My rating: 7
IMDB rating: 7.8
IMDB link: Houdini
If you haven’t been noticing that biography is quite the ‘it-thing’ in literature at the moment, you have probably been living under a rock. From Walk the Line in 2005 to Lincoln in 2012, we are systematically revisiting all our great legends.This film is no different, and to me, the power of a biographer lies in his ability to be both in love with his subject, but also hyper-observant of the hero’s faults (and, of course, most heroes have a lot).
The thing this movies captures most effectively, to me, is the grandeur of Houdini. His acts were extravagant and, like his personality, very daring. He also performed in an age where, especially in America lavishness was quite prominent and that the movie captures as well.
They say that behind every great man, is a great woman… I, being of the feminist inclination, experience Bess as a very solitary character. His love for her I experienced as obsessive, rather than endearing. Of course, all of this is based on fact and they needed to stay as true to the source text as possible, but still it was interesting for me to note this.
A lot has, in fact, been said about the value of the source text versus the commerciality and visual pleasurability needed for modern audiences. While making a series for the History channel sends a certain kind of message, the amount of sensation needed to keep modern audiences interested almost always undermines the source text.
The source text for this particular film is Houdini, A Mind in Chains: A psychoanalytic portrait written by Bernard C Meyer in the 1970’s. Being a psychoanalytical portrayal really makes this movie more than the tell-all biopic that we are use to seeing. Houdini’s obsession with fame is explored, his need for the constant escapes is explored, his fetish with the near-death is placed in the limelight, but the most psychologically taxing thing that the movie highlights is Houdini’s unnatural connection to his mother.
Houdini is in fact sketched as the ultimate Oedipal-hero. Coined by Freud, the sufferer of the Oedipus complex dynamically represses emotions and ideas in the unconscious that is concentrated on a child’s desire to have intercourse with the parent of the opposite sex. The successful resolution of the complex entails identification of the child with the same-sex parent. An unsuccessful resolution can then again lead to neurosis, paedophilia and as Feud thought at the time, homosexuality. Fixation on the parent from the opposite sex during psychosexual development therefore leads to mother-fixation (or father-), as is clear from the film,
The result of this complex, as is clearly illustrated in the film, is Houdini’s quest for contact with his mother after her death. The obsessive intensity with which he pursued the so-called ‘fakes’ is evident of the obsessive nature of the relationship. Bess is also compared to his mother, as both the visions he has of them are of them smiling lovingly to him.
This film is quite a visual treat, while the narrative is just as entertaining. Certainly worth the experience.
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