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Conspectus interruptus: Dirty Harry and the trouble in the Fillmore district

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When people think of Dirty Harry, they tend to imagine a figure of absolute determination and unbreakable resolution. The opening film of the Dirty Harry Franchise (Dirty Harry, 1971) does not, however, fit neatly with that understanding. Indeed, Harry is deeply torn; his is a story of hesitation. And as such, he vacillates across any number of dichotomies. Neither wholly objective nor wholly subjective, for example, he is always both inside and outside the action. In this article, we analyse the film's, and Harry's, fundamental hesitation through the lens of Freudian psychoanalysis, and in particular the essay on the splitting of the ego. In so doing, we suggest that Scorpio is a representation of Harry's ego that has to be resolved. Indeed, the whole film can be read as the working through of trauma stemming from a primal scene, which we locate in the trouble that Harry famously, but enigmatically, had in the Fillmore district. These events, which the mayor specifically does not want to see repeated, are shown to be repeated continually, and in various formats, throughout the film, to the extent that, in the final (psycho)analysis, the trouble in the Fillmore district is all there is. The film can thus be said to be about the working through of traumatic events and the repairing of a fractured ego. In conclusion, we explore how the events of the Fillmore district are about the balancing of seeing and being seen, with all that this entails for a heightening of our own responsibilities as voyeurs in Harry's San Francisco.
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Keywords: Dirty Harry; Freud; fetishism; hesitation; primal scene; voyeurism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Newcastle

Publication date: 2011-09-08

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  • The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.
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