‘Cough’ … Cock … Cure!

Happy Valentine’s Day. Speaking of love, I have a burning question! Would “Dora,” the subject of Freud’s famous case-study, have been better off if she sucked some cock?

I know I sure would.

Understanding Dora is crucial to understanding and, if you care to, condemning Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste, 2001). The first thing all reviews and summaries of this film point out is that Huppert’s character, Erika Kohut, is a masochist. Wow! This is an astute observation based on some truly casuitical interpretation. Such fine analysis turns on subtle nuances like the scene in which Erika – a cutter – sits on the edge of the bathtub just before dinner, slicing into her vagina. Other possible self-cruelty is evidenced in her flagrantly spying on a couple having sex at a drive-in themed movie theater; writing her lover a letter in which she begs to be beaten and degraded; sticking the edge of a knife into her chest; quoting T.A. Adorno.

Erika teaches at the Conservatorium of Music in Vienna where she brow-beats students out of the false hopes they might cherish of becoming accomplished musicians. (Let me tell you, having lived with a cellist who gave up his music career to fix the screen-savers of investment bankers, there is no one out there less optimistic and supportive than a failed musician.) Kohut, herself, still dreams of success well into her middle-age, but only because she is driven by her controlling, live-in, mother (Annie Girardot).

Geez, mom, you bitch! Can I get a second alone with my boyfriend?!

Before she commences her affair with infatuated student, Walter Klemner,* Erika lives an entirely fantasy based sex life. In addition to spying on couples fucking, she “sneaks” out after work to the back room of a porn shop where she watches porn and sniffs cum stained tissues. Every attempt she’s ever made to embody her own sexual life has been crushed and frustrated underground by her over-bearing mother (they share a bed which leads to an utterly insane lesbian moment between them). One of the film’s first scenes shows Erika arriving home late, with the excuse that she was at a practice session that ran over. She and her mother quickly find themselves in a fist-fight that reveals the “slutty” new dress Kohut has stashed in her bag. Like a jealous lover, her mother also goes through Erika’s closet looking for revealing dresses to toss into the trash. While they are in bed together, Erika berates her mother over a destroyed dress, arguing that the cut was “classique.”

Awwww, mommy… you suck. I wuv you!

I’ve seen and loved all of Haneke’s movies despite the fact that they are tortuous and make me hate myself. While he definitely has a sadistic streak, this story is hysterically over the top even for him. I watched the movie once through, and then tried it again for ten minute spurts. I wanted to see if the plot could go ten minutes without some act of sheer hysteria, deep character ugliness, or unbelievable perversity. It couldn’t. Without constant repetition of these elements, the dvd would have burst into flame and taken me with it. I even started to keep a list of the insanity, but Haneke and Hupert successfully worked my nerves far past patient list-making. This movie reaches heights of obscenity that take me back to Sexy Beast (2000) with its long opening shot of an obese man in a speedo.

As far as I can tell, he seems to be trying to say *something* about the impossibility of trying to live your fantasies. Erika’s life begins to spiral out of control when she, apparently for the first time in her life, receives sexual attention from a man, young Walter. Instinctively fearing that Klemner’s romantic streak is just typical youthful infatuation that will quickly run its sexual course, leaving her alone once more, Erika over-compensates by doing her excruciating best to extend every single aspect of their affair. For example, when blowing him in the bathroom of the Conservatory, she refuses him a climax. Erika also berates Walter when he tries to finish himself off, announcing that if he touches himself one more time she will walk out the door ending it forever. She undermines the fundamental basis of the blow job, by refusing to allow him to even grasp and guide her head!

The most over the top moment is pretty easy to miss. It takes place shortly after the commencement of Erika and Walter’s affair when, during piano practice, Erika begins to cough repeatedly. Walter explains the cough to her — she is “uptight” — instructing her to relax. He is explicit that some fucking will cure her cough. To probably any trained academic, the reference here to Freud’s Dora is unmistakable. For most people, this would probably pass innocuously, but to me it came like a punch in the face.**

Adorno-quoting masochist

Dora was the name Freud put down in his case files for a young lady who, among her many problems, suffered a intestinal problems as well as a persistent cough that led to asthma attacks. Ever tactful, Freud suggested to her that her cough was choking something back, and never flinching from his own desire to speak, he suggested that perhaps that something was the desire to suck her dad off. I can’t imagine why Dora would terminate her treatment abruptly. Lacan would later argue — it’s complicated and it was years ago when I read this — but something like Dora couldn’t come to terms with desiring men because she never fully comprehended femininity. But then again, who does? I, sure as shit, don’t.

