Language and Liminality in the Italian Section of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho

Ian McHugh

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities (2009), pp. 25-32, doi:10.59860/wph.a6b5351

 Open access under:
CC BY 4.0
CC BY 4.0 logo

A contribution to: Translation, Adaptation, and Transformation

Edited by Jennifer Shepherd and Jessica Gildersleeve

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities 3

Modern Humanities Research Association


Abstract.  This paper looks at systems of language (linguistic and filmic) in the twelve-minute Italian section of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1993), a short but notable interlude to the narrative, which serves as a liminal space through which the two central characters pass, to different ends. The paper employs poststructuralist theory, psychoanalysis, and film theory to develop a reading of this liminality as subject to an economy of inclusive and exclusive systems of meaning. It describes the constitution of this liminal space through the gaps and fissures between these parallel systems, and suggests that a successful negotiation of these systems appears to allow a transition across the liminal space, whereas an unsuccessful transition effects a displacement. The film’s two central characters offer contrasting views of such successful and unsuccessful transitions. The character of Scott actively seeks displacement and achieves effortless transitions across systems of meaning. In contrast, the character of Mike (who suffers from narcolepsy, which impacts upon his subjectivity) desperately searches for a fixed status and suffers perpetual displacement. This paper draws on a chapter from my doctoral thesis, which looks at representations of liminal states of consciousness and presupposes radical shifts in subjectivity in proximity to the sites of sleeping and waking, with ramifications for identity and the perception of reality.

Full text.  This contribution is published as Open Access and can be downloaded as a PDF, or viewed as a PDF in your web browser, here:

Link to full text as PDF