“Babe” and the End of Analysis

By Anna Shane, Ph.D.

Presented at the Symposium of the San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies February 1, 1997

I chose the subject the end of analysis, because I have noticed that whenever anyone speaks about it, people listen. It’s one of those interesting subjects, interesting to those who are thinking about going into analysis, those who are currently in analysis, and even those who have completed an analysis or two. What is it? What is supposed to happen in analysis? How do you know when it’s over?

In Freud, the end of analysis was left at something of an impasse. It’s about removing repression, and about removing symptoms. But removing repression doesn’t translate into remembering everything and we all function by way of our symptoms.

The ego analysts see the end of analysis as identification with the ego of the analyst. If you accept that, you have to assume that your analyst has a better ego than you have, which is minimally worth questioning.

Lacan says very interesting, but seemingly mysterious things about the end of analysis. He tells us that at the end of analysis, you must cross your fantasm. He says that at the end of analysis the subject is left with depression and anxiety, because there has been a fall of the ideal image that no longer serves the subject. The subject finds him or herself between two deaths. The subject is then left to redistribute his or her drives. At the end of analysis, there is a need to become reinvested in the world. He suggests that the subject needs to manage his or her object a, as libido. We are promised the possibility of love at the end of analysis – not narcissistic, imaginary love, but symbolic love which has to do with giving what you don’t have to someone who doesn’t need it.

At the end of analysis the subject comes to realize how signifiers that are arbitrary, and don’t refer to any larger meaning that can tell us anything about our desires, have constituted him or her. We have to learn to live without a guarantee, and manage our drives on our own. If we have completed an analysis, Lacan suggests, at the end of our biological lives we won’t feel as cheated and disappointed by life as we might have, had we maintained a mistaken belief in our signifiers and tried to live our lives in accordance with those beliefs, and consequently less in accordance with our desires. These ideas interest people, but it’s hard to figure exactly what they mean. Cross your fantasm? Between two deaths?

So, I’m going to tell you about the movie Babe, in order to illustrate the path of the neurotic subject in psychoanalysis, which leads Babe, the pig who is a subject, the pig who speaks, literally to the between two deaths and thus to the rest of his life. Babe is no Wilbur. Babe is no cartoon, with a goddess Fern who can rescue him forever from his fate. Babe is played by a real pig, actually by lots of real pigs. And even though we are assured that no pig who played Babe will ever end up in someone’s freezer, we all know full well that other pigs look, more or less, just like the ones who played Babe in the movie, and that they all end up as meat. So Babe is, I think, a good choice to illustrate the problems of subjectivity and the radical conception, in Lacan, of the end of analysis.

First I’ll introduce you to the subjects in Babe – subjects because they speak, and because they are subject of the signifier and thus of the unconscious.

There is:

Fly–the mother dog who befriends Babe and who is?befriended by him at the moment when she has lost her own?puppies.

Rex–The obsessional father dog, who functions according to the law.

Maa–A sheep who notices what a nice pig Babe is. She is aware of his destiny, but doesn’t force the information on him, although she hints.

Ferdinand–An anorexic duck who is well aware that he is destined to be dinner for the boss, and who thus tries to avoid his fate by becoming a rooster – someone who would be indispensable to the boss. He recognizes that he was born for death, but he doesn’t recognize that he can’t be saved.

Duchess–The crabby cat who is easily annoyed, but who does tell Babe the truth, which frees him from his signifiers, and allows him to make a choice regarding his desire.

Arthur Hogget–The boss, a quiet man, a man of few words, the man who is attracted to Babe and comes to love him.

Mrs. Hogget–The boss’s wife (or for the cat, the boss). ?Mistress of metonymy, she sees Babe as the sum of all his parts – chops, ham, bacon… all parts have exchange value. She loves pork, but she does not love Babe for what he is not.

The movie begins in a cold and impersonal world where pigs are bred for food. This world is a little too real to the viewer, but still virtual enough for the pigs who live there. They have their beliefs, their rose-color glasses. They believe that their job is to get fat so that they can be taken to a “place of endless pleasures.” This place is “so wonderful” they have been told, and the proof of this is that “no pig had ever thought to come back.” Babe’s mother is taken away in a big meat truck, but we are told that Babe and his sisters and brothers, who obviously can’t read, are not “sad,” about losing their mother, although Babe looks pretty sad.

Shortly after his mother’s departure, Babe is also taken away, to be a prize at the county fair. He was removed from the place where his sisters and brothers remained to be fattened up and slaughtered. But, although he was given a separate trajectory from them, no one could think he could avoid their ultimate fate, a fate they supposedly knew nothing about. We are told that he was selected because he was a “worthless runt,” but he actually looked just like the other pigs. That’s the way things happen; they happen that way.

