House of Games was made in 1987 and is the directorial debut of renowned American director and playwright David Mamet
House of Games tells the story of Margaret Ford, a psychoanalyst and author of a best-selling self-help book. She is overworked, unemotional and detached from ‘real life’. Through a ‘patient’ she meets a con man named Mike, who almost tricks her with a set-up poker games. From this point on she becomes fascinated by the life of confidence men, and particularly Mike. He seduces her, with words and romance, which results in Ford becoming embroiled in sequence of events that are destined to spiral out of control.
In his essay Polyphony: Authorship and Power, Mark Flanagan makes a proposal; House of Games is a polyphonic film. His theory is rooted in Mikhail Bakhtin readings of Dostoyevsky and psychoanalytical interpretations Film Noir. Flanagan outlines Bakhtin’s views that in the polyphonic novel (or film) there is a distinction to be made between Creator (i.e. Dostoyevsky or David Mamet) and the author of the narrative or narratives. With polyphony, each character is the author of their own narrative.
Flanagan combines this idea with the feminist use of psychoanalysis to read film noir i.e. Male gaze and femme fatales. He proposes that Mamet both adheres to and subverts these theories, in order to challenge traditional notions of the power of the author and in a wider context, male power.
Flanagan suggests that the relationship between Mike and Ford is essentially authored by Mike in order to control circumstance and to maintain his power. Throughout the film Mike attempts to con Ford, in order to do this he must lie to her about what is going on, create situations or narratives in order trick her out of vast amounts of money.
Mike maintains has authorial control of Ford’s life for the first two thirds of the film, however he loses this power through believing that his voice is the only voice, and his narrative is the only narrative. When Ford realises her voice, she breaks free of his power. Then the film asserts its polyphony, becomes open ended, without one authoritative meaning.
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Flanagan, Mark- Bakhtin and the Movies, Palgrave MacMillan, 2009