House of Games
One born every minute

by Laura Kipnis

from Jump Cut, no. 36, May 1991, pp. 25-31
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1991, 2006

Dr. Margaret "Ford," psychiatrist, has written a pop-psychology bestseller entitled "Driven": Compulsion and Obsession in Everyday Life. An automotive age Freud might have observed that this overabundance of vehicular symbols (Ford, driven) must signify a condition of being stuck, stalled, fixated — thus compelled and doomed to repetition. This is the small joke that propels David Mamet's HOUSE OF GAMES. A psychiatrist (Lindsay Crouse) has so little insight into her own desire that she is lured, through the bait provided by one of her patients, to act out her own repetition compulsion in an elaborate con game orchestrated by an ensemble of charismatic con men whose perfect understanding of human motivation, behavior, and the female unconscious allows them to play her like a jukebox.

Margaret Ford is not your typical female heroine. Dr. Ford is a "career woman," whom Mamet the director has denuded of all the conventional cinematic attributes of femininity: her barbershop coif, stubby nails, boring businesslike suits and no-nonsense gait make her a different species entirely from any other cinematic heroine of recent memory. She lacks the personal conventions of womanliness, and her stylized, theatrical performance seems directed to read as "unnatural," "mannish." She's stiff, chilly, humorless; she is an expert on compulsion who is herself driven. A workaholic, a compulsive chain smoker, she obsessively scribbles data about her patients in notebooks, and until her pre-seduction scene with con man Mike (when suddenly we notice her eyes sparkling, courtesy of what seems to be the first use of an eyelight) she appears sexless.

All the conventional techniques of representing the female as object of desire are resisted. Mamet has updated the visual codes of the repressed female so that they seem synonymous with the image of the career woman-we read Margaret Ford's repression in the professional demeanor that represses and deforms her femininity. And the diagnosis of “repression" is confirmed by her propensity toward Freudian slips — the repressed material is symptomatically screaming to be let out. If womanliness is, as Joan Riviere wrote — and just about all cinema graphically reasserts daily — a form of masquerade, then Margaret Ford, at the opening of the film, is strangely out of costume, closer to the anachronistic type Riviere, writing in 1929, described as the "overtly masculine type of woman" often found in intellectual pursuits.[1] [open notes in new window] However, by the close of the film, Ford will be recouped into the visual norms of womanliness, and will have taken up, vividly, the masquerade of femininity.

The plot of HOUSE OF GAMES is structured around a series of exchanges that Dr. Ford enters into with men, exchanges in that their form could be described as, "You give me something and I will give you something." The plot is put in motion when during a psychiatric session, a young patient of Dr. Ford's named Billy Hahn, a compulsive gambler, pulls a gun and threatens to shoot himself. Dr. Ford, spurred by Billy's charge, "You don't do dick, man, it's all a con game, you do nothing," offers him a bargain that seems to defy all professional norms — by guaranteeing her ability to have an effect (as psychotherapy consumers in the audience laugh bitterly into their popcorn). "Give me the gun and I will help you," she tells him.

Billy hands over the gun and issues a challenge. He owes an unpayable $25,000 debt to a gambler named Mike and so what is she going to do about that? This occasions the scene of Ford's second exchange with a second man, Mike (Joe Mantegna), "the Unbeatable Gambler, seen as Omniscient," according to Ford's notes.

Ford marches straight into the House of Games, a pool hall bar with a back room poker game — a classically male space — as if she believes she has a right to be there, and confronts Mike on behalf of her patient. "You think you're a tough guy, I think you're just a bully," she informs him. Apparently impressed with her mastery of the situation, he compliments her on her skills of perception. "How come you figured me so quick?" "Well in my work…" she begins. "What is your work?" he wants to know. "None of your business," she tells him.

In the second exchange, at the House of Games, Mike issues the bargain: If she pretends to be his girlfriend and spies on another player in a high stakes poker game, he'll waive Billy's debt. What she's looking for is a "tell" that this player is bluffing, a tell being a behavior that gives something away. Mike demonstrates how he can detect a tell in her: she unconsciously gestures with her nose toward the hand in which she conceals a chip, allowing him to read her secret correctly every time.

