The Lady in the Van and the Challenge to Psycho; On the Political Uses of Psychoanalytic Imagery in Film

By: Daniel Brennan

Abstract: This paper explores the strikingly similar use of psychoanalytic imagery in the films Psycho and The Lady in the Van. The paper argues that the latter film is a deconstruction of the former’s political aims. Where Psycho uses psychoanalytic imagery to warn of the danger that strong female autonomy poses to normal psychic development, The Lady in the Van uses the same tropes to expose the mendaciousness of such thinking. The paper concludes by demonstrating how Psycho represents a counter challenge to the political pretensions of The Lady in the Van. Bennett’s film is on the face of it a critique of middle class attitudes to homelessness. However, this paper demonstrates that by offering a psychological explanation for Miss Shepherd’s alterity, The Lady in the Van mimics the psychiatrists detailed diagnosis of Norman Bates’s perversion at the end of Psycho. This is argued to be problematic because the repeated explanation of the alterity of the strong voice of the mother reduces the uniqueness of the character to a symptom rather than an expression of autonomy. Ultimately the paper makes a case for the cultural significance of these films for exploring the political use of psychoanalysis to promote different social ends.