The coughing scene is pure Psychoanalytic ‘Sploitation, and it’s one of the more shocking things I’ve seen Haneke try. Sorry to spoil the movie, but sucking cock doesn’t get Erika anywhere. She gags and chokes, and I’m fairly certain from Walter’s shouts of pain and “you’re hurting me,” that she uses her teeth. On her list of things she wants Walter to do is for him to beat her, but when he tries it she crumples on the floor yelling “not my face!” Nothing is like she imagined it, and her attempts to realize her fantasies drive Walter to more quickly reveal his inner frat boy.

I recommend this movie. Isabelle Hupert was awesome, and having the actress who played the ideal Emma Bovary play Erika was casting genius. It really made me hate myself and tested the limits of my cinematic endurance. I will not say that I liked it. But really, was I supposed to?

*Classic youtube comment about a clip with Walter: ” he reminds me of the leadsinger of the goo goo dolls.” Gotta love youtube commenters.

** The cough is an addition of Haneke’s. It’s not part of the story of the novel.

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5 Responses to “‘Cough’ … Cock … Cure!”

  1. Victoria J. van Dijk Says:

    Other possible self-cruelty is evidenced in her flagrantly spying on a couple having sex at a drive-in themed movie theater; writing her lover a letter in which she begs to be beaten and degraded; sticking the edge of a knife into her chest; quoting T.A. Adorno.The latter is surely the cruelest.At the MLA book exhibit, I saw a volume on said critic and rock music (and we all know how he felt about popular culture) entitled, Roll Over Adorno. I could hardly keep from laughing aloud–better him than Beethoven (pace Chuck Berry). I admire anyone who has the cheek to come up with such a title.

  2. Luches Says:

    I thought Dora coughed because she had felt Herr K’s erect cock press on her and her shame at her excitement made her “displace up” that pressure into her throat so that she didn’t have to or couldn’t express her desire. The cock produced a welcome ineloquence. Later, though, Freud realizes that there’s all sorts of queer sex knowledge that she is also trying to express/repress/stay close to/disavow. Anyway, the thing I hate about The Piano Teacher is that Haneke ruins it at the end by having the blood leak out on her sweater in the shape of a heart. Lordy. She’s tender and human after all! roar, Luches

  3. darknessatnoon Says:

    Lurches,It is cheap of me to say that Freud speaks for her because the cough often deprives Dora of her of her voice.Since I wrote this at work, I couldn’t cite the text, and I had a VALENTINE’S DAY time limit. You are correct about the displacement of cock upwards, and I’m not suggesting that Freud thinks she’s better off sucking cock. Rather, her mind works ‘cock’ differently.The interpretation Freud specifically gives for her cough is that Dora “seeks to touch her father’s heart and to detach him from Frau K.” Frau K is the one she really wants, and here she imaginatively separates them while imagining herself in the role of Frau K, getting cock cake and eating it too, so to speak. She knows her dad is impotent, which presumably interferes with a more “normal” fucking fantasy. But Freud suggests to her that she knows sexual satisfaction can be displaced from the genitals, and that oral sex has occurred to her. She agrees with this reading, according to him. The cough is a way of disorganizing good, healthy, heterosexual object love for her scuzzy, unconscious, lezzie aims. All of that is fodder for the friend to all homosexuals, Jacques Lacan, to pick up on the the case. I didn’t notice the little heart. Did it look like a valentine’s heart or the organ of a heart? How very Richard Crashaw. ‘The wounded is the wounding heart.’ I liked the guttural noise she made when stabbing herself.Victoria,Here she is making reference to her father’s madness by referencing Adorno’s essay on Schubert. It’s an emotionally masochistic moment of rationalization for her. She’s a nutball. But I can’t find his “Schubert” essay in my stuff, so I wonder exactly what it says. Is it more accurate than the jazz stuff because he actually knows Schubert, or is it more of his “Mickey Mouse is a mouse in blackface” ranting (which is actually a really funny idea)?

  4. Tucker Stone Says:

    Nothing about the book? That’s where i always assumed the non-Haneke kind of shit came from.

  5. darknessatnoon Says:

    You’re right. This is the only one of his movies that he didn’t write himself, other than The Castle; a great tee vee movie he put together from Kafka’s unfinished novel.I am going to read The Piano Teacher and then I’ll have something to say about it. Don’t rush me, Tucker! Sheesh!What appalls, scares and intrigues me in advance is that the author, Elfriede Jelinek, says that she has never identified with any character she’s ever written EXCEPT Erika Kohut. This is one of the commonly circulated reasons why she couldn’t accept her Nobel Prize in person. She’s too “fragile.” Apparently, there’s a great park scene in which Erika goes to hang out where “Turks and Serbo-Croats” pick up women.I’m really looking forward to seeing exactly what this psycho published.

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