The Real Gaze

Film Theory after Lacan

By Todd McGowan

Subjects: Film Studies
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791470404, 266 pages, January 2008
Hardcover : 9780791470398, 266 pages, March 2007

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Table of contents


Introduction: From the Imaginary Look to the Real Gaze

Part 1. The Cinema of Fantasy: Exposing the Excess                    

1. Fantasy and Showing Too Much
2. Theoretical Fantasizing 
3. The Politics of Cinematic Fantasy
4. Early Explorations of Fantasy
5. The Coldness of Kubrick
6. Spike Lee's Fantasmatic Explosions
7. Michael Mann and the Ethics of Excess
8. The Bankruptcy of Fantasy in Fellini

Part 2. The Cinema of Desire: Absence amid the Plenitude of the Image                                                         

9. Desire and Not Showing Enough
10. Theoretical Desiring
11. The Politics of Cinematic Desire
12. The Impossible Object of the Nouvelle Vague
13. The Banality of Orson Welles
14. Claire Denis and the Other's Failure to Enjoy
15. Political Desire in Italian Neorealism

Part 3. The Cinema of Integration: The Marriage of Desire and Fantasy                                                              

16. The Intermixing of Desire and Fantasy
17. The Theoretical Opposition
18. The Politics of the Cinema of Integration
19. The Ordinary Cinema of Ron Howard 
20. Steven Spielberg's Search for the Father 
21. D. W. Griffith's Suspense 
22. Films That Separate

Part 4. The Cinema of Intersection: Collisions of Desire and Fantasy                                                              

23. The Separation of Desire and Fantasy
24. Theorizing the Real
25. The Politics of the Cinema of Intersection
26. The Overlapping Worlds of Andrei Tarkovsky
27. Alain Resnais between the Present and the Past
28. Wim Wenders and the Ethics of Fantasizing
29. The Sexual Relationship with David Lynch


Examines the gaze in Lacanian film theory.


Winner of the 2008 Gradiva Award, Theoretical Category, presented by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis

The Real Gaze develops a new theory of the cinema by rethinking the concept of the gaze, which has long been central in film theory. Historically film scholars have located the gaze on the side of the spectator; however, Todd McGowan positions it within the filmic image, where it has the radical potential to disrupt the spectator's sense of identity and challenge the foundations of ideology. This book demonstrates several distinct cinematic forms that vary in terms of how the gaze functions within the films. Through a detailed investigation of directors such as Orson Welles, Claire Denis, Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Federico Fellini, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wim Wenders, and David Lynch, McGowan explores the political, cultural, and existential ramifications of these differing roles of the gaze.

Todd McGowan is Associate Professor of English at the University of Vermont and the author of The End of Dissatisfaction? Jacques Lacan and the Emerging Society of Enjoyment and The Feminine "No!": Psychoanalysis and the New Canon, both also published by SUNY Press.


"By 'real gaze' McGowan means … Lacan's gaze is not the look of the spectator at the film but something the spectator encounters in the object seen, something that disturbs or distorts the experience of the object … McGowan is solid on his theory." — CHOICE

"The style and arguments in this book are impressively clear and concise. Complex ideas are made straightforward through use of anecdote and illustration and the author unhesitatingly draws his examples from both 'art house' cinema and popular Hollywood movies." — Mikita Brottman, author of High Theory/Low Culture

"This book is clearly written, persuasive, and contains an insightful exposition of difficult Lacanian concepts." — Henry Krips, author of Fetish: An Erotics of Culture