer of power from the (phallic) mother imago and is partially internalized in order to form a transference object. This is the transference of the father as procreator (higher generation and head of the family) and possessor of the mother (incest taboo). The child recognizes the father’s sexual possession of the mother and, at the social level, recognizes that the father’s name eclipses one’s own. The child becomes a Smith, Johnson, or group member within a family and is capable of friendship and love. If there is regression to the castration complex the individual egoistically strives to give the impression that he or she is more powerful or special than the father-substitute and through love or work hopes to establish its own name as powerful in its social community. 

Acceptance of ‘castration’ doesn’t seem to be the fate of Ada. As mentioned, she seems to get off on being a ‘freak’ in society. Ada recognizes “public opinion” but only to the extent that she wants to behave negativistically towards it or criticize it as insufficient. Becoming perverse and selecting Baines as a perverse phallic object allows Ada to escape from her anal introversion but Baines represents the phallic mother with whom Ada challenges the class of fathers. Ferenczi has drawn our attention to a phenomenon he calls displacement upwards from below in which the phallus is projected onto the head in some way (‘Psycho-Analytical Observations on a Tic’, p. 27-8). There are cultural representations of this displacement in the nose phallus on clowns, the feather in the hat of Peter Pan, the interest in the face of sexual narcissist who is in love with her own mirror image, (etc.). In Campion’s script we see the instruction that Flora “plaits her hair in one thick braid” as she prepares to leave with Ada and Baines. I believe that this seemingly inconsequential image is important and comparable to the feather in Peter Pan’s hat and, as a displacement upwards from below, would symbolize the perversion and pre-oedipal status of Ada. Otherwise, the closest we get to the female Oedipus complex is that Flora stays the night at Baines after she delivers Stewart’s message. It’s possible that this implies that perversion is a reaction to the female Oedipus complex and not the castration complex.  

I don’t feel 100% confident in answering this question but hope that applied psychoanalysis will raise such questions for other clinicians. When a displacement upwards from below is resolved does it instantly betray itself as having been a defense against castration anxiety or is it a defense against the subsequent father complex or female Oedipus complex? Additionally, other films that show a similar genetic sequence have to be studied. Anyway, I hope to have shown that the psychoanalytic study of culture can be valuable and not merely a post-modern playing with words and images with no anchoring in the characterlogical dimensions of the characters in the narrative.

[1] A self representation is a concept originated by Hartmann to differentiate the ego as perceptual consciousness system from the ego as receiver of cathexis (i.e. narcissistic libido) and various feelings about oneself (ex. ‘I am bad, dirty, and unacceptable,’). There are various self-representations that are created through psycho-sexual development and they are paired with object representations that hold the child’s immature pictures of the parent’s power. The object representation is indispensible for understanding defenses like projection (Jacobson, ‘Self and Object World’, p. 102-3). Basically these words clarify what was already implicit in Freud. The self is the ego in relation to the ego ideal and object representations stand for the parental imagos, but since orthodox ego psychologists only recognize the ego ideal and conscience as phenomena arising in the Oedipus complex they see the pre-oedipal as only existing in wishes and dispositions to identifications.    
[2]He also explicitly states this position elsewhere:A great change takes place only when the authority is internalized through the establishment of a super-ego. The phenomena of conscience then reach a higher stage. Actually, it is not until now that we should speak of conscience or a sense of guilt… [However, in the footnote to this Freud writes:] [e]veryone of discernment will understand and take into account the fact that in this summary description we have sharply delimited events which in reality occur by gradual transitions, and that it is not merely a question of the existence of a super-ego but of its relative strength and sphere of influence” (Civilization, p. 125).