In inviting Ford to "spy," enticing her into the role of voyeur, Mike sets up what will he, in this film, a problematic connection — what is in fact, a crucial gap — between seeing and knowing on the part of the female character, in which the film's moments of female voyeurism lead invariably to its scenes of female chastisement and humiliation. Ford, now in the role of Mike's girlfriend, and caught up in what she thinks she sees, becomes so completely enthralled by the scenario she witnesses that she offers to slake Mike's hand with a check for 8,000 dollars — until a gun that suddenly starts to leak water alerts her to the fact that she has, in fact, been set up as a mark by a group of con men, and that the entire poker game was merely a scene, staged as a device to con her out of her money. Having caught these "bad men" in the act, now secure in the knowledge that her savvy protects her from theft roses, charmed by them, and reluctantly attracted to Mike, she returns to the House of Games and offers a third exchange, this time to Mike. She has a "proposition" to make him, she says — she wants to make a study of the confidence game for a future book and she wants him to cooperate. Mike readily agrees. But what's in it for him? Ford doesn't offer a quid pro quo, except for the double entendre of the "proposition," and she doesn't put it together when Mike later instructs her, "Everybody gets something out of every transaction."

What Ford doesn't know, and the audience won't know until much later, is that this band of con men axe so skilled in textual hermeneutics that they have somehow, discerned from a close reading of her book, Driven: Obsession and Compulsion in Everyday Life, that there is a pathological aspect to her own nature that will lead her to desire to be their victim. Margaret Ford, it seems, rather than simply writing about compulsive behavior, is so afflicted by some little understood compulsion of her own that she will abandon herself to the world of the con men, almost begging to be taken (in all senses of the word). The brilliance of these con men (even aside from the fact that they are ingeniously able to predict her every response and action in advance) is to allow her the complacent illusion that she can have mastery in their world: they allow her to see them trying to con her, and once she's secure in the false knowledge that she's outsmarted them, and that she's accepted as one of them, they take her for everything in an elaborate con, an 80,000 dollar con that takes in not only Dr. Ford, but the audience as well.

The plot, as I said, is structured as a series of exchanges that Margaret Ford enters into with men. What she is bargaining, in each case, is her professional competence — her insight — which will ultimately be shown up as a counterfeit currency. The precariousness of female authority, and of female vision, is made pivotal here: in each of these exchanges the man withholds a crucial piece of information, thus blindsiding Dr. Ford's ability to be what she thinks she is — in control. The gap in her knowledge is where she really fits into the structure — as a victim, a mark, with the control residing elsewhere. This plot point then constitutes the female character as, a priori, split: she lacks self-identity, she is not what she thinks she is. As in the case of female ontology generally, she has been inscribed into a structure given in advance, without her knowledge or consent — in a very real sense, she doesn't know her place. This essential category error, amplified by her continuing misrecognition of her place, both advances the Plot and enmeshes her ever more deeply in the "plot.” So in this case, at least, the film is clear that the Plot is a plot against the woman, in which each exchange leads her ever more inexorably toward catastrophe.

"I swear to you. Give me the gun and I will help you," she assures Billy Hahn. "I have a proposition for you," she tells Mike, bargaining with her sexuality, which however, like her professional competence, the film has labored to produce as a problem, an inadequacy. Her exaggerated self-confidence — a function of her lack of self-knowledge, will lead eventually to her undoing and her exposure: she doesn't know who she really is (because she doesn't know her place), and the film's task will be to expose her imposture.

HOUSE OF GAMES, a film whose improbable leads are a con man and a psychiatrist, is a film whose constellation of concerns is, more familiarly, the nexus of power, knowledge and gender. Quite clearly here in Mametland, knowledge is power and to lack knowledge is to fall prey to victimization. This is a film crucially about epistemology — about how knowledge is produced and whose knowledge counts.

But the more furtive aspect of the film is that here the act of knowing is completely imbricated in gender — the film systematically works to produce an epistemological field in which women's relation to knowledge, and by extension, vision, is impossible, while male knowledge is mystified in such a way that it borders on omniscience and eroticized to such an extent that "knowing" is returned to its Biblical antecedents, synonymous with sexual access. The deficiency in relation to seeing and the visible on the part of the female is, by extension, a problem of the spectator, whom HOUSE OF GAMES maneuvers into the position of a transvestite who ultimately renounces the female position and reclaims masculinity as the "correct" way of seeing.[2]

