A Psychoanalytic Analysis of Pretty Woman

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A Psychoanalytic Analysis of Pretty Woman

In the introduction to his book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Slavoj Zizek acquaints readers with his book’s tripartite aim. He plans, among other things, to illustrate concepts fundamental to Lacanian psychoanalysis – an intention which will serve to further his more ambitious goal “to reactualize Hegelian dialectics by giving it a new reading” in the light of Lacanian psychoanalysis – and “to contribute to the theory of ideology via a new reading of some well-known classical motifs” (7). In this broad category of classical motifs associated with the theory of ideology, I have isolated both fetishism and the commodity-form and intend to briefly illustrate some of these concepts against the backdrop of the movie Pretty Woman -- a popular rags-to-riches romantic comedy from 1990.

Looking through the prism of Lacan and Marx, Zizek brands us as “fetishists in practice, not in theory”; he posits that we “do not know” or we “misrecognize” the fact that in our “social reality itself, in [our] social activity – in the act of commodity exchange – [we] are guided by the fetishistic illusion” (31). Amidst this discussion on ideology, Zizek highlights one of the most significant differences between Marx and Lacan:

In the predominant Marxist perspective the ideological gaze is a partial gaze overlooking the totality of social relations, whereas in the Lacanian perspective ideology rather designates a totality set on effacing the traces of its own impossibility. (49)

This difference corresponds to the one that distinguishes the Marxian from the Freudian notion of fetishism: In the former, “a fetish conceals the positive network of social relations,” whereas in the latter “a fet...

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...difficult to let go of something so beautiful.” The movie is jam-packed full of such desirable “somethings” -- potentially fetishized objects which characters use in an effort to compensate for a “lack” in their lives: cash, a silver Lotus, clothes from Rodeo Drive, a personal jet, the “kill” of a hostile takeover, or the company of a beautiful woman. In the movie's conclusion, Edward does go through with the jewelry-return; he does not leave behind the ruby-haired Vivian, though, and the audience receives their “happy ending” – perhaps a fetish in its own right.

Works Cited:

The Internet Movie Database Ltd. (An Amazon.com company.) http://us.imdb.com [Accessed 11 November 1998].

Pretty Woman. Dir. Garry Marshall. With Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Touchstone, 1990.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, 1989.
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