[3] Many analysts, E. Jacobson, J Lampl-De Groot, A. Reich, Chasseguet-Smirgel, I Hendrick, etc. have held the opinion that there are multiple ego ideals but pairing them to parental imagoes seems to be neglected, However, there is evidence that parental imagoes exist back into the earliest stage of part-objects (i.e. breast and penis) in Klein’s work (Envy and Gratitude, p.197). Adding to this are Michael Eigen’s findings of an androgynous combined parent during the anal phase in ‘The Differentiation of An Androgynous Imago’. The phallic mother’s feminine gender with addition of a penis requires the anal establishment of masculine and feminine embodiment. Wilhelm Reich and early characterologists pointed to a passive-feminine bearing in a man as the result of anal identification with the mother before latter analysts like Stoller created the concept of primary gender (Stoller, ‘Primary Femininity’, Reich, Character Analysis, p. 163-4).  Moreover, even American analysts began to see the importance of the father in pre-oedipal stages in which the mother is usually thought to be the focus of interest and power (Rupprecht-Schampera, U., The Concept Of ‘Early Triangulation’ As A Key To A Unified Model Of Hysteria).    
[4] Freud is clear that we must follow common language and judgment in understanding both the motivational force of the ego ideals and the tensions of their non-fulfillment: “We call this organization their 'ego'. Now there is nothing new in this. Each one of us makes this assumption without being a philosopher … In psycho-analysis we like to keep in contact with the popular mode of thinking and prefer to make its concepts scientifically serviceable rather than reject them” (Freud, ‘The Question of Lay Analysis’, p. 195). “In ego-psychology it will be difficult to escape from what is universally known; it will rather be a question of new ways of looking at things and new ways of arranging them than of new discoveries” (Freud, ‘NIL’, p. 60). 
[5] Repression… proceeds from the self-respect of the ego… We can say that the one man has set up an ideal in himself by which he measures his actual ego, while the other has formed no such ideal. For the ego the formation of an ideal would be the conditioning factor of repression (On Narcissism, 93-4). It is precisely in neurotics that we find the highest differences of potential between the development of their ego ideal and the amount of sublimation of their primitive libidinal instincts; and in general it is far harder to convince an idealist of the inexpedient location of his libido than a plain man whose pretensions have remained more moderate (ibid., p. 95). One part of self-regard… proceeds from the satisfaction of object-libido. The ego ideal has imposed severe conditions upon the satisfaction of libido through objects; for it causes some of them to be rejected by means of its censor, as being incompatible. (ibid., p. 100).
[6] I’ll only be examining the active-egoistic side of the ego ideal and not the passive-altruistic side. Furthermore, within the active-egoistic dimension I recognize that one can either be narcissistic about one’s perfection conceived of as physical or intellectual strength and perfection in one’s beauty or ability to judge and make beautiful things. Freud discusses this position under narcissistic object choice as opposed to anaclitic object choice. Another early analyst, J. Harnik, shows that the relation to phallus exists here too.“[T]o sum up the psychogenetic situation in female narcissism” he writes, “the formula [is]: 'The whole body is equivalent to a genital.' (Hárnik, ‘The Various Developments Undergone by Narcissism in Men and in Women’, P. 79). Harnik also documents that this position is occupied by some men as well: “It is entirely in accordance with our views on bisexuality to assume that a given psychic mechanism operates in both sexes, only more powerfully in the one than in the other…” (ibid., p. 71). Harnik cites male body builders and the figure of Hercules as examples of men who want their ‘beauty’ to cause desire. 
[7] Although Reich refers to a ‘mother identification’ he explicitly notes the symbol of the phallic mother (Character Analysis p. 163, 222). 
[8] Ego psychologists refer to this as the ‘wished for self image’ and speak of specific identifications the child makes with an ‘idol’ (Milrod, ‘The Superego’). They want what is pre-oedipal to relate to wishes and disposition to identifications, while the post-oedipal is associated with the internalization of the parents as superego that yields an “autonomous” rational chooser who is responsible for his actions. 
