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Amelie (2001) Review: Whimsical Parisian Adventure!

A minimalist poster for the film Amelie

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001) is a cult film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Audrey Tautou with her fleeting bangs and mischievous look. In the midst of the story, Amélie Poulain plays with the other characters as a little girl plays with her dolls. Amélie acts as the eyes of a blind man when needed, and a matchmaker when appropriate, aiming to bring happiness to the lives of those around her. This film will be analyzed in the light of Freud’s psychoanalytic approach, accompanied by lines that are undeniably important to Amélie’s personality, mental state, and the theme of the film.

Amelie looks at the camera with the spoon in his hand.

From Raymond Dufayel to Amélie:

“So, my little Amélie, you don’t have bones of glass. You can take life’s knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton.”

Raymond Dufayel’s Fragility and Amélie’s Childhood

Raymond Dufayel is a painter living in Amélie’s apartment. He spends almost all of his day reinterpreting Renoir’s works. He has no other choice anyway, because his bones are inherently fragile like glass. He is hesitant to go out. Dufayel bears many similarities to Amélie. The most important difference that distinguishes them is that Dufayel remained in the spectator position due to a physical condition; from a psychoanalytic perspective, it is somewhat castrated. For Amélie, the event that creates the same anxiety is the misdiagnosis given to her when she was little. This misdiagnosis has haunted Amélie since her childhood. The only thing their parents have in common is emptying, cleaning, and reorganizing their bags.

This situation brings to mind what happened during the anal phase of Freud’s psychosexual stages. The second stage is the anal stage, where the child may exhibit unusual behavior towards cleanliness and clutter.

Due to her mother’s neurosis and her father’s lack of emotional control, Amélie spent most of her childhood in her own inner world. Amélie felt closest to her father during medical examinations, causing her heart to beat rapidly. This heart condition was later diagnosed as being similar to her father’s. Consequently, Amélie became more isolated, homeschooled, and did not play with other children. Her first intimate experience with a loved one further reinforced her dysfunctional pattern, which continued into the future.

Throughout the movie, Amélie punishes her mother. Interestingly, Amélie’s mother and “the man who can’t even be a vegetable because artichokes have hearts” share similar hang-ups during the psychosexual stages. It is important to interpret this part of the story because Amélie’s childhood experiences contribute to her unconscious belief that her mother will take what is hers. Even her act of punishing her mother is motivated by unconscious memories.

When Amélie was younger, her best friend was a suicidal goldfish. Amélie’s uncontrollable screaming every time she came out of the aquarium drove her mother crazy. One day, her mother dropped the goldfish off a bridge into the Seine. Ironically, a Canadian tourist who committed suicide falls on her mother, killing her. Overall, understanding these psychological underpinnings adds depth to the characters and their actions in the film.

Furthermore, since the title of the movie is Amélie, the audience is also conscious of Amélie. Therefore, if the mother is punished in the film, it is only a reflection of Amélie’s hidden desire. Throughout the movie, Amélie’s primary defense mechanism is sublimation. Amélie reveals her unconscious desire to punish her parents in a socially acceptable way: It’s like cheering up, helping others, or punishing those who don’t adapt in a small and playful way…

As we can see from the opening sequence, Amélie went through many traumatic events in her childhood. Apart from the ones mentioned above, she was made to believe that the photos she took by her neighbor caused the accidents, and she blamed herself and her camera for every disaster she saw on television. While Amélie was watching television as an adult, she saw her own life and Princess Diana’s life intertwined and began to watch herself on television.

The author says:

“Failure teaches us that life is but a draft. A long rehearsal for a show that will never play.”

The Psychological Underpinnings of Amélie’s Behavior

It would be simplistic to not look for any reasons behind Amélie’s “good” behavior. To argue that unresolved traumas trigger an unconscious motivation to punish and to reduce this to a single cause is also a narrow view.

Amelie and Nino are biking romantically.

As a child growing up alone, Amélie often denies her desire and need to be happy. Instead, she finds indirect happiness by bringing joy to the lives of others instead of taking an active role in her own life to make herself happy directly. In her adult life, Amélie rehearses her own happiness. The main character, Amélie, who has the most screen time and gives the movie its name, hides herself from the owners of the lives she constantly interferes with. Contrary to what the author says, Amélie never seems to fail. However, when love gets involved, the situation changes.

According to Freud, if it is not stuck in any phase, puberty; marks the beginning of adulthood, which he describes as normal sexual relations, marriage, and child-rearing. Neither Amélie nor Nino is close to the adult relationship Freud described in this sense. They look more like children playing hide and seek. Sex is often exaggerated in the film, both thematically and stylistically, as seen through the eyes of a child. The vocalization, on the other hand, underlines the purely biological nature of sex. The interesting thing about the film is that it reflects Amélie’s problems not only on a thematic level but also on a stylistic point of view. Going back to Freud’s explanation, Amélie’s being stuck in any phase may have caused her to have problems in the genital phase.

Going back to the beginning, Dufayel reinterprets the works of Renoir and makes inferences about the feelings of each character. Amélie conveys her opinion of herself to a character in Renoir’s work. Together they try to define Amélie through that character. Finally, Dufayel, who has assumed the role of a therapist, sees Amélie’s rehearsal. It is very important that she is the only one to see it throughout the film, as Dufayel, who knows Amélie better than anyone else, encourages her to go on stage with all her heart and soul.

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Last modified: September 24, 2023