Mike's “reading" of Margaret Ford in the pool hall, as he explains the theory of the "tell," and demonstrates how transparent she is to him, introduces as to the con man as master decoder and to the con as an epistemological system, an interpretive method, in fact, remarkably similar to psychoanalysis: it is a depth psychology that presumes that repression, either as willed secrecy or as a mechanism of the ego, is never complete. (As Mike tells her after he's propositioned her, "You're blushing. That's a tell. These things we want, we can do them or not do them, but we can't hide them.") It seems that the world of the con, as a science of interpretation, rivals if not outperforms psychiatry, which is represented as a debased and ineffective form of knowledge with Margaret Ford, psychiatrist, in a sort of mirror relation to her patients: something of an inadequately sealed vessel, prone to emitting embarrassing and telling Freudian slips, out of control, "driven." She can't "contain" herself — her interiority is leaking out all over the place — while the con men have a profession, rather than an interiority. Their motivations are never put into question, whereas Ford's interiority becomes the film's primary concern. And while their knowledge is completely adequate to Margaret Ford as an object, she has no technique for understanding them — they are immune from any kind of understanding to which she has access. She finally has to be jolted into awareness — by spying on a scene not meant for her to see, in fact — in a setup where the female character's insight is purchased at the expense of the most profound sexual humiliation.

At the manifest level, HOUSE OF GAMES gives us two competing worlds of professional knowledge — the science of psychiatry on the one hand and the skill of the con men on the other — and projects us into a filmic universe structured by this opposition between what would seem, upon first glance, to be two radically different epistemological enterprises. These are epistemologies that are clearly, in the first instance, class based: Ford represents the professional knowledge of bourgeois science, but even aside from her professional airs tends to swagger through the frame with the confidence of a secure upbringing in the upper crust — her home is genteel and costly, she's someone who has no problem walking out of a bank with 80,000 dollars on short notice and when she marches into the House of Games, an alien terrain, it's as if, as the idiom goes, she thinks she owns the place — and with her cultural and educational capital, in a sense, she does. The knowledge of the con men is clearly class-based as well, it's the knowledge of the lumpen criminal class, and Ford's attraction to Mike and his world certainly has its precedents in all the previous society-girl-falls-for-gangster genre films of the 40s, and more generally in the long and uneasy sexual attraction of the bourgeoisie to the inappropriate (because cross-class) sexual object: the maid, the governess, the gamekeeper, the criminal, etc.

If these two different epistemological enterprises are in the first instance class based, they are also, crucially, in this film, gendered. The ideological work of the film is to take up a random difference, specifically, the difference between the con and psychiatry as forms of knowledge; to generate out of this difference, an opposition; and align this opposition with sexual difference — that is, to articulate this difference as a binary opposition which is both gendered and hierarchized.

Let me try to plot out in a linear fashion, the kind of complicated symbolic labor the film must perform in order to manufacture a gardened opposition out of con men/ psychiatry. First, the world of the con men must be produced as an epistemological system — as a sphere of knowledge, not simply a business or a criminal enterprise. One of the great pleasures of this film are its anthropological moments, in which we, the audience, along with Margaret Ford take instruction in the arcane mechanics of the con, (part of the seductive apparatus of the con men is giving Dr. Ford tantalizing small glimpses of their world) which is represented as a highly codified system of and knowledge passed down through generations: the various cons have names ("The Short Con," "The Mitt," "Die Tap"), the con men practice and refine their technique, there appears to be some kind of apprentice system, and the con men have a self. Consciousness and pride about their place within a professional guild. These glimpses permit the viewer a momentary insider status as well, as we are temporarily let in on the arcane world of the con and in on the knowledge that they possess and could use to con and victimize us, were we to be so unknowing and incautious as Margaret Ford.

Second, the con as a system of knowledge is placed into juxtaposition with psychiatry, reconstituting the con as a science of the psyche that rivals psychiatry in its predictive and diagnostic powers. Billy Hahn, the compulsive gambler patient, and Margaret Ford herself both refer to psychiatry as "a con," setting up the identity between between the two, which is paid off in Mike's first meeting with Dr. Ford, where he interprets her "symptomatic" behavior. The theory of the "tell," as explained by Mike, is highly similar to the Freudian parapraxis — a slip of the tongue, the pen or some other unconscious but "telling" behavior. And the tell is foundational to con man epistemology in the same way that the parapraxis is to psychoanalysis, except that as practiced by the con men, the interpretation of the tell seems absolute and infallible, as compared to the inexact science of psychoanalysis.

