Abouna: Ocular Introjection

Abouna is a prime example of Fenichel’s discussion of scoptophilic instinct and identification. The film consists of multiple gazes, pauses, and ‘stretching of the eyeballs’. The characters stare into the distance. They stare at each other. More importantly, they stare at us as an audience. The power of the gaze is undeniable in Abouna. Abouna’s eyes, his mother’s eyes, his brother’s eyes, etc., devour us, forcing us to enact what Fenichel calls “ocular introjections”. We internalize the characters, their attributes, their fears, their weaknesses, and their strengths. Essentially, we become the characters. I found this to be quite disturbing. I struggled to observe Abouna because I felt that I was walking through the film with the characters. I was mesmerized by each character who stared at me, especially the mother. Her experience became my own, and it wasn’t until she looked away that I regained a sense of my own being. She had complete control over me. The film also left me with the question of exactly what was I supposed to be internalizing. Should the gaze make me feel the characters’ sufferings? Should I be more conscious of the world around me? Or did the gaze intend to overwhelm me? I continue to struggle with these questions. Abouna is the first film which I felt an uncontrollable interaction with a character.

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