That Obscure Object of Desire – le petite objet a

That Obscure Object Of Dersire

This film by Luis Bunuel explores le petite objet a through the postponed romance of Matthieu and Conchita. We begin with Matthieu booking a train ticket to Paris from the town of his estate in Spain. The last scene there: a room showing signs of struggle, some blood on a pillow, discarded undergarments. There is mention of ‘the girl’ and ‘she’ in the dialogue between Matthieu and his servant Martin. Upon departure they are detoured by a terrorist bombing in the streets – it seems this kind of thing happens all the time; the film is interspersed with isolated moments of social calamity.

When they arrive at the station they board the train in separate cars. Matthieu finds himself in the company of a French woman and her daughter, a French judge, and a three foot tall psychologist – also French. As the train departs Conchita, a young Spanish immigrant, is shown chasing the train, begging to Matthieu to let her explain. He blocks the doorway and dumps a bucket of water over her head. Upon returning to his seat he is questioned by his momentary companions, and begins to tell his story.

This story is one of inescapable desire: Conchita appears in his life, he becomes obsessed with her, she disappears, reappears, and their romance becomes questionable and cyclical. In Savoj Zizek’s Looking Awry we are introduced to the Lacanian concept of le petite objet a first through the paradoxes of Zeno: “As in a dream, the pursuer never succeeds in catching up with the fugitive whom he is after, and the fugitive likewise cannot ever clearly escape his pursuer.”(4)  While Matthieu chases Conchita she is forever outside his possession; she postpones his desire to make love to her. To his questioning “Tomorrow?” she replies “No, the day after tomorrow”, when he asks to kiss her, she replies that she can’t right now and then lets him run his hands obsessively through her hair.

 Objet a 2

To quote Zizek: “We mistake for postponement the “thing itself” what is already the “thing itself.”(7) This is concisely Conchita’s point when she proclaims “You want what I won’t give you; it’s not me that you want.” He is hooked on le petite objet a, and Conchita knows this. She lets herself fully become the philosophical object: she offers Matthieu first candy, then her lips, her skin, her breasts – but never will she let Mateo possess the object of his desire, though she professes her love for him again and again. She says to him and to the audience as well (as we are most strongly tied to Matthieu as the story teller): “You think that you’re chasing me and that I won’t have you, but it’s the opposite.” She is being mistaken as the object desires of Matthieu.

 Objet a 1

We can see clearly the way Conchita acknowledges her role as the object a in subtle lines; when Matthieu tells her he never stops thinking about her and she replies “Neither do I.” This line does not act as a reciprocation of his obsession, but as an assertion of her self-understanding and difference. When she says “I don’t like what I’m doing either” after denying Matthieu upon their arrival at her new home, she acknowledges responsibility for and understanding of her actions. When seeking her true motivations we should look not to Matthieu, but to the film as a whole: A postponement of desire in hopes of momentary attainment of the real. Are we, the viewer, left with our desires fulfilled when we find Matthieu and Conchita again in their cyclical play after the train arrives back in France? No, a terrorist bombing abruptly ends the film and we are returned to our seats.

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