Music, Eros, and Thanatos in the Films of Bunuel, Dali, Visconti, and Kubrick
While writing Civilization and Its Discontents (1938) toward the end of his life, Sigmund Freud postulated a theory of competing drives which exist in the human psyche. Freud pitted a drive for death (Thanatos) against a drive for eroticism (Eros). Unlike Freud, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the relationship between life and death was not oppositional, but rather in a state of flux. Richard Wagner, on the other hand, treated the relationship in his opera Tristan and Isolde as one in which love and death merge to transcend the physical world. This paper sets out to understand how twentieth century filmmakers use musical motifs in their work to illuminate a dialectic between Eros and Thanatos, following the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche or the art of Richard Wagner. The filmmakers in this study, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Luchino Visconti, and Stanley Kubrick, use musical motifs of pre-existing classical music of Germany and Austro-Hungary as well as popular music to shed light on the relationship between Eros and Thanatos. I analyzed the music and visual images of four films: Un Chien Andalou (1928) L'Age D'Or (1930), Death in Venice (1971) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) to show how the filmmakers' musical choices help demonstrate the Eros-Thanatos relationship in the psychology of the characters. The characters in each film are associated with a piece of music, specifically Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, Gustav Mahler's Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony, and György Ligeti's Musica Ricercata II. I found that Buñuel and Dali's films follow Freud in a pessimistic view of the Eros Thanatos conflict, Visconti's film follows both a Wagnerian and Nietzschean view between Eros and Death, one of transcendence and flux, and Kubrick ultimately maintains an ambivalent view of the two drives in line with Freud. As cultural products of the twentieth century, the films can provide evidence of a death drive, illuminate a possible relationship between Eros and Thanatos, can tell us how the two drives are oriented in the psyche, and also provide a way of looking back at the events of the twentieth century.
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