Psychoanalytic Explorations of Forensic Themes of Limit & Consent in the Film Perfume, The Story of a Murderer

Film + Novel, Perfume, the story of a murderer

Jacques Lacan’s work helps us define clinical structures based on his formulated three registers of the imaginary, symbolic and the real which provide a theory for framing human experience. People’s experience fluctuate between desire and jouissance. In basic terms desire is moving us towards meaning and healthy adaptive living in society with others with limits, while the hallmark of jouissance in the pervert may be a shock or horror produced in those around the person who has committed the perverse act, such as in Pedophilia. Perverts are also at risk of self harm and suicide because of the pressures from society to comply but not always being able. Mandated treatment by judges may work with these people by providing boundaries and structure to live less harmful or disruptive lives. We make a distinction between perverse acts and perverse structures. Certain private sexual acts can be also perverse and consensual, however perverse structure is diagnostic, in severe cases very problematic for those involved and structure is not changeable.

In perversion limits are defaulted to jouissance. The Neurotic knows that one day he will die, and he will come up with all sorts of fantasies to circumvent his mortality, and mortality of those he loves. For example during times of distress, the neurotic blocks off calls, but knows in his fantasy that his lover is there, and he continues to maintain his desires in this way. He reduces his beloved into a precious symbolic object, so that he does not have to lose the enjoyment or face symbolic castration or loss. In the film, the protagonist, Jean-Babtiste who was orphaned at birth becomes obsessed with stalking a woman, and in absolute disregard for her ‘no’, and in the process of holding her to smell her scent without of course her consent, he suffocates her. This is different from the neurotic’s ignorance. The neurotic may transgress, but the pervert disregards or in psychoanalytic terms, disavowals the law despite knowing the consequences.

The neurotic doubts that he is really loved or that he really exists and goes on a search in life for meanings, but for the perverse in the film this isn’t the case. He knows the only way to keep the object for himself forever is to extract her soul, even if that means he kills the subject of the scent in the process.

The neurotic represses the fantasy for the impossible event, to have sex with the original object, and of course in his life-pursuits he realises this is impossible, moving from one object or partner to another, and in severe cases rarely experiencing satisfaction in jobs, achievement of life goals or partners. We regularly receive these neurotics in our clinics, who are successful but chronically unsatisfied, or as the social construct names, burned out. The neurotic reduces his partner to that object in his unconscious fantasy, and to variable degrees undermines otherness, her desire separate to his – which can repeat as variable degrees of self-sabotage in jobs and romantic relationships. It is the one fantasy that repeats across many domains for the person, because it is unconscious. For example that besides him, she may be interested in other men, or projects that may be of interest to her. Yet in fantasy this symbolic rejection (castration), the no, the limit or boundary, is the very thing that keeps the neurotic desiring, being ambitious, and going after pursuits in life.

The neurotic may fantasize about keeping a beloved forever, but when it comes down to it, she is free to leave him, and he knows that. This symbolic castration for the neurotic is painful but also keeps him desiring. The perverse may do the impossible act of committing a murder, to keep an escaping partner. It is going beyond the limits of desire, which is overridden by jouissance, and it is causing pain for those around him in society. The perverse does not suffer from his own acts, but makes those around him suffer. There are examples of this in extreme cases of domestic violence and perverse structures are regularly identified in forensic settings. In these instances, it is not until the pervert is caught by forensic and justice services whereby he is able to be restricted by laws and the rehabilitation is mandated in these cases, providing a limit on jouissance. Based on my experience and research, some people have found relief in the structure that prison offered them.

At the end of the film, the perfume bottle that he has produced with the victim’s scents, seduces everyone around him into ‘enjoying’ themselves and others without any restraint. This is in a public orgy in the setting that was prepared for his sentencing, while the victims’ families and others overlooked in absolute horror and total disturbance of senses and scents. Sense is broken by a lack of social order, caused in the very moment when a man who knew nothing of beauty, having been born in a smelly fish market, produces beauty from beauty by killing the very essence of it – destroying life. This is insane.

The perverse commits the unimaginable act, or acts where it is traumatic, but repressed in fantasy by the neurotic. What sets humans apart from animals is the unconscious limits we are raised with in our families but not as savages, socialised among other people, in families, and limits to function appropriately with our peers, partners, families and in society for the advancement of our species and the greater good. These limits do not exist for the pervert, at the end of the film, he commits suicide by having himself being devoured by the others at the market who essentially were responsible for his survival at birth. The protagonist aroused some sympathy, this pervert did not have anyone to teach him, and all that he had experienced in his childhood was violence and abuse. In the end, he is devoured by the very people who ensured his life as a rejected baby.

It is a neurotic’s wishful fantasy to be in union with his mother, to return to the comfort of the womb and not experience that initial traumatic separation as a helpless infant, and to not experience any loss. The neurotic desires to return where his biological existence started. However for the perverse, he goes beyond the symbolic and imaginary limits, the impossibility of returning to the other’s body, he offers himself to be eaten, to return to flesh. He literally returns himself. There is no desire, loss or guilt for the protagonist. In perversion unlike neurosis, there is no mourning for loss. As Jean-Batiste himself tries, he sets himself on an admirable journey to explore perfume-making, to become man, and it is in a cave, where he learns something of his existence, that he does not exist, he is born dead, because he does not have a soul, a scent.





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