"hyphos is the tissue and the spider’s web"

Tag: Film

A Footnote to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

A guiding thread runs through the recent Mission: Impossible movie. At times it represents a rupture, but in other instances it becomes the entire paradigm of the film. This point reveals itself as the constant fear of disavowal. From minor revelations (a supposed reason for Ethan Hunt’s imprisonment) to the complete thematic (“…if you choose to accept it”), becoming-disavowed is what the characters attempt to avoid at every turn.

Disavowed from what? The characters are caught up in a signifying apparatus that totalizes itself throughout the film. The mantra of those that hand out the missions is essentially avowal or death. Like all structures, this implies several dichotomies that the characters cling to as necessary. To be disavowed would be to recognize these oppositions as contingent, which suggests the death of the subject and the melting away of certainty. Some of these dichotomies are global, while others are defined by local events: success/failure, good/evil, west/east, friend/foe, functional/non-functional, and so on.

To give up on these basic (insofar as what is essential for the current signifying apparatus) distinctions would also serve to shake the foundations for any founding principle of metaphysics (e.g. subject/object). Becoming-disavowed involves giving up one’s subjectivity as much as it implies negating the Other’s objectivity. In becoming-disavowed, one loses one’s “agency” (literally, the characters lose membership as an agent of the government).

The anxiety of the death of the subject propels the characters to construct fictions that postpone the reality of disavowal. By the end of the film, “ghost protocol” has still been issued. This means that the characters no longer belong to any agency. Nevertheless, Ethan Hunt takes the role of the agency’s secretary and hands out the next mission to his team. This shows that one signifying apparatus will always be ready to replace another. And yet the threat of radical disavowal continues to infect these structures like the secret that is used to cover up a homicide.

Castrating-production in Baumbach

The psychology of castration has always been inextricable from the philosophy of presence. As soon as one is castrated, one can never return to how one was. It is a strict dichotomy between absolute presence and absolute absence mediated by the absolute fear of castration. Two recent films from Noah Baumbach hint at a new conception of castration as production rather than stasis: Greenberg (2010) and Margot at the Wedding (2007). The position of the castrato is configured by the castrato itself. This configuration must be reappropriated with every action. If not, the castrato returns to a pre-castrating position in which the subject-position of the phallus is taken up again. (Of course, this position is not limited to a certain gender.)

The inflexion point of the two films comes by way of anecdote. Greenberg and Margot do not drive, but they forcefully assert that they can if they so choosed. Greenberg cites the amount of deaths from autmobile collisions as his reason for not driving; Margot lives in the city and prefers public transit. The inability to drive is the symbol of castration. Yet this symbol is proliferated across all other social engagements in the film. The title characters constantly affirm their position as castratos by isolating themselves. The few times they do interact with others results in emotional violence. This form of existential angst is not absent from their sex lives either. In every aspect of the films, castrating-production is represented as the desire for absence.

The movies follow different trajectories at this point. Greenberg can only decide to end castrating-production when he is high on cocaine. The film has an open conclusion where the spectator is left wondering if Greenberg’s relationship would last. Margot, on the other hand, halts production in a fit of rage when she decides to drive. Her driving is careless, not respecting the lines or signs of the road-system; it has been a long time since she had been territorialized. To her childrens’ dismay, she drives on and eventually makes it to the bus stop where she decides at the last minute to depart with her son. Her relationship is reconciled and one is led to believe that she is no longer producing her own castration. So, every moment that castration is produced holds the implicit possibility of throwing a cog in the gears and ending production, for however long one sees fit.