Padraic Killeen

Cat’s Eye: Envisioning ‘the open’ in the Cat People Saga

Year: 2008

Keywords: n/a


Trinity College Dublin
(at time of presentation)

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The Cat People franchise – if the films in question can be, indulgently, titled as such – comprises a curiously divergent trilogy.

The first, Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1940), is one of the most renowned horror films of its era, at once a love story and a gothic melodrama, featuring densely allusive visuals and innovative strategies of suspense.

Its sequel, Curse of the Cat People (Robert Wise & Gunter Von Fritsch, 1942), though produced again by Val Lewton and featuring much of the original cast of characters, is in tone and narrative a dramatically different kind of film. Focusing, more innocuously, on childhood, it constitutes something of a gothic fairytale.

The final film, Paul Schrader’s so-called remake (Cat People, 1982) radically refines the original story as an erotic thriller, relaying a tale of primal, carnivorous sexuality.

Yet, in spite of the disparity in theme and genre, all three films centre – subtly – on a notion that beneath commonplace perception there lies an ‘originary seeing’ that humanity has lost access to. Laying particular emphasis upon Giorgio Agamben’s The Open, my thesis will explore the centrality of this ‘originary seeing’ in the Cat People saga, while documenting its resonances with a broader neo-Kantian transcendental idealism that still bears heavily on contemporary thought.