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Review of Homicide Symposium

The San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies, in conjunction with the Pacific Film Archive, presented an afternoon symposium on October 6, 2001, on Mamet's film "Homicide."


    The San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies, in conjunction with the Pacific Film Archive, presented an afternoon symposium on October 6, 2001, on Mamet’s film Homicide on the University of California, Berkeley campus. An introductory presentation by Eric Essman (faculty at the Lacan School and co-editor of Anamorphosis ) gave an overview of Mamet’s work both in theater and film. He also disclosed internal jokes in Homicide , such as the quote from Hitchcock regarding how a work is either “a slice of life” or “a piece of cake.” The film was then screened.

    After a brief intermission, the three featured speakers presented their papers. Diane M. Borden, Chair of Film Studies at University of the Pacific, addressed in her paper, “Cop Out: Symptoms of the Sublime in Homicide ,” two main points which she saw as overlapping. She linked psychoanalytic sublimation with the philosophical sublime, then examined how Gold’s engagement with a secret society triggers a sublime elation or transference love, through the aspiration of joining an alternative family. Further, she suggested that a Kabbalistic style shapes the film’s structure and method and demonstrates various aspects of encoded meanings, or symptoms. She explored how Judaism fulfills Hegel’s, then Zizek’s, notion of a religion most attuned with the sublime experience, whether political or mystical.

    Janet Thurmann, who is on the faculty of the College of Marin and of the Lacan School, suggested in her paper “ Conspiracies ” that Homicide dramatizes two conspiracies: a possible neo-Nazi conspiracy directed against the Jewish family of the Kleins and a police entrapment of Robert Randolph, a black suspect. The film traces Gold’s progressive assumption of a Jewish identification, which Thurmann sees as a symptom of Jewish paranoia, and, by implication, the film takes for granted a history of racial tensions between African-Americans and Jews.

The final paper, “Driven to Death,” presented by John Gasperoni, a clinical psychologist and training coordinator in San Francisco, examined Gold’s trajectory of one who approaches the threshold of being a tragic hero through a critique of Freud’s death drive. Three demands are placed on Gold: to be a Jew, to do his job, and to understand evil. Gasperoni posited that the film illustrates that evil is the betrayal of self—that is, to take an abjectional position with regards to the Other in the hope of gaining recognition. Ultimately, Gold is “turned into shit” as the film demonstrates symptoms of a death drive.

The question and answer session provoked a lively interchange. One person spoke to the title of the film, seeing “homicide” as a pun—the death of the home. She pointed out how the Jewish airline stewardess feels such strong affinity for her home in Israel, while Gold feels homeless and in need of just such a home. Another audience member compared Homicide with Oleanna in that it appeared to give equal voice to Jew and black, or man and woman; yet, each work actually favored the Jew (Gold) and the man (professor) over the black (Randolph) and the woman (student). These parallels suggested that the dichotomy could be resolved by understanding both Bobby Gold and Robert Randolph as outsiders embraced in a pietà at the end of the film. She also suggested that the characters in Oleanna form a folie à deux. Further discussion revolved around Jewish identity within ethical, cultural, and political frames. Gasperoni also made several comments about the differences between the filmscript and the film as screened. Even when the formal program ended, conversations continued outside the auditorium in a tone of civil but intense dissent.