Of course this view nicely coincides with the ideology of capitalism and I think its popularity stems more from this than from its rigorous scholoarship of Freud’s texts. In contrast, the view above would see the ‘wishes’ in patient’s dreams relate to ego ideals that have been abandoned due to narcissistic injury or disappointment in love. As John Murray writes in the case of a passive-altruistic gunner who was depressed after the death of his pilot: “[t]herapy was not truly complete until a new orientation occurred, one which restored the healthy narcissistic conception of self, embraced the feeling that the future held hope, and included a replacement for the pilot as a symbol of these essential self-image feelings (Murray, ‘Narcissism and the Ego Ideal’ p..476-9).
[9] In contrast, earlier forms of perfection are more general, for example a certain obsessive type might have an ideal to do everything perfectly or rather than the ideal being measured by reputation it can be measured more immediately by whether one is the center of attention in groups.   
[10] I believe that gender difference, like the self-respect ego ideal are best conceived as re-active in nature as opposed to the direction giving ego drives which are always acting and pushing for the egoistic individual to gain recognition, power, and  “magnification of the individual” (Freud, NIL, p. 96). A person doesn’t have to prove their masculinity or femininity or that they are special until they are criticized or receive a narcissistic injury from others. Furthermore, analysts such as Reich draw attention that there is the possibility of conflict between the direction-giving (ego drive) aspect of the ego ideal and the self-respect (gender aspect): “Side by side with his de facto feminine-passive nature (mother identification in the ego), he has identified with his father in his ego ideal (father identification in superego and ego ideal). However, he is not able to realize this identification because he lacks a phallic position. He will always be feminine and want to be masculine. A severe inferiority complex, the result of this tension between feminine ego and masculine ego-ideal will.. always [be] present… (‘Character Analysis’, p. 164). In this way I think Freud already formulated what humanists call the ‘false self’ in the self-respect aspect of the ego ideal.       
[11] In my opinion these are just two active-egoistic characterlogical reactions and the passive-altruistic ones (i.e. idealization of the object rather than self) have hardly received any real theoretical attention. 
[12] “[T]he father persists in the shape of a teacher or some other person in authority…. The person who does the beating is from the first her father, replaced later on by a substitute taken from the class of fathers 196 (‘A Child is Being Beaten’, p. 190, 196; ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’, p. 133).
“We can now understand our relation to our schoolmasters. These men, not all of whom were in fact fathers themselves, became our substitute fathers. That was why, even though they were still quite young, they struck us as so mature and so unattainably adult. We transferred on to them the respect and expectations… We confronted them with the ambivalence that we had acquired in our own families and with its help we struggled with them as we had been in the habit of struggling with our fathers… (‘Some Reflections on Schoolboy Psychology’, p. 244).  
[13] “Even Fate is, in the last resort, only a later projection of the father” (‘Dostoevsky and Parricide’, p. 185).
[14] I’d also like to stress that the father-substitutes can also appear on the side of the law and that along with our fate being in the hands of our educators it’s also possible that mistreatment from those representing the laws, safety, protection in our society could ignite the Oedipus complex. The father also represents the first external form of conscience until the guilt conscience is set up in the following father complex . Freud writes that the Oedipal father is ‘depersonalized’ into fear of the larger human community knowing someone is guilty of something wrong rather than having one’s own guilt (‘Civilization’, 124-5, ‘ISA’, p. 128).       
[15] This anal god-like father imago is found in the work of many other analysts in various guises. Klein in The Psychoanalysis of Children (p. 239, 280, 363) talks of the “omnipotence of excrements” and other analysts indicate a pre-phallic or anal relation to parental images that are God-like (Annie Reich, Early Identifications as Archaic Elements in the Superego, p. 237, Grotstein, Who is the Dreamer who Dreams the Dream and who is the Dreamer who Understands It, p. 122). Freud also clearly oscillates towards interpreting the primal father as the phallic Oedipal and the god-like anal oedipal and this was never worked out in his theory. For example, “the hypnotist awakens in the subject a portion of his archaic heritage… experienced [as] an individual re-animation in his relation to his father; what is thus awakened is the idea of a paramount and dangerous personality, towards whom only a passive-masochistic attitude is possible, to whom one's will has to be surrendered,—while to be alone with him, ‘to look him in the face’, appears a hazardous enterprise. It is only in some such way as this that we can picture the relation of the individual member of the primal horde to the primal father.” (‘Group Psychology’, p. 127, emphasis mine). The god-like aspect of this was known to him:
“Might not the biblical prohibition of worshipping God as an image be connected with the repression of scoptophilia? Looking on God is in fact punished with death or blindness” (The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham 1907-1925, p, 179) 
[16] In the altruistic form omnipotence/omniscience is better characterized by beneficence/ benevolence or the most glamourous, charismatic, profound or perspicacious people. 
