Several psychoanalytic methodologies are still popular tools for analyzing visual culture products. Screenwriting, based on the laws of the characters and dramatic situations development, is the most suitable object for research from a psychodynamic perspective. In this work, I’ll analyze usage logic of the anal stage of psychosexual development in screenwriting, and also I’ll try to compare the typical dramatic constructions (which use the scheme of residual anal behavior) with more thorough psychoanalytic interpretations. Thus, the objective of this study is the search for evolutionary drama forms of the “anal” character.


Graduate of European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania), «Media and Communication» program («Visual Culture» specialty). Student of East European Psychoanalysis Institute (Saint-Petersburg, Russia), «Psychological consulting» program (additional education)

Email: alexander.polybinsky @

In the popular psychoanalytic literature, we can easily find a chapter about stages of psychosexual development, which were formulated by Z. Freud [FREUD, S. «Introduction to Psychoanalysis». Lecture 21.]. According to Freud’s concept (which later became a part of the drives theory), the subject goes through the oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital (as the final and most mature) stages of psychosexual development. It’ll be unnecessary to indicate in detail the physiological specificity of each stage. However, fixation in mature years at any stage is expressed in the form of “residual” behavior. For example, obsession at the oral stage, caused by the anxiety of a child who is early weaned from her mother’s breast, can be expressed not only in the form of an unconscious fear of hunger, a kind of global shortage but in total dissatisfaction with all types of satiety. Exactly this dissatisfaction causes any “oral” addictions (food, nicotine, alcohol, etc.). The consequences of anal fixation are usually expressed in the subject’s excessive desire for cleanliness, pedantry and stinginess. As Freud noted in the article “Character and Anal Erotism”, subject with “anal” fixation is prone to disorders of the obsessive and compulsive spectrum, which are expressed in phobic thoughts and repeated actions (the desire to restore order, recheck plumbing, gas stove, etc.) [FREUD, S. «Character and Anal Erotism»].

It’s important to note that the “residual” motives of behavior at each stage are determined primarily by the object of desire. If oral fixation is characterized by an early loss of a valuable purpose (maternal breast), then anal fixation is the effect of the first significant dramatic choice in the subject’s life: release a valuable object (feces) or hold it. In particular, J. Lacan states: “If an object is given a similar definition, then no matter how you change the qualities of desire in the transition from oral to anal and then to genital, it will always turn out that there must be some kind of object for it satisfaction and saturation” [translation is mine – A.P.] [LACAN, J. “Seminars” Т. 1, Ch. XVII]. So, at the genital stage subject shows not only concern for the enjoyment of his partner (external object), but seeks to satisfy a number of his needs and requirements, i.e. “realizes the existence of another subject as such” [translation is mine – A.P.] [LACAN, J. “Seminars” Т. 1, Ch. XVII], then on the anal stage – he derives pleasure from the fact that he controls himself. In other words, the anal stage generates a complex system of equivalences of satisfaction, allowing the subject to pay “on his own”, without having to enter the variable of another into this equation. A. Smulyansky writes about such equivalence in book “Obsessive neurosis and the origins of the desire to keep”: “… the meaning of the obsessive neurotic is that although he accumulates and exchanges things or signs that can act as objects of exchange, it’s necessary in this case, it’s completely different to him – namely, the knowledge of another, which should once and for all stop this circulation” [translation is mine – A.P.] [SMULYANSKIY, A. “Desire of the obsessed” (excerpt)]. Definitely the knowledge of another and the attitude of the subject to this knowledge gives rise to another layer of dramatic motives, following the previously mentioned ideas of holding and satisfaction. In turn, this is consistent with another quote of Lacan that “the desire to keep is a particular form of something more general” [translation is mine – A.P.] [2, p. 392].

We turn further to the popular book “Psychology for Screenwriters” (authored by W. Indick). In the chapter about the anal stage of psychosexual development, the author has collected examples of plots (American Beauty 1999, Straw Dogs 1971, Patriot 2000, etc.) with the next drama scheme: accumulation of discontent – release of the “inner beast” – act of violence or passion. Strictly this scheme is used in the dramatic construction of the film “Falling Down” (dir. – J. Schumacher, 1992), which was also mentioned by W. Indick. Let’s analyze this story in detail. 