Third, the film genders these two spheres of knowledge. Just as the space of the HOUSE OF GAMES, and this enclave of con men, is a completely masculine sphere, so psychiatry is represented as a world of women — a world not only of all women psychiatrists (the other significant character is an older woman psychiatrist, a sort of "mother confessor" to Ford) but of a certain metonymic slippage between female doctors and female patients. After a brief prologue, the film opens with a session between Dr. Ford and a female patient, a young woman who has apparently committed a murder and is in some sort of psychiatric prison. She issues a challenge, a demand, to Dr. Ford, in a scene opening in tight close up of this woman looking almost directly into the camera — a challenge to the viewer as well as the film's address to Ford: "Do you think you're immune from experience?" she demands to know. Throughout the film this woman continues to function as a one-woman Greek chorus of Ford's interiority, so that the inner lives of the two border on interchangeability. "He said, "I can make any woman a whore in fifteen minutes," the murderess relates after Ford meets Mike, "That poor girl," Ford remarks to Maria, her older female colleague, in one of her characteristic Freudian slips. "All her life my father tells her she's a whore..." The identity between the two of them will culminate, in a certain clanging symmetry, with Ford herself becoming a murderess.

Fourth, these two spheres of knowledge, gendered and opposed, are inserted into the patriarchal. They are aligned with sexual hierarchy, such that the female sphere will be constituted as deficient, even pathological, while the male sphere emerges as triumphant and heroic. This female knowledge of the "helping professions" that can't really help at all stands subordinate to the instrumentalized yet successful male bastion of con man knowledge, and this hierarchy appears so natural within the film that it seems almost already in place.

Thus the symbolic economy of the film institutes and naturalizes an opposition that is completely constructed and completely unstable in such a way that existing hierarchies of sexual difference are reinforced and expanded, given that this gendered condition of knowledge also permeates the spectator position produced by the film.

It's not only Margaret Ford who's being set up, it's the audience as well. As long as we know only what Ford knows, as long as the knowledge necessary to make was, of the plot is withheld from us, the audience inhabits what has been coded a female position — of not knowing. The dialectic the film sets up is between the advantageousness of knowledge and the perils of ignorance, with the audience oscillating, as a transvestite, between the two states as the status of our knowledge shifts. As long as we're in the feminine position, we too are at risk — we're conned along with Ford. There then comes a crucial shift, when the audience realizes, somewhat before Ford does, that she has been conned, and that the events she had thought were taking place spontaneously — including going to bed with Mike — were in fact scripted in advance by the con men. Once the audience clues into this, and once we're in position of superior knowledge to Ford, we have acceded from a feminine position of ignorance to a masculine position of knowledge, and this gender shift takes on powerful associations of pleasure and relief as we finally understand. The transvestism of the male spectator forced into a troublesome identification with the female position, and the female spectator forced into a masochistic identification with the female character both give way to the traditional mode of spectatorship in which "everyone wants to be elsewhere than in the feminine position."[3]

Once this initial ideological project is underway, HOUSE OF GAMES then moves into a new terrain, a revenge plot in which Margaret Ford seeks retaliation against her victimizers. But unlike the purifying revenge of say, cultural hero Charles Bronson, this revenge becomes associated in a complicated way to the topos of female pathology.

Margaret Ford, I have said, is represented here as the classic repressed female: with her rigid demeanor, her compulsiveness, her propensity for Freudian slips — she's a walking collection of symptoms. The logic of the symptom is its dialectic of the visible and the invisible, and this logic demands that when the female body is represented as symptomatic, it necessitates decoding. This creates a functional gap that must be filled by a specific character function, by a revealer-of-what-is-hidden.

This is the function filled by Mike, the film's "epistemological hero," who guarantees the final emergence of Truth within the narrative. This term is borrowed from Mary Ann Doane, who uses it to describe the character function of the (male) doctor/ psychiatrist in a particular subgenre of 40s melodrama that focuses obsessively on the mental or physical illness of a female character.[4] As Doane points out, femininity within a patriarchal culture is constituted as, a priori, a pathological condition, and in this genre the illness of the woman is never simply local or incidental, but somehow implicates her entire being — it is the essence of her character. This hidden illness associated with the woman then necessitates the figure of the doctor/ technician, the man of science summoned to decode the logic of the symptom — and to reveal the hidden pathology — of the female.

