On the Staging of Fundamental Fantasy, Jouissance and Gaze in Stanley Kubrick’s Cinematography: A Lacanian Perspective

This essay is based on the public defence of a dissertation in which the cinematography of Stanley Kubrick is analysed in light of Lacan’s concepts of fundamental fantasy, jouissance and gaze. Four of Kubrick’s films are discussed and located in the academic literature and the methodological and theoretical frameworks are outlined. In the thesis it is proposed that the narratives of these four films are underpinned by a concrete scenario of a fundamental fantasy: “C observes: A overpowers B”, and that this scenario forms the basis of both the staging of a taxonomy of jouissance and of the evocation of the gaze as instance of the object a. In conclusion, it is outlined how these findings align with the methodological point of departure of the research project.

‘Full Metal Jacket’: How Kubrick Staged Fundamental Fantasy, Jouissance and Gaze

This article analyzes Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) in the light of Lacan’s concepts of the (fundamental) fantasy, jouissance and the gaze. We criticize McGowan’s (2007) thesis that Kubrick’s staging of the gaze and fantasy confronts spectators with a blind spot for the obscene underside of authority. Firstly, we refer to McGowan’s statement that Kubrick’s cinema reflects fantasy’s quality of structure. Where McGowan does not indicate what kind of fantasy structure these films stage, we argue that Full Metal Jacket is underpinned by the concrete scenario of the fundamental fantasy: “C observes: A overpowers B”. Secondly, we criticize McGowan’s tendency to univocally link Kubrick’s depiction of derailed father figures with the real-life functioning of authority. By referring to Freud’s early theory on the etiology of hysteria and Lacan’s interpretation of Freud’s (1919e) article “A Child is Being Beaten”, we argue that the film’s staging of its main authority figure – the drill instructor – also illustrates how the fantasy of the abusive father can function as a mediator for the fantasizing subject’s own jouissance. Finally, we question McGowan’s remark that, despite Kubrick’s staging of the gaze, the director’s cinema ultimately leaves spectators “unscathed”. Building upon other academic analyses and press reviews of the film, we argue that Full Metal Jacket does not leave spectators unharmed. On the contrary, we hypothesize that the gaze appears when the viewer loses his distance from the film’s depictions of violence, by momentarily coinciding with a vanishing point of jouissance himself.