......• A Father in the Cut
.........Chiara Mangiarotti

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Under the guise of an erotic thriller Jane Campion continues to explore the subjective evolution of a woman, focused through the story of a love affair. In the Cut is adapted from the book of the same name written by Susanna Moore, who co-authored the film with Jane Campion. The main character, Frannie, teaches English literature at the university. She loves writing and poetry, is doing research on black slang, and lives alone in a very degraded neighbourhood. On the one hand, she is plunged into a world that is quite foreign to her, on the other she lives in a bubble in which she dreams about love and tries to satisfy her sexual desires on her own. She attempts to withdraw into her own universe of words. She sticks post-its with poems up all around her flat, and always reads the poems written in the subway, which are part of a project called "Poetry in Motion". She is a wounded and unresolved person, closed in her isolation. Her only social ties are her stepsister, a very neurotic and maybe gay ex-boyfriend, and her students.

The film is set in the metropolis par excellence, New York, of which Campion shows the dark and sordid side: trash-filled streets, crumbling walls covered with graffiti, sleazy bars, and messy apartments - surfaces and spaces behind and inside of which one can imagine their inhabitants' solitude.

The film's colour spectrum privileges blood red and the black of death with the whole range of brick red, grey, and brown, dirty colours sometimes illuminated by flashes of light, by the dazzling green of plants and by the splendour of flowers. At the beginning of the film, while the titles are still running, a woman named Pauline is walking through a blooming and verdant park. As she sips her coffee, a man nearby is doing his Thai Chi exercises. A petal storm begins: the atmosphere is magical, with a sidereal music as the soundtrack.

The theme of beauty closes in itself its own end. This very theme of caducity was also suggested to Sigmund Freud during a summer walk with a young poet - probably Rainer Maria Rilke - who found himself unable to enjoy the surrounding beauty of the luxuriant nature because he was disturbed by its transitoriness. This theme sends us back to mourning because of the original loss that marks us at birth. This incomplete elaboration leaves the feeling of caducity as a remainder. In particular Freud connects it with the mourning that struck civilisation through the devastation of the First World War. We inevitably connect the present horror first and foremost with the twin towers, which are still missing from the New York skyline. This film is one of the first that was shot in New York after the twin towers fell. The melancholic poetry of the scene with the petal storm frames the emergency of a subjective problem in contemporary civilisation and its discontents.

By associating falling petals to snow flakes, this vision takes Frannie back to her parent's love story. In a flash-back, her father meets her mother at an ice skating rink. This sequence is a kind of primary scene that is repeated several times throughout the film.

Afterwards Frannie meets up with Cornelius, a black student whose stature and attitude is somewhat disquieting, in a "shady" bar called the Red Turtle. When Frannie gets up to find the bathroom, she sees a woman with red hair and blue nails giving a blow job to a man sitting on a chair. There isn't much light, and she doesn't see his face but she notices he has a tattoo on his arm. Sometime later a detective named Malloy calls on Frannie at her home investigating a murder. The girl with red hair has been brutally murdered. Her body has been decapitated and cut into pieces, fragments of which have been found in Frannie's garden.

Frannie and Malloy fall in love at first sight. Frannie's feelings, however, are a mix of attraction and fear because Malloy has the same tattoo on his arm as the man she'd seen with the red-haired girl in the bar. Her ambivalence, however, doesn't hold her back and, on the contrary, will serve to excite her passion. So, a love story begins between Frannie and Malloy, a love story with sexual connotations that were strong enough to scandalise part of the American audience. But don't be deceived, In the Cut is not a porno thriller.

Campion's film is based on Alan J. Pakula's Klute, which combines a love story, the rhythm of detective films, and a mystery to be solved. In the Cut, however, is much more. As Campion declared: "I used the thriller as background for exploring the relationship between two persons who live a strong love story, a passion that involves them totally. There is a strong bound between In the Cut and Piano, the theme is similar and I recount the sexuality from a certain distance." In both films the male characters - the half-native man in Piano and the policeman in In the Cut - are rude boys who are attractive because their desire makes them incomplete. They are men who, as Lacan would say, "don't beat around the bush". [1]

The film focuses on a woman with her particularity: she is closed in front of the Other, love brings her out and gives her access to a different kind of solitude, no longer symptomatic but singular. This is addressed from the very beginning by three recurring elements.

First, the refrain of the song Que serà, serà, which is quotation from Hitchcock's film The Man Who Knew Too Much. Despite the song's banality, it indicates, through the unanswered question the young girl poses to her mother about her future, the theme of the film, the destiny of a female subject.

Second, the sepia-coloured flash-backs of Frannie's parents meeting at the ice skating rink underline the passage of the subject through the Oedipus.