The doctor function that Doane describes has been enlarged in HOUSE OF GAMES to encompass the diagnostic skills of the con man. Ford's romance with Mike, initiated by his reading of her in the pool hall, is consummated by his excavating the truth of her buried sexual desire: his knowledge is the road to her assent. The film has thus far labored with great dedication to grant epistemological superiority to both the con man world and Mike as its leading "brain" — he is the privileged figure of knowledge in a privileged field of knowledge. The payoff comes when Mike proceeds, in the film's climactic moment, to pronounce the truth of Ford's pathology (the truth of the woman's essence). Given his epistemological status, there is no room for doubt — we are compelled to belief.

After having discovered the con men supposedly attempting to con her the first time, Ford returns to the House of Games to search out Mike. She has a "proposition" to make him, she wants to study him to write about the world of the con men. By identifying the exchange as a "proposition" Foul, it is implied, is knowingly bargaining with her sexuality. But her sexuality, like her professional competence, has already been completely problematized, and now will be further exposed, in a scene of profound sexual humiliation, as inadequate. Whenever Margaret Ford tries to make an exchange, she can't carry it through. She just doesn't have the goods.

Ford takes revenge — by shooting Mike — in a piece of action that links HOUSE OF GAMES to a stew of recent female revenge plots (FATAL ATTRACTION, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, JAGGED EDGE) in which a woman metes out justice at the end of a gun. (There is a certain obviousness to this formula that really insists on female disempowerment or lack — it takes a woman plus a gun to counter male power.) Ford is spurred to reprisal when, after the big con, the $80,000 con, has succeeded, she overhears a conversation among the con men that finally reveals to her the true "plot" in terms that graphically name her inadequacy and violently jar her to consciousness about the disjunction between her own sense of self and the cold brutality of the con men's judgment. She is, in their shared view, both pathetically deformed and sexually ridiculous, "Mike, how'd you know she was going to go for it?" one of them asks. "Go for it, the broad's an addict." "The bitch is a booster…the bitch is a born thief." "Took her money and screwed her too," one of them compliments Mike. "A small price to pay," he gloats.

According to the con men's logic, Ford was not simply conned by them, but actively sought the chance to fulfill her pathology — that was her side of the exchange. And in the film's climactic were, Mike spits out confirmation of this supposed pathology at her, after she's reversed the balance of power and plugged him with a bullet:

MIKE: “Hey fuck you. This is what you always wanted — you crooked bitch…you thief…you always need to get caught — cause you know you're bad...you sought this out...this is what you always wanted. I knew it the first time you came in. You're worthless, you know it. You're a whore. I knew it the first time you came in. You came back like a dog to its own vomit. You sought it out.”

For the compulsive, according to Ford's own notebook, there is "the necessity of finding a place to be humiliated." "And what is it you think I want?" she asks Mike during the seduction scene. "What am I?" she demands of him. "You learned some things about yourself you'd rather not know," he tells her in the final confrontation. His knowledge, the film implies, is the scene of her humiliation. She is humiliated because he has discovered the truth, her secret — that she is bad, worthless, a thief.

The moment of the shooting however opens up an indeterminacy about this diagnosis, and a certain level of gender instability — which the film then quickly recoups and closes down, but one that is worth exploring.

Given the psychoanalytic metamotif that the film erects, with its themes of repression, repetition, and the primacy of the unconscious, perhaps the best way to describe this indeterminacy is through the analogy the film sets up with the psychoanalytic scene. "You came back like a dog to its own vomit" is a stark and ugly way of describing a repetition compulsion, and the film's premise is that what it implies is Ford's "necessity to be humiliated" is just such a compulsion to repeat.

Given that Ford's relation to Mike is so completely transferential — he is, for her, the subject-supposed-to-know, presumed to know the truth of her desire — then Ford's acting-out is something like the repetition of the psychoanalytic transference. And her relationship to Mike, who has the task of voicing her unconscious, almost minors the psychoanalytic scene. It is potentially through Mike, then, the film's master "analyst," that the transference could be worked through and the cycle of repetition broken, in that the transference of the psychoanalytic scene is, supposedly, a repetition with a difference. (After all, what distinguishes the psychoanalytic transference from other forms of transference is the exchange of money, and Ford does pay.)

But psychoanalysis is a relation between two unconsciouses, while the film has worked throughout to deny any interiority to the con men. They don't have an unconscious between them, they don't have desire; like some cartoon dad, they just have business. All desire, all affect, all interiority exists on the side of the women. The film's denial of any counter-transference, the denial that Mike is engaged or implicated in the scene, the fact that his desire masquerades as objectivity — puts his diagnosis into question. When he says she's bad, a thief, a whore, is it even she that he's talking about? Maybe it's his mother. Maybe his relation to her is as phantasmatic as hers is to him. The only difference between them is that the film grants him the power, and the weight of it's own representational apparatus, to enforce his phantasmatic reading.

