Reflecting Absence, Mediating ‘the Real’: Oblivion as a requiem for 9/11

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Rosemary Overell | No Comments

Loraine Haywood

(The University of Newcastle)

(citation: Haywood, Loraine. 2018. ‘Reflecting Absence, Mediating ‘the Real’: Oblivion as a requiem for 9/11′. Performance of the Real Working Papers 1 (2): 26-46)



In the opening scene of Oblivion (Kosinski 2013), the viewer is placed in the internal world of the dream and memory of the film’s protagonist, Jack Harper. Harper’s dream / memory, taps into the viewer’s own memory through images of New York City and its inseparable connection with 9/11. In his dream, Jack sees the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The film uses this setting and architecture to set the scene for an underlying trauma which is crucial for understanding the film in psychoanalytic terms.

Oblivion is more than a memorial to 9/11. It is an allegory of America’s fascination with its own apocalyptic fantasies. It is a requiem to all that is and was America – in the dream of itself, where nothing but a ‘reflected absence’ remains. To understand the complex nature of the film this article will argue that Oblivion is a screen memory with an embedded subtext for the trauma of ‘the Real’ of 9/11. The ruins of the Empire State Building are a metaphor for the Twin Towers and of the crumbling of the American dream. The narrative and images of apocalyptic fantasies that are depicted in Oblivion, remediate the trauma of ‘the Real’ into a reflected absence, a requiem for 9/11.

Psychoanalysis, being focused on trauma, will form the basis for my article. I will particularly draw on Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek and Todd McGowan to consider the cinematic medium as a dream.

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