A Short Gloss on Relational: Cinema The Seven Year Itch

by John Garland Winn
Sep 11, 2016

Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955) signifies through normative codes of desire. Yet immanent to the screen’s visual and auditory plane are constant destabilizations of this naturalized coding. In other words, a plane of immanence cuts open points of abject release, which deform this signifying system into a rather schizzed state. This unstable immanence does not provide the basis for the film’s representational frame but is, rather, the very subversion of its constitution. In immanence to its images, The Seven Year Itch corrodes the familial, queers the gendered, schizzes the subject, and shoots perception into the excess of its affects.

With wife and child shipped off to Maine for the summer, New Yorker Richard Sherman has an affair with his upstairs neighbor Marilyn Monroe.

There’s a strong correlation between Sherman and the visual frame. However, sight isn’t mediated through anything like a coherent gaze. Mastery of the female body repeatedly fails, just as affective surplus continuously escapes the image’s figural control. The Seven Year Itch displaces the image’s, as well as Sherman’s, gendered mediation into the unstable and masochistic movements of a molecular body. Richard Sherman is not so much masculine, or even feminine, but rather asubjective. Pleasure derives from the annihilation of male subjectivity and out of the debris: molecular chaos. What the frame connects to is not the singular gaze of Sherman, but rather its dissipation.

However, Richard is represented as a neurotic narcissist throughout the film. But the progressive accumulation of Richard’s masculine fantasies—rather than co-organizing around a subject—bring about a total rupture in their gendered logic. They break down into a scattered mass of fragmented identifications, which initially reveal masculinity to be unstable, but thereafter shatter masculinity’s representational fragility. Richard is upheld by a chaotic network of molecular differences that repeatedly tear him apart. Identification is constructed in The Seven Year Itch with the affective movements of the devidualized male body. Its being male mutates gendered identification into an impossible formation.