Investments in Cinematic Constructions of the Female Serial Killer: Re-Conceptualising Spectatorial “Identification�

Rachel Cohen


Arguing that the psychodynamic complexities of the film-viewing encounter remain inadequately theorised, this paper seeks to critique and to challenge existing Screen theory and cultural studies’ accounts of spectatorial “identification� by reconceptualising the process as one of psychosocial investment (Hollway and Jefferson 2000a). Extracts are used here from interview data gathered using a series of in-depth free-association narrative [FANI]/biographical interpretive [BNIM] interviews (ibid.,2000a, Wengraf 2001, 2013), which were carried out as a part of the author’s PhD research. Focusing specifically upon three key film texts, this empirically based and psychoanalytically-oriented psychosocial audience study  explored the ways in which individuals are psychologically and biographically motivated to invest differently - both consciously and unconsciously - in cinematic constructions of the female serial killer.

In this paper, it is suggested that cinematic investments of this kind can usefully be understood in terms of self-primacy, since viewers seem to read the films (differently) through their own selves. This phenomenon is theorised using the concept of narcissism - which is argued here to be both psychologically and socio-culturally significant - and in relation to the psychoanalytic notions of projection (Grant and Crawley 2002: 18) and phantasy (Glover 2009: 47-8). In doing so, a contribution is made to the field of media audience studies, by offering a more nuanced understanding of how and why individuals’ own biographical experiences - and the narratives of self that they construct over their life course - bear so significantly upon their psychosocial engagements with, and investments in, a given film text.


Female serial killer, film, investment, psychosocial, audience studies

Full Text:



All content © Free Associations.