Connecting the two unlikely figures of Marilyn Monroe and Darth Vader, this article argues that air might offer a previously ignored alternative to the chthonic narratives of sexual reproduction that are especially popular in the psychoanalytic imagination. Borrowing from Luce Irigaray's argument that Heidegger has “forgotten” the pre-Socratic element air in a philosophy that privileges materiality and vision, I examine popular films that feature air, and in particular breathing, as a central trope. Because of an emphasis on the more obviously material aspects of visual images, the invisible, ubiquitous element of air has been wholly ignored as a medium for ideas. Yet despite being challenging to read, air gains power because of its relative invisibility, and after being transmuted by breathing into a legible cinematic sign, it marks sites where otherwise imperceptible ideas become liminal. Through close readings of The Seven Year Itch, Blue Velvet, Three Little Pigs, and The Empire Strikes Back, I track the range of meaning found in cinematic breathing, from the figurative presence of erotic breath in pornography to the literal associations of air and environment in animation.

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