The Misinterpellated Subject
“I Can Believe”: Breaking the Circuits of Interpellation in von Trier’s Breaking the Waves
In this chapter I look at Bess McNeill, the central character in Lars von Trier’s film Breaking the Waves, arguing that she demonstrates a way to resist interpellation. Because Bess speaks not just as herself but as God, she reveals a way to take advantage of the multiplicity and anarchism of each subject, giving voice to another self that lives within her borders and thus making herself unavailable to being colonized by a single interpellating form of subjectivity. The fact that this other self is God is particularly powerful because, as Judith Butler shows, even for a secularist like Louis Althusser, the first subject is God and so Bess uses God as a defense against God, as it were, fighting the fire of the occult theology that underlies interpellation with a fire of her own. In so doing, Bess has shown that the circuitry of interpellation, wherein authority is alienated to some external force (in this case God) only to return in a ghostly and disowned fashion, is not our only fate as political subjects. Bess discovers, not her own “authentic self” (since such a goal is redolent of liberal universalism rather than its radical opposition) but rather what she is and does when she is not overwritten by the projections of interpellated forms of agency. Here too, I argue that, rather than being crazy and megalomaniac (although she might be those things too), Bess is the only agent in the film, the only one who has taken her own agency as a possibility thanks in great part to the fact that she shares her personhood with God.