FALLING DAWN by Joel Schumacher (1993)

The hero of M. Douglas leaves the house and tries to get to his daughter’s birthday, but in some bizarre way, he smashes almost the whole city. The highlight of the film is not only in the fact that on his daughter’s birthday, he will not fall, but in the gradual insight of the character: he understands that the whole city is trying to stop him and, moreover, society is to blame for all his troubles. Having accumulated in this way the knowledge of another (in this case, understanding of how the world works), the hero comes to an eventual impasse and commits suicide. The plot of the film “Taxi Driver” (dir. M. Scorsese, 1976) also develops in a similar dramatic form – the hero accumulates knowledge of another (about the city, women, politics, the applicability of his experience, etc.), but in the end, he is only capable of “an outbreak of violence”, as S. Zizek called it in “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” (dir. S. Fiennes, 2006). Against this background seems very suitable the hypothesis that the final Iris’s (by J. Foster) letter to Travis is his dream.

The discovery of the protagonists of “Taxi Driver” and “Falling down” movies are extremely traumatic and doesn’t leave any alternatives. In other words, knowledge acquired by the hero –which contradicts the desire to keep – doesn’t give further constructive development and leads to an outbreak of violence. Therefore, it’s essential to consider the evolutionary forms of the functioning of the “anal” character in film dramaturgy, for which knowledge of another is not the cause of subsequent destruction.

Next, we consider in the context of the anal stage logic the dramatic construction of “The Shawshank Redemption” (dir. – F. Darabont, 1994). Andy Dufresne (by T. Robbins) seems like “anal” hero. Firstly, he is a banker, i.e. the image of the subject of routine work. Secondly, he is accused of murder out of jealousy – this is an allusion to release of the “inner beast”. Thirdly, in prison, Andy stubbornly suffers beatings and oppression, i.e. the injustice of the judicial system itself. However, in the end he manages not only to get free but also to get rich. The question is “how did he succeed?” which we will replace with the following definition – what knowledge of another did Andy get? The film gives an indirect answer to this question. Over the twenty years spent in prison on false charges Andy made two critical discoveries: first one, there are no falsely accused people, each on both sides of the prison wall are guilty; the second one – those who are not inclined to accept this guilt continue to be a villain (and the director of the prison is the main villain). That’s why Andy not only repents for his carelessness to his wife but also makes constructive steps and uses formulated “discoveries”. Thus, the knowledge of how everything is arranged doesn’t lead either to death or to the fruitless struggle of the hero, but to his actual regeneration in the new moral and semantic system.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION by Frank Darabont (1994)

An even more important example of overcoming the destructive stereotype of anal fixation can be found in the dramatic structure of the first season of the TV ser. “Fargo” (production – “26 Keys Productions”, 2014). The originality of this plot is largely due to the presence of two “anal” characters, whose fates reflect each other. I mean the hero of M. Freeman – Lester Nygaard, as well as the policeman Gus Grimly (performed by K. Hanks). Lester painfully survives a middle-aged crisis, suffers a grumpy wife and bullying of a former classmate. Gus seems strange and plain guy, and despite the ridicule of fellow police officers (his colleagues), he continues to patiently perform his service, secretly dreaming of becoming a postman. The life of both characters changes after meeting with the killer Lorne Malvo (played by B-B. Thornton). It is he who first kills Lester’s classmate, and then contributes to the death of his wife. Thus, Malvo initiates the investigation of Gus, after which he decides to leave the police.  

Leaving aside the moral imperative, it’s important to note the archetypal nature of Malvo, represented by the image of pure Evil. Thus, the meeting with Malvo for Leicester and Gus is not only getting knowledge of another, of a different state than their lives but the journey to a specific limit of culture and morality. In the terminology of J. Lacan, in this case, it would be called a collision with the Real. In other words, if Andy Dufresne made the transition between two different symbolic systems (from a world where there are guilty and innocent, to order where everyone is guilty), then the heroes of “Fargo”, having experienced existential horror after meeting with Malvo, from knowing about out of moral order of things, turned back. Only if Gus, like Andy Dufresne (as he dreamed, after escaping, he settles in a house near the ocean), had a certain prototype of fiction extrapolated to his subsequent life, then Lester didn’t have fiction. Gus, after confronting the border of reality, took a constructive step and began to live in his dream of becoming a postman. Leicester, running away from the police, fell through the ice and died, symbolizing the thought of J. Lacan that “Truth can be arranged only as a fiction” [translation is mine – A.P.] [1, p. 21] as a fiction of subject about himself.


  1. LACAN, J. “Seminars” T. 7. Ethics of Psychoanalysis. М.: Gnosis/ Logos, 2006. 416 p.
  2. LACAN, J. “Seminars” Т. 10. М.: Gnosis/ Logos, 2010. 424 p.

The article was presented at the film studies conference on March 13, 2020.

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