April 25, 2014
A Psychoanalytic reading of compelling us TV series HomelandSunday, December 15, 2013
Home, bittersweet home
For The Herald
Officer Brody returns from Iraq after having been held in captivity for several years. CIA, homeland security department agent, Carrie, suspects that he may have become a member of al Qaeda, and closely watches him.
Is Homeland merely a work of fiction, or perhaps a hybrid part documentary, part fiction? The opening frame is intended to place the viewer in an actual socio-political and historical context. Audiences are invited to a wedding of the real to the reel.1
Black and white images point to a genre defined by its ambiguity. Portraits of presidents Reagan, Clinton and Obama highlight the link of the plot to current external events. Clips of September 11, with the burning towers and people running for their lives evoke in viewers memories of that dramatic event. Is this opening scene a device to get viewers in touch with their own memories of horror? Is the scene’s intention to affect the viewers’ internal world so it can resonate with its main characters’ respective traumas?
Images are texts that reveal they conceal. One ought to be suspicious of the manifest, that is of what appears on the screen since it may operate as a diversion from the latent, unseen aspects of the narrative. The viewer may benefit from a strategy that concentrates on the tension between the manifest and the latent content, between what’s there and what is not. In the choreography of foreground and background, one may uncover Homeland’s dynamic hidden meaning in its multiple and interrelated subplots.
The act of reading either a written or visual text refers to absences, gaps and silences. Interpreting a work of art resembles a reading of a text (in the case of film a visual text) with a psychoanalytically informed eye. It may be a misnomer to define film interpretation as applied psychoanalysis. More appropriate would be to regard this endeavour as establishing a dialogue between creative products and psychoanalysis.
Homeland’s manifest content is centered on terrorism and counterterrorism. The latent content reveals 1) the choreography of internal and external reality (that is the question of what constitutes truth; 2) a recurrent theme of longing for home, and for the absent or idealized father; and 3) attempts to transform memories of horror.
1)CHOREOGRAPHY OF INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL REALITY
Homeland’s creators try to represent a “terrorist’s logic” as well as a “counterterrorist’s one.” Each is respectively linked to post traumatic stress disorder suffered by its subjects.
Carrie and Brody both suffered the effects of trauma, and are tormented by persecutory guilt from past terrifying experiences.
The characters’ memories of terror seem to have forced them to live in psychological exile. They long to reach “home,” a place where they can feel safe and in peace. Homeland stands for a space capable of containing the unspeakable, that is, memories of terror.
Brody and Carrie provide each other with a surface or mirror for their disturbed internal worlds. Their internal worlds are reflected on the other who becomes a mirror for the self. Psychoanalysis teaches us about the primitive mechanism of splitting, externalization, projection and projective identification. Overall, Brody and Carrie resort to them in order to gain some measure of control over disorganizing internal and external experiences.
Who is the hunter? Who is the prey? Brody and Carrie are both persecutor and prey two sides of the same coin. Both are interchangeable while boundaries between self and other are obliterated.
Carrie’s “interior” film — that is, her own narrative, is projected onto Brody who officiates as surface or screen. She finds in Brody a “home” but one which she is unable to contain. Carrie is casting out what her ego refuses to accept — past failures and their consequences. Unable to find a home in her own mind, she transforms Brody into a base. Brody becomes “homeland,” a place where she can store and control her unregulated effect states and past traumas.
Brody and Carrie suffer from paranoia. Paranoia means behind the noia, the being, Delusions are constructed between what is known and what is not known. Carrie’s perceptions are distorted despite being coloured by her own ghost, they allow some knowledge of Brody. It generates mistrust, suspicion, and inappropriate trust. Brody and Carrie’s mutual projections appear as a defence against not merely external danger, but internal danger as well as the vampires of trauma that threaten to return.
Both Brody and Carrie have a compulsive need to get rid of persecutory guilt steaming from past misjudgments and acts of omission. Both want to make up for them, atone and do good. Yet, they operate under the pull of trauma, a vampire that never sleeps.
