The film La Pianiste is not only a stunning work of art; it also brilliantly portrays the psychopathology of Erika Kohut, a repudiated piano professor at the Consevatoire de Vienne. By leading us into her private life and exploring her "abnormal" fantasies the film creates a striking paradox: A talented artist whose musical renderings are filled with a passionate yet rigorous technical perfection desires to be brutalized and tortured during sex. Unable to realize this fantasy until meeting another brilliant musician with whom she attempts to act out her sado-masochistic desires, Erika inflicts the pain upon herself; she mutilates her genitals with razors. Forced to lie to her domineering and omnipresent mother, Erika goes to sex shops where she watches peep shows and sniffs left behind paper towels saturated with ejaculate. Her voyeuristic tendencies become more apparent when she goes to a drive-in movie theater and spies on a young couple making love. Once excited, she squats and urinates over the open wounds of her mutilated genitals, apparently eroticizing the burning sensation. For Erika, the sensations of pain and brutality are inextricably linked with sexuality and romantic intimacy. The purpose of this essay is to elucidate the heroine of this film by better understanding the reasons behind her extreme sado-masochism and their possible roots. What psychic mechanisms could be at work behind the motivations of such a complex and paradoxical woman?
[...] She allows her to scold her as if she were a child, indicating Erika's failure to develop into an autonomous person capable of making her own decisions and of knowing, much less pursuing her own pleasures and pursuits. As stated in the introduction, the separation and individuation processes by which a child departs the paradise of the symbiotic union was never completed in Erika's psychological development. These processes by which the child develops autonomous ego functioning are open-ended. There is no specific age limit by when these processes should be complete. [...]
[...] It is clear that Walter has awakened a romantic longing inside Erica. After he reads the letter, she states that she does not know why she chose him. It is as if she has found in Walter a figure that she will allow to control her. Why? We can speculate that his own artistic virtuosity puts him, in the eyes of Erika, on the same haughty plane as herself. He is someone "special" enough who Erika would allow to turn the violence she feels toward eroticism and intimacy against herself. [...]
[...] Being that super-ego contents are transmitted to the child from the parents, we can see how Erika's super-ego is a type of moralizing persecutory introject reflective of her mother; a narcissistic, orgueilleuse, proud, and often nasty woman. Let us now examine these two hypotheses by using examples from the film. In the opening scene Erika comes home to the apartment she shares with her mother. Despite being a grown woman approaching forty, her mother treats her as though she were still an infant. [...]
[...] If each time a dog urinates on the carpet he receives a slap, he will ultimately associate urinating on the carpet with physical pain and ultimately stop urinating on the carpet. Each time Erika thought of sex or of romantic relationships with men, her super-ego launched an assault of guilt feelings and a resurgence of the internalized sexually repressed mother assailed her fragile ego. Ultimately she came to associate sexual impulses not with corporal pleasure but with a psychic bombardment of guilt and in consequence, we could postulate that a need for punishment arose to alleviate intense guilt feelings. [...]
[...] The nature of her sexual fantasies is so morbid, extreme and brutal that one has to question whether or not she has a realistic grasp on her identity and her body. I would suggest that due to symbiotic origin of her extreme sado-masochism Erika could be qualified as psychotic at the end of the film. It is not the sado-masochism itself that allows us to arrive at this conclusion. Rather, as stated above, Erika lives in symbiotic fusion with her mother: psychical differentiation between the two never occurred. [...]
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