[17] Fairbairn similarly notes that in the castration complex “it is not difficult to see that the maternal components of both the internal objects have, so to speak, a great initial advantage over the paternal components; and this, of course, applies to children of both sexes… In conformity with this fact, a sufficiently deep analysis of the Oedipus situation invariably reveals that this situation is built up around the figures of an internal exciting mother and an internal rejecting mother….in the classic drama of Hamlet; but there can be no doubt that, both in the role of exciting and tempting object and in that of rejecting object, the Queen is the real villain of the piece (Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies, p. 124).
[18] In this rivalry the phallic narcissist sometimes feels like a phony and like he will be “unmasked”. McDougall in her case study writes:  “For K. could only find his identity in the eyes of his mother. Only through her could he hope to acquire his manhood. His wish for his father's love and for the right to identify with him and thereby introject an authentic paternal-phallic image was felt to be forbidden by his mother, and had therefore to remain unconscious. His mother remained sole guardian of his narcissistic integrity…. From there on the fear of being unmasked and punished for an unnamed crime becomes a consuming preoccupation. He must keep a close control on everything. Thus the fear of losing control is added to the anxiety of losing his fragile identity. He fears losing control, not only of himself, but also of the Other, the anonymous spectator, in whose eyes the false identity must be maintained. The image of the Other, projected onto the world of men, renders the public, all the Others, a constant threat to his position” (‘The Anonymous Spectator’, p. 298-304). In the defensive aspect of phallic-narcissism the individual can identify with the object representation or imago and switch inferiority for superiority and project his inferiority into others. 
[19] Adler writes of how this “introduces into our life a hostile and fighting tendency, robs us of the simplicity of our feeling and is always the cause of an estrangement from reality since it puts near to our hearts the idea of attempting to over-power reality. Whoever takes this goal of godlikeness seriously or literally, will soon be compelled to flee from real life and compromise, by seeking a life within life; if fortunate in art, but more generally in pietism, neurosis, or crime (Adler, Individual Psychology. p. 8).  Good cultural examples to disambiguate the phallic and the anal levels comes from Star Wars in which the phallic father is represented in his ‘bad aspect’ by Darth Vader (direct commander of the troops) and the Anal father is represented by the Emperor. Additionally, in Lord of the Rings there were rings made for all the different kings but one ring that controlled all of those rings. In Highlander, there are many ‘immortals’ living among regular humans but secretly waging a battle against each other in which there can only be one.
[20] I mentioned above that the repetition can either proceed from a personal or sexual relationship or a public or ego ideal relation to society. Freud explicitly formulates this:  “It is not our belief that a person's libidinal interests are from the first in opposition to his self-preservative interests; on the contrary, the ego endeavours at every stage to remain in harmony with its sexual organization as it is at the time and to fit itself into it. The succession of the different phases of libidinal development probably follows a prescribed programme. But the possibility cannot be rejected that this course of events can be influenced by the ego, and we may expect equally to find a certain parallelism, a certain correspondence, between the developmental phases of the ego and the libido; indeed a disturbance of that correspondence might provide a pathogenic factor” (Freud, ‘Introductory Lectures’, p.351-2).
[21] It may be debatable as to whether Stewart lets her go out of love but this is what he says: “I love her. But what is the use? She doesn't care for me. I wish her gone. I wish you gone. I want to wake and find it was a dream, that is what I want. I want to believe I am not this man. I want my self back; the one I know” (Script). 

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