Third, the references to Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse, a feminist cult book world-wide, in which the author passes though an initiation that allows her to overcome her childhood fantasies and create her work. In the heart of the novel the children, Virginia and her brother, ask for their parents' permission to take a trip to the lighthouse. Their question has different answers: the mother's "yes", the father's "no", and the light from the lighthouse itself that orientates like a gnomon. The gnomon is the staff whose shadow tells time in meridians. Lacan uses this term to indicate the phallus, in analogy with its erect form: "The gnomon [the subject] erects, a gnomon that constantly indicates truth's site to him. Revealing that the phallus itself is nothing but the site of lack it indicates in the subject". [2] V. Woolf reaches the lighthouse by taking a trip through memory, through her writing, that allows her to reconcile the obsession of the parental figures that had encumbered her.

We have to resort to the three stages of Oedipus that are recognisable in this journey.

In the first, the father's instance is established in a veiled way through the mother, and the Phallus interposes at the imaginary level between the child and the mother with a variety of possibilities, including, for example, the child as the Phallus of the mother. The mother promises: "We'll go to the lighthouse", but her 'yes' never materialises.

In the second stage, the father prohibits the child the mother, the father says 'no', it's not possible to go to the lighthouse.

In the third, the figure of the father comes forward and says 'yes', the children can go to the lighthouse. Reaching the lighthouse doesn't mean imagining to have it, the phallus, but, in a different way for the boy and the girl, knowing how to orient oneself through the symbol of the Phallus.

In reality, the father is always inadequate with regard to the function of say 'yes' to the subject, whatever the subject's structure may be, neurosis or psychosis. What is at issue for everyone is to find their own way to make up for this lack, to invent the father. Virginia does it by writing. In her case, as in that of James Joyce writing acts as a sinthome, the old spelling of the French word sympt™me, that makes up for the lack of the Name-of-the-Father foreclosed, in German, verworfen

. In the case of Frannie, for whom we suppose a neurotic structure, arriving at Woolf's lighthouse, she is able to get over herself of her oedipal fantasies that prevent her from loving and creating, and from taking a different subjective position. In the film, the imaginary father, the ideal father, is represented in the ice skating scenes in which the father declares his love to the mother and in which we can see the double cuts of the father's ice skates: the incision on the ice of the excellent skater and man of great charm and the bloody incision of Frannie's fantasy in the flash of her mother in one of the variations of this scene.,br>
In the same way in which the father in Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book engraves his brand on his daughter through writing, Frannie sees this in the cut of the ice skates in her fantasy.

The title In the Cut offers numerous meanings. In slang, it means "in the vagina", an allusion to the sex in the film. It also means "safe in the hole", safe like the maniac killer until the very end. And it's the real horror of a serial killer cuts women in pieces. Above all, "cut" refers to the cut of the father's ice skate blade, as it is visualised at the beginning of the film, when his skates draw a circle around the title. It is the father's cut which contains jouissance (satisfaction) and which determines the particularity of the daughter's position with regards to her own jouissance. It is, finally, a female "cut" that splits the woman in the two-fold relationship with the Phallus and the Other jouissance.

Frannie's father is presented as a fantastic lover. He breaks up with his fiancˇe at the ice skating rink and, a half an hour later, proposes to the woman who will become Frannie's mother, quickly passing an engagement ring from one woman to the other. For him, she is not only an object that causes desire but also an object that causes hate, as is evident in the representation of Frannie's fantasy, an object cut into pieces. Some of the other details we are given about Frannie's father help us better understand Frannie's position with regards to him. From a dialogue between Frannie and Pauline, we learn that he has been married four times. We learn that he is a man who really loves women but also one who leaves many women, and perhaps when he leaves them, he hates them, or he simply he lets them down. But an object that falls down can also break, and Frannie's mother went crazy from a broken heart.

Frannie has also been let down. As she tells Malloy, once, when she was 13 years old, the father went to the USA and left her all alone. Frannie felt forsaken but she didn't breakdown. Instead, she developed a kind of challenge in the face of her father who, leaving her alone, put her in a potential state of danger. Frannie, as we can see in the film, looks for situations in her life in which she puts herself in danger: she hangs out at sleazy bars, lives in a degraded neighbourhood, doesn't have an intercom, and begins a love story with a man who might be a serial killer.

On the basis of this we could say that Frannie's fantasy is "a woman is cut into pieces". Her father is somebody who leaves women, he left her mother and, when she was a teen-ager, he left her alone in a strange city.

