The philosophy of self comprises a broad range of approaches to studying the specific conditions and qualities of identity. Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis contributes to the discourse and introduces two essential theories: the mirror stage and the gaze (Jazani 17). Both were influenced by other schools of thought, particularly Freud’s psychoanalysis. The concepts introduced by Lacan had a significant influence on further theorists focusing on the unconscious. This paper aims to explain two Lacanian psychoanalytic theories, namely, the mirror stage and the gaze, apply them to two movies, and discuss the mental representation of an “I” with regard to a mirror reflection.
The Mirror Stage
The theory of the mirror stage is based on the idea of three fields that intertwine and function as a system forming one’s self-recognition and self-awareness. Wang summarizes Lacan’s theory as “the following two aspects: demonstrating the process of people’s self-recognition in mirror stage and discussing the influence of mirror images on people in the process” (2). The stage of the mirror is considered one of the first phases in the formation of one’s image. A child of 6-18 months begins to recognize itself in the mirror, build and integrate its own image into the imaginary aspect (Wang 2). However, in reality, it does not yet have full control over its own body and its disparate manifestations. Due to such inconsistencies, Lacan draws various conclusions about human nature. As per this theory, oneself can be defined as a unified whole that breaks upon the confrontation with the imaginary and the symbolic order.
The Gaze Theory
The gaze is another complex concept that is crucial to Lacan’s theory of psychoanalysis. In particular, gazing is essential with regard to the mirror stage when one “appears to achieve a sense of mastery by seeing himself as ideal ego” (Felluga). The symbolic and imaginary orders play an important role in establishing a narcissistic ideal. According to Rosa et al., “Lacan chooses the scopic object, the gaze, to show the relationship of conjunction/disjunction between the drive and the imaginary body and … to assert that the gaze, more than any other drive object, imposes a modification in the presentation of the imaginary” (2). In Lacan’s view, this theory distinguishes the looking act and the gaze, which is performed on the side of the object rather than the subject (Felluga). In other words, this phenomenon can be described as the feeling that the object of one’s look is looking back at the subject. Oneself can be defined in relation to one’s awareness and the perception by others.
Lacan’s Theories Applied to The Eye
In this regard, there are numerous examples that showcase the main principles of Lacan’s theories. The 2008 movie The Eye, directed by David Moreau, tells a story of a blind woman that received a cornea transplant and began seeing weird things. In one of the movie scenes, Sydney Wells, a character performed by Jessica Alba, looks in the mirror and realizes that the reflection is not hers (The Eye). Instead, she sees a different woman she believes to be her donor. The theory of the gaze can be applied to this scene as it demonstrates how the subject of the act of looking becomes the object.
Lacan’s Theories Applied to Hollow Man
Another vivid example of the implementation of Lacan’s theoretical approach is the movie Hollow Man, directed by Paul Verhoeven in 2000. The character Sebastian Caine, played by Kevin Bacon, undergoes a test that results in him being invisible. Since he is unable to see himself in the mirror, he feels capable of killing and committing crimes (Hollow Man). This scene demonstrates the main idea of Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage: the view of one’s own image influences the “I.” Sebastian’s conscience makes him feel guiltless for the crimes and deviant behavior since he does not associate his body image with himself. This theme bears a certain resemblance with Oscar Wild’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, where the main character’s appearance transformed as a result of his deeds; however, the changes occurred in his portrait rather than in the man’s own body. Overall, Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage demonstrates how one’s view of their image affects themselves.
The Mental Representation of an “I”
The instance discussed in the paragraph above demonstrates how an external image of the body reflected in the mirror produces a psychic response that gives rise to the mental representation of an “I” for people to identify who they really are. The mirror stage theory claims that the ego fundamentally depends upon external objects. One’s personality and particular characteristics are formed through social, cultural, and linguistic frameworks and associated with the external image of the body. Lacan’s ideas regarding the formation of self-recognition are compliant with Freudian psychoanalysis theory (Wang 4). Overall, the imagery, the real, and the symbolic are intertwined in a system, influencing each other in a coherent way.
To summarize, Lacan’s contribution to the theory of psychoanalysis is significant, particularly due to his findings regarding the mirror stage and the gaze framework. The examples of the practical application of the two theories in movies demonstrate the importance of Jacques Lacan’s findings for studying the specific conditions and qualities of identity and representing them in real life. The mirror stage and the gaze theories have a significant influence on the development of other schools of thought.
Jazani, Berjanet. Lacanian Psychoanalysis from Clinic to Culture. Routledge, 2020.
Wang, Lulu. “Self-Construction in The Importance of Being Earnest from the Perspective of Lacan’s Mirror Stage Theory.” Open Access Library Journal, vol. 7, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1-6. Scientific Research Publishing.
The Eye. Directed by David Moreau, performance by Jessica Alba, Cruise/Wagner Productions, 2008.
Hollow Man. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, performance by Kevin Bacon, Columbia Pictures, 2000.
Rosa, Carmelo, et al. “From the Imaginary to Theory of the Gaze in Lacan.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 12, 2021, pp. 1-7. Frontiers in Psychology.
Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze.” Purdue U, Web.