Shutter Island

Above: Shutter Island, a 2010 Scorsese movie. Credit: Paramount/Fair use.


Each academic year I give a series of lectures which together form an introduction to the major strands of contemporary critical theory (feminism, queer theory, capitalism, terrorism ... etc.). One of my talks in the series is on psychoanalysis (the theory that underpins one's Ph.D. is always fondly remembered).

Each year that I give my psychoanalysis talk, the looks on the students' faces get blanker and blanker as I explain that no MRI-based brain mapping has ever actually managed to locate the unconscious mind (blank looks from students) ... it's a theory rooted in clinical practice; Freud found that doing psychoanalysis was successful on patients that had something called hysteria (blank looks). So it's a results-based therapy, but a full psychoanalysis can take several years to complete (blank looks). When the unconscious mind and conscious mind or ego are conflicted the consequence can be the production of symptoms such as, say, an eating disorder or a compulsion, or a phobia (blank looks).

This goes on for two hours up to the point that I start to wonder if psychoanalytic theory is really valid and relevant today. This year at the end of the talk one of my students put up his hand and offered the following: "What you are saying reminds me of the film Shutter Island."

Actually, I didn't know the film (and I used to think I knew everything about Scorsese). So IMDB'ed it. It's a film about "hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister ..."

(11 December 2018)