More thoughts on Raising Cain

by Sara Gran
Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, p...

Carl Jung

I had an experience a week or so ago that I’ve been thinking about a lot: I was taking to a friend when the friend turned to me, with a particular angry look on his face, and proceeded to say something in a very specific kind of pissed off, sputtering tone. The moment passed, my friend’s annoyance passed, and whatever I’d done to cause it apparently passed as well. It wasn’t at all a big deal. But this moment really stuck with me –and in fact kind of shook me up–because I realized I’d experienced this exact same moment, with a different person, about a year before. And that two years ago, I’d had the exact same moment with another friend. Same facial expression, same tone of voice, although entirely unrelated people talking about unrelated topics.  I think there’s some strange psychology at work here–either I am, subconsciously, pushing people to recreate this moment with me, or I am abnormally attracted to people to are attracted to this moment, or, well, who the hell knows? I think we all have experiences like this, although they’re certainly easier to identify in other people than ourselves: the friend who always goes for the unavailable object of desire, the cousin who spoils every good job opportunity.  We have compulsions to repeat ourselves in ways that we don’t understand and don’t usually like. (When we wrote our V.C. Andrews essay Megan explained to me about some of the Freud behind this, but of course I’ve since forgotten it all, so maybe I can persuade her to do it again.)

As a writer, too, my compulsions have become apparent to me (sometimes painfully so!)–those little moments and plot lines and characters that I keep repeating, without meaning to, in my work. I think everyone who makes art in some way knows the feeling–you get a new idea and you go and you do the new idea and you put all this time and effort into it and the when it’s over you realize wait, this wasn’t a new idea! This was the same idea I’ve had for twenty years in a new outfit! I just rewrote The Bird’s Nest AGAIN!

So I was thinking about how this plays into Raising Cain. One thing everyone noticed in the comments that got me thinking was that both within the movie, and within the context of DePalma’s other movies, there’s obviously an amount of repetition here that seems well past the normal boundaries. And I wonder if in some ways he wasn’t playing with this experience, or intentionally diving into it. And–I was about to say “incidentally,” but now I think maybe this is actually the central thing here–I do suspect that’s how we exorcise these repetitive demons–by diving into them, instead of fighting them.

This reminds me of something I’ve read a number of times, although I have no idea if it’s true: James Joyce’s daughter was schizophrenic, and he took her to see Jung. Joyce said to Jung, hey, you’ll understand her, there’s nothing wrong here–she’s just like us, using this ocean of symbols and images to make sense of her world. And Jung said Well, no, it’s not the same thing, and here’s the difference: you’re diving. Your daughter is falling.

So I wonder if DePalma was falling, and decided, wisely, to turn around and dive.


9 Comments to “More thoughts on Raising Cain”

  1. ooof. this is gorgeous, Sara. The concept u put forward in the first paragraph freaks me the fuck out cos it’s so basic and true and so beautifully expressed, and the last couple of lines REALLY make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Thank you.

    Yes, your daughter is falling.

    Mr. De Palma, I am POSITIVE, would (should) be surprised, and perhaps moved, to have ignited this level of discourse. Esp w/r/t RAISIN freakin CAIN!

  2. My second fave bit of dia from RC is:

    Cop: “We gotta find those babies now! I don’t want to be walking behind any little coffins.”

  3. A fascinating idea. It goes a long way toward explaining why DePalma’s best movies fall into one of two camps. The for-hire works that are almost impersonal (Carrie, The Untouchables), the source material affording him a distance but making full use of his technical acumen. And the almost-too-intimate films that come from deep within his subconscious, like Cain. There’s just enough plot business in Cain for DePalma to turn the fall into a dive. Femme Fatale, 10 years later, is a glorious plunge.

  4. Brilliant, Sara! This is in fact the main reason (other than Nancy Allen, and PJ Soles) I was first drawn to De Palma! There has been the claim that repetition compulsions are the common to almost all our greatest artists–and that seems right to me (not that all compulsive repeaters are great artists—but it’s what they do with the repetitions that count. De Palma twirls, twists, overturns and turns-inside-out each one, his own and the ones he’s drawn to in others!). Of course not the classic Freudian compulsion (as I understand it!) becomes he’s very AWARE of it (unlike, say, VC Andrews who does not seem to be) and celebrates it!

    • See, Megan, I KNEW you could make sense of this! What did I ever do before I met you–wallow in a sea of half-baked ideas?!

  5. Your ideas are all maximally-baked–they MUST be, or else mine are not! (synchronicity, right?)

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