At the fair Babe is very unhappy, but he stops crying when he is picked up by Arthur Hogget, (the boss) who claims he “(doesn’t) keep pigs” but who belies his negation by winning Babe through correctly guessing his weight. While the boss is holding Babe, the pig-booth man tells him, “This is the first time the little thing hasn’t screamed his head off.”

On the farm, Fly, the mother dog asks Babe to identify himself. “What’s your name?” she asks him, to which he responds “Large White.” “That’s your breed,” she says. “What’s your name?” she asks. “I don’t know,” replies Babe. “What did your mother call you?” “Babe,” he tells her, “she called all of us Babe.”

On the farm there is only one Babe. He has moved from being an undifferentiated pig, a ‘type,’ “Large, White,” to being a subject of the signifier. He also receives a signifier from Maa, the ewe, who tells him that he is “a very nice pig,” and he strives quite successfully to live up to his signifiers. But he doesn’t know what he is for, and he doesn’t ask. Babe is a neurotic pig; more specifically an hysteric pig.

At first, Babe is allowed to stay with Fly and her puppies. Babe learns the rules, and gets to know the other farm animals. He learns the rule that ‘only dogs and cats are allowed inside the house,’ and the rule that ‘pigs cannot leave the farm with the boss and the dogs,’ and the rule that ‘pigs must stay here and eat food.’ There are quite a few hints that other animals know something of his destiny, and it seems likely, if not completely clear, that Babe has some unconscious knowledge of his destiny, because he never asks what it means when he hears these hints. They begin right away, when he is missing his mother, and the horse recommends they “don’t talk too much about family.”

Babe is befriended by Ferdinand, the anorexic duck, who tells him straight on that humans eat ducks, and that Ferdinand must make himself indispensable if he is to avoid that fate. Ferdinand refuses to eat and get fat, and Ferdinand tries to be a rooster. To assist him in becoming indispensable, Babe tries to help him steal the boss’s alarm clock, without ever questioning the similarity in occupation between Ferdinand and himself.

When Babe gets into trouble for going in the house, Rex, the father dog, lays out the law for him. He says “to each creature his own destiny, his own place,” and Babe is no longer allowed to spend time with Fly and her puppies. It is not until Fly’s puppies are taken away from her and sold, that Babe can reenter her life. He asks her if he can call her “mom,” and she agrees to let him. At this point, Babe is living in happy denial, “happy in his place in the world, and the farm, and in his dreams,” we are told.

When Christmas is approaching and the boss and his wife are discussing whether to have pork or duck for Christmas dinner, Babe is found blissfully singing Jingle Bells in lalangue. Ferdinand, who does not live in denial, says “Christmas means carnage.”

It seems everyone on the farm knows what Babe does not know, that there is a plan to eat him for Christmas dinner. When Maa is returned to the sheep herd, and Babe suggests that they will see each other again, Maa says, “Shouldn’t hope for too much.”

However, things are happening behind the scenes that favor a somewhat longer trajectory for Babe before he is to meet with his final destiny. The boss speaks up for Babe, and a duck is chosen for Christmas dinner. Looking through the window at the Christmas roast duck, Ferdinand is asked, “who’s that?” and he answers, “Roseanna – she had a beautiful nature.” When Ferdinand, in misery, claims that his destiny “eats away at (his) soul,” the horse, who has shown himself to be sensitive in the past, advises him that “for happiness, accept that the way things are is the way things are.” We might detect in this the ‘be happy, be me’ approach of the ego analysts.

In despair, Ferdinand leaves the farm and to search for a kinder destiny, and Babe, without knowing why, also leaves the farm, even though he knows it’s against the rules. There Babe sees Maa who exclaims with amazement, “young-un, you’re alive?” Through chance, Babe arrives at the sheep pen at a time when sheep poachers are in the process of stealing sheep. He is able to warn the dogs and thus save some of the sheep. This allows the boss, who is already inclined toward Babe, to treat him as if he were a dog. It is as if the boss cannot bear Babe’s fate, and must invent a new, pretend, identity for him that involves a longer life and new respect. It is fairly clear that the boss is falling love. When the boss’s family teases the boss about Babe, we hear some mice singing Blue Moon.

Things seem to be going quite nicely for Babe at this point. He has not faced his destiny, but he has nevertheless found a place for himself that serves to plausibly deny his destiny and give him new possibilities for differentiation and signification. The boss invites him to join the dogs in herding sheep. We hear the boss say, “come Fly, come Pig,” as if “Pig” is a name for a dog, just like Rex and Fly.

Unfortunately, there is an obsessional, the dog Rex, who points out that all this is against the law, and that Babe is a pig and not a sheep dog. No one, however, listens to Rex – Fly loves Babe as the child who didn’t leave home, and the Boss loves Babe for, well, we don’t know what, but we know it isn’t food. Rex is left tied up and drugged, while Babe takes his place, herding sheep.

