Freud understood repression as an unconscious mechanism for warding off socially dangerous impulses, i.e. impulses that violated the prevailing covenants. He considered this “the corner-stone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests,” and, as seen throughout Sexcatraz, no impulses are more dangerous than sexual ones. In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) Freud posited the idea of parapraxes[1], better known as ‘Freudian slips’, which are attempts by repressed impulses to break into conscious awareness. He termed this process the ‘return of the repressed’. Freudian slips are often thought of only as spoken faux pas[2].

Freud posited the idea of parapraxes, better known as ‘Freudian slips’, which are attempts by repressed impulses to break into conscious awareness

But Freud himself had a much broader view of parapraxes, encompassing not only supposed errors in speech but also of writing, memory, action and supposedly chance events, which he termed ‘symptomatic actions’ and could be highly significant. In Freud’s view, what identified these disparate and seemingly unrelated phenomena as parapraxes was “the ability to refer the phenomena to unwelcome, repressed, psychic material, which, though pushed away from consciousness, is nevertheless not robbed of all capacity to express itself.”

Virtually every film in Sexcatraz, including those based on fact, contains characters whose lives feature such symptomatic events—events that act as lightning rods for their repressed sexuality and cause it to erupt into plain view. In Boys Don’t Cry, the discovery of Brandon’s hidden dildo triggers John Lotter and Tom Nissen’s latent sexual shame, starting a domino chain reaction that leads to rape and murder. In Auto Focus, the seemingly squeaky-clean Bob Crane falls in with John Carpenter, effectively his shadowy alter ego, who leads him into a sordid underworld of sex addiction. In Unfaithful, the bored and sexually frustrated Connie Sumner bumps into suave Paul Martel and ends up sprawled on top of him in a symbolic representation of the sex act. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry’s off-the-cuff decision to hitch a lift with Sally forces both of them to confront their deep-seated beliefs about the incompatibility of sex and friendship. This is the return of the repressed at work.

For the purposes of Sexcaraz it is immaterial whether parapraxes are the result of divine will, random chance, or—as Freud believed—repressed psychic material desperately seeking an avenue to express itself. The crucial point is that anytime such an event occurs the opportunity to observe, take responsibility for and change dysfunctional behaviour also occurs. The return of the repressed is a self-balancing mechanism: it seeks to draw attention to the dysfunction so that psychological healing can take place. Let’s observe this at work in Adrian Lyne’s excellent 1997 remake of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel about underage sex, Lolita.



[1] The word derives from the root para, which has multiple meanings including ‘incorrect’ or ‘abnormal’, and the Greek praxis, which means ‘doing’ or ‘a deed’.

[2] I can remember, during a visit to Mount Orgeuil castle in Jersey, an older lady reddening with embarrassment (i.e. shame) after mentioning the castle’s impressive fornications—oops—fortifications.

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