And aren't these films of female pathology merely narrativations of normative medical and psychotherapeutic practices that rely on such diagnoses of women emitted from an omniscient, "disinterested" perch legitimated by institutional enforcements like the A.M.A. or the A.P.A.? When Ford is finally shocked into the recognition that Mike is, like all of our worst fantasies of our analysts — solely in it for the money, without ethics — she terminates the analysis. When she shoots Mike, she is, like Freud's Dora, walking out on a bad analysis, as well as subverting the institutions that work through those particular forms of power and authority.

Thus the shooting sets up a certain tension between levels of the film. Momentarily, the woman character refuses the diagnosis of pathology and breaks out of the fix of the male's institutionally sanctioned power. However, the following and final scene of HOUSE OF GAMES then seals the film's meaning, firmly conferring truth-status on Mike's interpretation of Ford. She is everything he claimed — a thief and a crooked bitch, who comes to know and accept that she is bad. The film's mise-en-scene and closure collaborate to confirm the diagnosis, immemorialize the dead (epistemological) hero, and reassert established sexual hierarchy.

After the shooting, Ford reappears in an extended epilogue, having returned from a long vacation. She is a transformed woman. Her hair has highlights, she is wearing something splashy and floral, she has on dangly earrings.

She has suddenly acquired femininity — she is nothing if not in masquerade — which is, of course, according to Riviere, synonymous with womanliness (and interestingly given this context, analyzed by her as a strategy adopted by women who desire masculine power to avert both their own anxiety and the male retribution they fear). Ford, the new friendly, feminized Ford, asked to sign a copy of her book for a fan, inscribes it, "Forgive yourself." And then proceeds, with a small smile of self-acceptance, to boost a fancy lighter from another woman's purse. So she has simultaneously acceded to her femininity — in the most pronounced fashion — and to her nature as a thief. She’s acceded to everything she had been repressing until it was all unleashed by her encounter with Mike.

But for the film, her pathetic parade of self-acceptance is a only a thin veil over the true essence of her deformity. In Mamet's linguistic universe, language doesn't exist outside of gender. The trivial and illegitimate "feminine" language of pop psychology through which Ford has come to this self-acceptance — “Forgive yourself” — simply doesn't compare with the brutal magnificence of Mike's language — “like a dog to its vomit" — and has no truth status whatsoever in this film.

This is the film's last small joke on Ford — her knowledge and especially her self-knowledge have already been exposed as inferior, inadequate. She never did have any insight, she can't really see what's going on. She is bad, is a “crooked bitch," insofar as the film has worked so effectively to valorize the status of Mike's knowledge for the spectator. The dead hero reclaims epistemological supremacy, and the woman's pathological essence is made manifest.

The question that finally remains is that of the spectator's transference. The relation of the audience to Mike's knowledge is necessarily, as it was for Margaret Ford, one of complete enthralldom — he is also the film's subject-supposed-to-know, and as soon as there is a subject-supposed-to-know, there is transference. This is a transference facilitated by Silence — the silences of the film around the constitution and origin of Mike's knowledge. Such perfect knowledge as his is clearly a fantasy of knowledge; the con man is a phantasmatic figure of knowledge who would not himself withstand the microscrutiny devoted to the female. The romantic mystique that the film works to attach to the male figure can only be maintained by keeping the audience in a suspended transferential relation to this knowledge, a transference that must never be analyzed or worked through. The operation of the film then is to invest the audience's pleasure in a phantasmatic perfect knowledge that is a male province, and in a fantasy of knowledge that is prior to and exceeds the film frame. The residue of this film is our pleasure in, our desire for a knowledge that is, by definition, exclusively male. To the extent that the film works to produce and confirm this fantasy of perfect knowledge, it enforces the clutches of an unending transference, the legitimacy of paternal authority, and the grip of masculine power.


1. Joan Riviere, "Womanliness as a Masquerade," in Formations of Fantasy, ed. Cora Kaplan (New York: Methuen, 1986), pp.35-44.

2. See Mary Ann Doane, "Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator," Screen (September/October 982), pp. 5-87.

3. Doane, ibid. p. 1.

4. Mary Ann Doan "Clinical Eyes: The Medical Discourse" in The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp.38-69.