The Embodied Spectator and the Uncomfortable Experience of Watching Romance and The Piano Teacher


  • Sara Elisabeth Sellevold Orning



In this article I investigate the embodied and multi-sensual spectator, whose film experience is not dominated by the disembodied, voyeuristic distance to the screen posited as inevitable by much psychoanalytic film theory. This is a spectator who is 'making sense' of the film through eyes that hear and ears that see, and whose affective disposition allows for an experience not limited to vision as the only sense-maker. I bring into play issues of the body, embodiment, experience, and affect in order to identify possible sources of the ambiguous, bodily discomfort engendered in the spectator by Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999) and The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001). The reactions of discomfort to these films seem to be symptomatic of a not entirely conscious rejoinder to the visual image. I suggest that such reactions indicate that the cinematic bodies touch the spectators on a bodily and psychical level, one that cannot be divided into mind and body but which must be considered embodied. As such, my argument addresses the visual and artistic representation of bodies, but it does so by going beyond traditional ways of 'interpreting the body' as object, seeking instead to investigate the very embodied processes of creating and acquiring this spectatorial knowledge.