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Divided Against The Self :The ego-dystonic individual as illustrated in Stephen Frear’s “Prick up Your Ears” An essay On Erotic Identity, Homosexuality and the Cinema

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  1. Introduction
    1. The film from a psychological standpoint
    2. The hypothesis that a Christian ethic inevitably permeates the psyche of individuals
  2. The Film as it Portrays Orton's Homosexuality
    1. The narrative of Prick Up Your Ears
    2. Kenneth and Joe's collaboration as writers
  3. Punishing, Stigmatizing Super-Ego
    1. The super ego or the moral conscious
    2. A developing homoerotic individual
  4. Ego-Fragmentation or Division Against the Self
    1. Brute sex and romantic intimacy
    2. The phenomena of ego splitting
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

Stephen Frear's Prick Up Your Ears (1987) is based upon the life of England's notorious playwright Joe Orton. The film focuses primarily on Joe's 16 year unconventional relationship with Kenneth Halliwell. This relationship shall be used in the analysis that follows as an illustrative example of problematic homosexuality. Firstly, the effects of social stigma on personality will be examined to show how social stigma can become an integrative part of the super-ego of the stigmatized individual and thereby generate guilt feelings. Secondly, the hypothesis that stigmatized homosexuals may suffer a type of ego splintering shall be examined and elucidated by studying the film's main character, Joe Orton. In fact, as we shall see, it can very well be the case once split, aspects of Ego may work against one another, they may become ego-dystonic.
From a psychological standpoint, the film is telling in that it illustrates the problematic nature of the love relationship between two stigmatized homosexual men. In this sense, the following analysis must be two-fold: it must take into consideration not only psychology, but also sociology. It goes without saying that personality dynamics depend largely upon external environmental factors. To gain a truly holistic psychological understanding, one must not forget the cultural and social factors in which a person was raised. In the case of Joe Orton, the sociological emphasis shall be placed on the prevalent homophobia in England of the 1940's, 50's and 60's. In fact, it is clear that homosexuals of that époque were part of a stigmatized minority group. Essential for this propos are the psychological repercussions of being a member of a stigmatized minority. How does being part of a stigmatized minority group affect the psyche of the stigmatized, how does it affect their perception of themselves and the world around them? The answers to this question are infinite. We therefore here focus on the erotic repercussions experienced in the stigmatized homosexual.

[...] Initially, neither of the men were open about their homosexuality, and did not take the apartment as a 'romantic couple.' It is only after moving in together that they had their first erotic encounter in rather dramatic fashion while watching the crowning of Queen Elisabeth on television. This first sexual encounter is the only one ever portrayed in the film. In fact, it is the only time that the two are ever genuinely affectionate toward one another throughout the entire film. [...]


[...] On they contrary, each term conveys an opposing psychological reality as to the way a 'homosexual' man perceives his sexuality. Judging by the nature of Joe's homosexual encounters, one would be hard pressed to consider him a genuine healthy homoerotic due to the total absence of affection, intimacy, or reciprocity that are typically associated with genital eroticism in the non pathological adult individual. To use Freudian terminology, it can be said that Joe's sexuality functions on a pre-genital level due to his complete incapacity to relate emotionally to his sexual objects. [...]


[...] As Orton's close friend and agent, Peggy, put it, "prison didn't seem to suit him (Orton) that badly, and after all, prison does give a writer credentials." It can be said that prison suited Orton in the sense that he had unlimited access to sexual different partners. Joe's insatiable sexual appetite is illustrated throughout the film. Oddly enough, Joe's libido seems to be pucker out in the presence of Kenneth. Indeed, a key element in understanding their relationship is the minimal, if not nonexistent role played by sexuality and eroticism. [...]

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