Big Other and small other in The Distinguished Citizen — Işık Barış Fidaner

I recommend you to watch The Distinguished Citizen before reading this text.

Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s The Distinguished Citizen is a story about Daniel Mantovani, a famous and rich writer and a Nobel laureate in literature, who comes back to visit Salas, his hometown in Argentina, after leaving the town in his twenties and staying away for 40 years. During his visit, the mayor of Salas gives him a medal for being a “distinguished citizen”, but great problems arise between Daniel and the people of Salas, and he returns the medal in the end.

The film is about registering a difference of quality: the story is based on the tension between Daniel as the distinguished citizen and the ordinary people of Salas. As I told before, a difference of quality can be registered as a confrontation between a big Other and a small other (e.g. Milk & cream). In the same way, this film can be interpreted as a confrontation between the big Other of the Nobel laureate Daniel Mantovani and the small other of the small town Salas.

Since small other displays the inconsistency of the big Other, it’s natural that the big Other rejects and denies the small other. However, the small other also exhibits a causality as the object-cause of desire, so it cannot ever be eliminated.

By receiving his Nobel prize, Mantovani is accepted into a big Other (symbolic order) that is inaccessible to many people. But he associates this prize to his decline as an author, and stops writing, because he feels he has nothing to say, he loses his desire to write.

Five years later, in a scene with his assistant, we see him reject tens of invitations from several countries. However, he makes an exception and decides to accept only one invitation: the one from his hometown Salas, Argentina. Here, Salas functions as the small other, the object-cause of desire that resuscitates the Daniel’s desire.

He wants his assistant to tell nobody about the trip, to escape journalists, but in the airplane the pilot announces his presence to all passengers. He therefore fails to escape the big Other that has registered his name.

Daniel leaves the airport by taxi. The taxi driver’s strange laughter associates him with the small other that disturbs and gives anxiety. They are stranded, and the pages of Daniel’s book are used for lighting fire and as toilet paper. This situation announces the inexistence of the big Other.

The mayor of Salas has received a list of requirements from Daniel’s assistant and he has managed to satisfy some of the requirements. Here again, Daniel is in the position of a big Other that approves the success of his host.

The mayor insists and Daniel greets the people of Salas on a loud firefighter vehicle with the beauty queen of Salas. Here we are again confronted with the strange habits of the small other of this small town.

They watch a short documentary-like film about Daniel Mantovani as a Salasian writer. This film confirms the symbolic position that Daniel occupies in the big Other of literature, being the one who made Salas famous. Also, it’s a very amateur film that manifests the anxiety-provoking small other of Salas.

In the rest of the film, two figures are important: Florencio Romero and the girl from the lecture. These two represent a big Other and a small other respectively. Romero represents another big Other that contradicts Daniel’s big Other, and the girl represents a small other that is an object-cause of desire as disturbing and anxiety-provoking.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


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