Babe is not entirely satisfied with this arrangement, because he is a very nice pig, and thus wants everyone, including Rex, to like him. But Babe comes to terms with this defeat, and goes on pleasing the boss and Fly with his sheep herding abilities. As soon as the boss’s wife leaves for a few days, the boss invites Babe into the house, and enters him in a sheep-herding contest under the name “Pig.”

Everything is going swimmingly. Babe and the boss are happy. Fly is happy. The boss’s wife is out of town. Rex is on drugs. But there is still Duchess, the cat. The cat speaks the truth. Of course, she has her own suspect reasons. Certainly, she’s a spiteful and jealous cat. But nonetheless, just like a good analyst, she has no pity for Babe.

Duchess asks him, “Don’t you know what pigs are for? Why you are here?

Babe tries to deflect her with a rhetorical question, “Why are any of us here?”

And Duchess answers, “The purpose of a pig is to be eaten.”

Babe asks in horror, “They eat pigs?”

Duchess replies, “Pork, they call it, or bacon. They only call them pigs when they’re alive.”

Babe protests. “I’m a sheep pig.”

The cat says, “Believe me, sooner or later, every pig gets eaten.”

Babe obviously recognizes that this is the truth, however, he must check it out – what in analysis we call ‘working through.’ He goes to Fly, who confirms his worst fear – “Pigs don’t have a purpose except to be eaten.” “My mother, father, brothers, sisters?” Fly confirms that they have probably been eaten. “Even the boss?” Fly says “yes.”

This is the end of analysis. This is what you find out when you cross your phantasm, because a phantasm is, after all, a signifier. A privileged signifier, with ties in the imaginary, but still a signifier, covering the real. In recognizing this knowledge, the subject assumes his destiny, which actually amounts to the same thing for all subjects. We are all faced with lack of meaning anywhere outside the signifier, which merely refers to other signifiers, not to some great and guaranteeing truth. This is what ‘there is no Other of the Other means.’ It’s not a metaphor, it’s the truth.

Babe realizes that the purpose of life is nothing more than death. He realizes that there is no court of last appeal, no matter how nice he is. Babe responds like all analysands when they can no longer refuse their truth; he feels like he is already dead. This is something like anxiety and something like despair. Lacan describes this state as “twilight, an imaginary decline of the world, and even an experience at the limit of depersonalization.” (Lacan, 1988, p. 232).1 Babe goes off in the rain, and very nearly dies.

If Babe had lost his meaning predominately in the imaginary, he might have undergone a passage a l’act –which would have looked pretty much the same. The difference is that the way out of a passage a l’act would be a reconstituting of himself in the image. The end of analysis is different. Here the subject, in this case Babe, must come to terms with his destiny, and learn to live between two deaths – the death he had just noticed, the death of his signifier, and the biological death that will occur sometime after the first death. There is no longer any possibility for return, for reconstitution in the image, in the ego. Once you assume your destiny, there is no going back.

Babe’s problem is to find a way to enjoy his life, even though it doesn’t mean what he thought it did. Freud states in the Three Essays that at the end of analysis there is love, work and laughter. Lacan says that, in the end, our only redemption is love. Babe finds his way out though love, which is what, I think, makes this rather strange movie so compelling.

Things happen quickly. No longer so sure of the law, a newly hystericized Rex is delegated to find Babe. The boss calls a doctor, who tells the boss that there is nothing physically wrong with Babe, but that unless he begins to eat and drink, that he will die. The boss says to Babe, “There’s my pig there’s my boy,” acknowledging his subjectivity. He brings Babe water in a baby bottle, and he sings for him a love song. It goes like this:

If I had words to make a day for you, I’d give you a morning golden and true. I would make this day last for all time, Then fill the night deep in moon shine.

The boss is telling Babe, that if he could banish Babe’s destiny, he would. He gives him his wish, which is literally nothing but his love. Then the boss dances for Babe – he rejoices, leaping and whirling. In the face of lack of meaning, in the face of no guarantee, the boss gives what he doesn’t have to Babe.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know how it ends. Babe eats and drinks, and he goes on to enter the contest, which is apparently what he wants to do, because he certainly has no other reason to do it. He gives his love to the boss by being what he is not, a sheep dog. Babe is no longer a pig of metonymy, where each part of him has value and can be exchanged, but a pig of endless metaphor, who may be whatever he likes, as long as he knows he isn’t.


1. Lacan, Jacques (1953-1954). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique. New York: W. W. Norton (1988).

Acknowledgment and appreciation to Prof. Dr. Andre Patsalides, from whom, by invitation, I have quoted freely and with permission.