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Authorship & Personal Cinema A listA ir Fox

Jane Campion

Film & M edi a

“Alistair Fox offers an impressively rich and thoroughly
documented reading of Jane Campion’s films. . . . [He]
persuasively interprets them as working through the trau-
mas of the artist’s life. . . . Fox succeeds in resuscitating
the biological author, giving us Jane Campion without the
qualification of quotation marks around her name.”

Ba r ry K eith Gr a nt, Brock Univer sit y

Alistair Fox explores the dynamics of the creative process
involved in cinematic representation in the films of Jane
Campion, one of the most highly regarded contemporary
filmmakers. Utilizing a wealth of new material—including
interviews with Campion and her sister, and personal
writings of Campion’s mother—Fox traces the connec-
tions between the filmmaker’s complex background and
the thematic preoccupations of her films, from her earliest
short, Peel, to 2009’s Bright Star. He establishes how
Campion’s deep investment in family relationships in-
forms her aesthetic strategies, revealed in everything from
the handling of shots and lighting, to the complex system
of symbolic images repeated from one film to the next.

A lista ir Fox is Professor of English and Director of the
Centre for Research on National Identity at the University
of Otago.

University Press
Bloomington & Indianapolis

Cov er i llustr ation
Bright Star (2009, UK).

Directed by Jane Campion.
Courtesy of Pathé/Photofest.

Jane Cam






JaneCmec.indd 1 2/7/11 12:13 PM

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Page 143

128 Ja n e C a m pion

as the means of personal (and private) excitation. The function of such
eroticization is to deal with “the psychic pain of anxiety or depression
that might otherwise overwhelm the subject’s capacity to metabolise
it,” so that the erotic engagement “takes the place of containing, feeling,
and thinking.”50

It is not surprising, therefore, to observe that when reality intervenes
to disrupt the enactment of this autoerotic fantasy—in the form of Stew-
art’s enraged indignation at what he perceives to be her bad faith—Ada
finds that she possesses almost no other sources of psychic strength that
can help her to survive the ensuing ordeal to which he subjects her. It is
significant that Flora, by this time, has relinquished her identification
with her mother and has sided emphatically with Stewart, her father
substitute—which suggests that she, more than Ada, has moved ahead
in terms of following the usual course of human development.

6 The third stage in Ada’s psychological movement is the most am-biguous of all, and the ambiguity is heightened by the fact that, in
earlier drafts, ��������� ����� had a different ending.

Stewart’s violent mutilation of Ada, in which he chops off the finger
with which she had caressed him just a short time before, serves two
purposes at the level of fantasy. At the level of the diegesis itself, the
mutilation amounts to a symbolic castration that reflects Stewart’s rage

An image of Ada’s narcissism in ���������

Page 144

T r au m a s of Se pa r at ion 129

at the narcissism he has come to realize is the motivation for her erotic
approach to him. As such, the brutal mutilation he inflicts on her is as
much an act of vengeance as it is a consequence of sexual jealousy. At a
deeper level, because the sexual relationship with Baines for which Stew-
art is punishing Ada has come about because of the bartering arrange-
ment for the piano once owned by Ada’s mother, the affair represents an
unconscious wish by Ada to take the place of her mother in a fantasy of
incest with her father. This helps to explain why Campion transferred to
Ada the mutilation that was associatively linked to her mother, Edith,
in her imagination. Symbolically, the chopping off of Ada’s finger is si-
multaneously a punishment for her unacknowledged incestuous wishes,
which involve taking the place of her mother, and a punishment for her
actual adultery.

The existence of the deep, unacknowledged guilt arising from this
fantasy also explains why, at the point where she is free to leave Stew-
art and face the prospect of a happy life with Baines, Ada lapses into a
profound depression that is accompanied by a suicidal inclination. As at
other key moments in ��������� the representation of Ada’s response to
the aftermath of her punishment is overdetermined, suggesting that the
causes of her depression are far greater than can be explained simply by
her attachment to her piano. When Stewart decides to let her depart with
Baines, it is because he has heard a desperate plea being uttered by her,
in his mind: “‘I’m afraid of my will, of what it might make me do, it is so
strange and strong.’ She said, ‘I have to go—let me go. Let Baines take
me away, let him try and save me.’” What this passage reveals is Ada’s
realization that her mind is still “diseased,”51 that she is at the mercy
of unconscious impulses that she cannot control, and that she needs to
be “saved” from the self-destructive potential of her own will—already
manifest in her muteness—which arises as a consequence of wishes she
cannot acknowledge. Ironically, it is Stewart who is sensitive to this as-
pect of Ada’s psychology, rather than Baines, even though it is the latter,
in the revised ending, who, having discovered his “feminine side,” is
depicted as the one who might be able to help her by removing her fear
of the phallus.

At first, it looks as if Ada will succumb to her suicidal impulses: she
places her foot in the coils of rope attached to her piano when, at her
insistence, it is thrown overboard on the voyage to Nelson. Immediately

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