Hit Man

Hit Man


Freudian theory has many limitations and a lot of the original ideas are so sexist they are not even worthy of serious discussion. Nevertheless, Sigmund Freud was the very first to identify and explore the existence of the unconscious mind – a concept that has become central to modern psychology and to understanding human motivations and intimate relationships. Streaming Richard Linklater’s new film, Hit Man, I found myself thinking about the unconscious mind and contemplating a central Freudian concept – projective identification. A projective identification refers to an unconscious defense mechanism in which a person attempts to rid themselves of some part of their being that they find utterly unacceptable. They do so by identifying this problematic trait in another person and focusing on where it resides in the other. Projections – to use the term’s shorthand – can be useful in understanding what might motivate racism. A racist person might refuse to face some part of themselves – let’s say laziness, dishonestly or limited intelligence – and instead they direct their unconscious internal resentment and angst toward an entire group of people, criticizing their supposed (though unlikely) embodiment of that very same unacceptable trait.

But, back to the hilarious and entertaining dramedy Hit Man. Early in the film, we meet Gary who is an unfortunately dressed professor who lives alone with his cats and likes birding and motivational psychology. His ex-wife has moved on and is expecting her first child, and she wishes that Gary could learn to cultivate more passion and try to move on from their relationship and maybe even go on a date. To earn additional income, Gary does some tech work for the New Orleans Police Department and when an unexpected event forces Gary undercover, he begins accessing new corners of his personality that are as unexpected and thrilling to him as they are to the colorful cast of felons he encounters. The subversive criminals spark his inner bad boy – and he likes it!

(Hit man is loosely based on a true story!)

Gary relishes the chance to become Ron, as his subversive journey demonstrates an innate understanding of human psychology and the unconscious mind. Ron’s experience with love interest Madison illuminates what some Freudians understand as a deeper and more complex meaning of a projective identification. Some clinicians believe that projecting is more than a straightforward albeit unconscious defense against an unacceptable impulse. Instead, a projective identification can take the shape of an unconscious contract between intimate partners. According to this more niche corner of the theory, sometimes one person makes an unspoken agreement to take an unacceptable trait away from the other and to hold it or embody it in service of the other and in service of the relationship. Rather than become a spoiler – let’s just say that if you want to develop a deeper understanding of the fascinating concept of a projective identification, this film is worthwhile viewing.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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