Picking up on the mirror stage in reference to the function of the Other , it is actually the gaze of the Other that provides a sense of unity for a child, whose sense of their body is initially fragmented. The gaze of the Other is the catalyst through which the child can come to recognise his or her own image and make it their own I. On the level of fantasy, the absence of the Other's unifying gaze is transposed into its opposite, into a look that kills shattering the body into fragments. Frannie is living the female splitting between the Phallus and the Other jouissance in a symptomatic way. This is illustrated by the image at the beginning of the film, which, in the titles, provides the background for the name of Meg Ryan, who plays Frannie: a billboard depicting the head of a woman with two faces, each one of which is looking in an opposite direction, while the road sign below says "one way".

The particular symptom in which Frannie articulates her hysterical challenge is unidirectional and crushes the singularity of the female position Frannie cannot access.

If a man's jouissance is concentrated in the object a and is articulated in his fantasy, a woman has an Other jouissance. In the seminar Encore [3] Lacan presented two formulas for the non-biological determination of sexuality:

Modern logic separates the notion of "for all" from the notion of existence, of the idea that "there is one". In the seventies, Lacan applied this logic to re-writing the metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father.

The bottom line on the left describes the male subject's inscription. The formula , for every x the proposition of x is valid, means that the function of castration that says "no" to jouissance is valid for all. Everyone is castrated.

The top line on the left says , however, "There is one" for whom this function is not valid, and this "one" occupies the place of exception that Lacan now defines as the Name-of-the Father. A man, a normal human being, can occupy the place of exception, the place that from a Freudian point of view was occupied, mythically, by the father of the primal horde, the father who enjoyed all women, with all the difficulties this implies.

. On the woman's side of the formulas for the non-biological development of sexuality the first line reads: there is not an x for which the function of x is not valid. The formula regarding women lacks the exception that limits the phallic function. The second line reads: not for every x is the function of of x valid.( This formula can be interpreted in two ways:

First, the castration function is not valid for everyone. In another text, entitled L'ˇtourdit, written in the seventies, Lacan stated that, for a woman, doing without castration, has to be expected, even if it is not desirable.

Second, not all female jouissance falls under the phallic function.

To complete the scheme in the Seminar intitled Encore1 we find, on the woman's side that indicates the lack of a signifier in the Other. It is in this lack of the Other that female jouissance is found, a jouissance that has the characteristics of infiniteness and the unspeakable: a jouissance that renders women insubstantial.

On the male side, we find the divided subject and the signifier of the phallus; on the female side, the object a that a woman may embody as the cause of man's desire. A woman, as a speaking subject, can be in relation with the signifier of the phallus but what is particularly feminine is the Other jouissance: . This jouissance, in its characteristics of infiniteness and the unspeakable, does not confer any sort of identity to the female subject, on the contrary it actually deconstructs identity. This is why, Lacan says, provocatively, that the woman does not exist (). There is however a singularity in jouissance and, thus, a multitude of female positions: the singularity of female jouissance can only be approached "one by one".

With respect to the multitude of female positions, what then can the function of the Name of the Father be? According to Eric Laurent, it has the function of a sort of double-headed Janus. [4] On the one hand, the man who embodies the Name of the Father sets the limit of the function that makes up for the non-existence of the sexual relationship. On the other, he favours female jouissance by choosing a woman as the cause of his desire in accordance with his own pˇre-version, version of the father/perversion. On the one hand, he situates his object cause of desire in a woman, and, on the other, he allows the woman he has chosen to enjoy female jouissance.

But, as we have seen, contingency determines that the paternal function can be produced by anyone and doesn't truly manage to set a limit. What is important, however, is considering the father beginning from the cause that sets a limit on generalised ecstasy and through which the particularity of the jouissance can be read.

The particularity of Frannie's symptom lies in the challenge to the father, the master, the man, through which she puts her own life in virtual danger. For Frannie the father of the challenge is a symptomatic nucleus around which her Name-of-the-Father is structured. Her symptom is the result of how the subject has perceived the father's jouissance and, for her, takes on the function of the Name-of-the-Father, limiting the infiniteness of the Other jouissance. For the moment, however, Frannie isn't able to "read" her symptom and the jouissance that it contains. She is blind, like the subject of one of the poems she reads in the subway and, for her, are a premonition:

Come at last to this point
I looked back on my passion
And realize
That I have been like a blind man
Who is unafraid of the dark. [5]

Unlike Frannie, Pauline has not managed to develop a symptom with a function of limit and she is drifting totally. For her it seems that the father has not served any function at all. He was a totally absent father who never married her mother, and Pauline would try to fix this lack by getting married at least once and having children. But she doesn't have the tools she needs to make her dream come true. In reality, she's constantly jeopardising herself with impossible loves. Her total lack of defences in the face of the Other will cost her life. She is, as in the verse of Coleridge that Frannie recites to her, a "gentle lunatic".