2) LONGING FOR HOME AND THE ABSENT IDEALIZED FATHER
In Iraq, Isa has taken Brody under his wing, providing shelter and offering compassion. His saviour’s home became his own. Brody is immersed in a form of reverie. It is not maternal reverie, but paternal reverie. While maintaining the idealization of the father/protector, he had relinquished agency and surrendered to the powerful Isa, establishing a father/son symbiosis.
Brody as a captive in a foreign land, hungry for love, a broken man, has fallen under the spell of the benevolent father figure Isa. Not having access to a Bible, he has found comfort in an al Qaeda leader who treats him with kindness. He idealized and loved him.
The viewer begins to experience confusion not unlike the characters on the screen. Is Brody the POW who has “turned” and is on a secret mission?
Carrie, Brody’s daughter, and a fugitive Aileen, further point to the “repressed” intratext of the narrative associated to the longing for the absent, once idealized, father who suffers from mental illness.
Brody’s daughter accuses her mother of abandoning her father. She wants her father back home. The adolescent must mourn childhood, and the idealized image of her father who is present in his absence.
Aileen fell in love with a 13-year-old “local brown boy” in Saudi Arabia when she was 15. She had been her daddy’s princess up to that point. Father sent her away to boarding school to break up her love affair.
3) TRANSFORMING MEMORIES OF TERROR
Luis Kancyper, an Argentine psychoanalyst who has written extensively on the subject, has described four types of memory: memory of horror,memory of resentmentor rancor,memory of pain and memory of splendor. He expands on how those memories need to be transformed in order for true mourning to take place.
In memory of horror, present and future are bogged down in traumatic reminiscences. The present is not experienced as true present. It fosters dissociation. The subject is harassed by something it felt coming from the outside. Distrust follows, as well as an inability to establish new relationships.
Brody and Carrie’s distrust is prone to blur boundaries under the pull of severe anxieties. Memories of past horror lead to persecutory guilt. This bonds them together. It is a type of guilt that torments them both and impedes a mourning process, a transformation of memories. Brody and Carrie must each find someone to talk to. They both feel safe and at peace in the woods, a home away from home.
Kancyper reminds us that memory of pain allows the individual to acknowledge and accept what he or she had lost, and then move to a non-idealized present and future. The past may become the past and may be useful for present experiences.
Memory of pain certainly doesn’t put an end to pain. Pain continues, and must continue. Pain connects Brody and Carrie with what they lost, a necessary step towards true mourning. With memory of pain, oblivion becomes possible, thus the memory of the pair may become a dynamic force that encourages the reconstruction of meaning.
Brody and Carrie, and for that matter all of Homeland’s characters, must reach a balance between memory and oblivion, so they may go on.
Let’s go back to the movies with a final word on “reel” references B and C. Movie fans may note the allusion: Brody and Carrie, and Bonnie and Clyde. The notorious pair cannot be overlooked. Both B and C are engaged in an interdependent struggle with aggressive and erotic tones; both pairs always on the run from internal and/or external persecutors. Like Bonnie and Clyde, Brody and Carrie do not fit the familiar, domestic scene. They operate on the fringe. Brody is an oddball at home, as is Carrie in her surroundings. After the brawl at the bar, the bipolar thrill and excitement of their fight and flight brings to mind young Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway running for their lives following their assault on a bank.
Reel life does not have an ending. The end may open up new questions, or point to another track of exploration, or surprise viewers with a discovery. The final episode takes place in the internal world of the viewer (who is left hungry for the next one).
1 On September 10, actors Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, who played Carrie and Brody, visited the CIA in Washington. Alex Ganza, creator of Homeland call the meeting “a fresh and free exchange about the entertainment business and the intelligence business that reveal a log of parallels…We both built sets, we both play roles…brainstorm operations on them, story lines on ours.” CIA and Hollywood are both image conscious. (Maureen Dowd, New York Times, Sunday Review.