Coming back to the plot of the film, the crimes multiply and with them Frannie's suspicion and anxiety. The body of a female medical student is found in pieces in a washing-machine. Shortly after, Pauline is killed in the same way in her bathroom. The killer's signature is always the same: an engagement ring on the victim's finger, the same ring that is in the "primary scene". Once again, Campion represents the approaching danger through the poem Frannie reads on the subway like a rebus:

It's off in the distance It came into my room It's here in the circle. [6]

These words - in a white field sprayed with blobs of blood-red colours - are immediately associated to the image of a black bride framed by the window of the passing subway. The circle refers to the circle drawn by Frannie's father's skates and alludes to her parent's love and marriage and to the circle binding the story in which she is imprisoned. From her prison she feels that the killer is nearby, but who is it? John Graham, the disturbed, egocentric, and jealous ex-boyfriend; or Cornelius Webb who is working on a thesis about a serial killer, which he presents to his teacher Frannie soiled with real blood? Or is it Malloy, of whose sincerity, in spite of everything, Frannie is not totally convinced?

After Pauline's murder, Malloy takes loving care of the drunk and traumatised Frannie. She handcuffs him and they make love. Afterwards, while searching through Malloy's jacket pocket to find the key to unlock the handcuffs, she finds a charm from the bracelet Pauline had given her - a baby carriage, about which Frannie had commented to her stepsister: "The baby I'll never have." This is another symbolic element bound to Frannie's personal oedipal story. It is the pendant she lost when, coming home after the second murder - walking alone of course at night on a lonely road -, she was assaulted and robbed. Malloy tries in vain to assure her that he found it during an investigation at the site of the crime. Frannie becomes convinced that Malloy is the killer and runs away leaving him handcuffed.

Though sex seems to be the focus of their affair, Frannie actually needs Malloy to lose something to embody the Other who loves. And what is more lost than a handcuffed policeman? A woman's attraction for a man suffering from the lack of something has its roots in her childhood, in the relationship between a young girl and her father.

As Lacan recalls in "Guiding Remarks for a Convention on Female Sexuality", this attraction "from the same locus beyond the maternal semblable - the father - from which the threat came to her of a castration that does not really concern her" [7] According to Freud, the threat of the father is addressed to an already castrated subject (which is to say, a woman) and thus remains inoperative. For the woman is difficult to have the father in a correct symbolic position. If the threat does not really concern her, then the person who threatens her remains in an ideal position. This empty threat prevents the full symbolic realisation of the father's function. That's why a woman is looking for the dead father, the father of the castration. She wants to find "a castrated lover or a dead man (or the two in one)" because a "real man" is always marked by castration: "there is not virility that castration does not consecrate". [8]

Because the film is a thriller, the ideal father of the bloody cut must really be done in the figure of the serial-killer. Once she escapes from Malloy, Frannie unfortunately goes from the frying pan to the fire. She meets the real murderer, Rodriguez, who abducts her to the light house on the Hudson, where he has his fishing hut and where he tries to kill her.

This place, which risks becoming the prison in which she will be the killer's victim, becomes the metaphor of her safety. Frannie manages to shoot her killer.

Lou Andreas Salome said that in coming out of the prehistory of myth, women also had to begin to kill the father, that is, to cut the imaginary oedipal bond with the ideal father to approach symbolic castration. The sequence is as follows: Frannie is embraced by the killer's deadly hug. Black frame. Scene in which the father kisses the mother under a flurry of snowflakes. A shot is heard. The snowflakes turn into falling stars. The falling stars show the fading of the Oedipal complex and the birth of a new star, the subject. A poet once said that everyone is a lone star in the firmament. Fannie has become her own star. Along with her killer, Frannie has killed her imaginary father and has reached a new subjective position: female singular.

Our lacerated and blood stained warrior comes home and lies down beside her still hand-cuffed hero. [9]


[1] J. Lacan, "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious", in Écrits, p. 745, New York: Norton , 2005, s. 699.

[2] J. Lacan, "Science and Truth", in Écrits, s. 745.

[3] J. Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits and Knowledge, , Book XX, Encore 1972-1973, New York: Norton,1998, s. 78.

[4] J.-A. Miller, "Pièces detachées", L'orientation Lacanienne, Paris: 2005-2006, June 2005, unpublished.

[5] From the Japanese female poet Yosano Akiko.

[6] From a song of the Senaca Indians entitled: "A Song of My Song".

[7] J. Lacan, Écrits, s. 617.

[8] Ibid 617

[9] I would like to thank Marlene Klein for her help on the English writing of this article.

Conference held at University of Bergen in October 2006, for a film seminar coordinated by professor Kjell Soleim


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1 J. Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits and Knowledge, , Book XX, Ancore 1972-1973, W. W. Norton and Company, New York, London 1998, s. 78.