This brief analysis is aimed at the original 1984 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street starring Heather Langenkamp and Johnny Depp, as the events are slightly different in the 2010 remake. However, the main themes are the same. Furthermore, this analysis does contain information which could spoil major incidents in both films.
Wish-fulfilments and Repressed Sexual Desires
According to Paul Brians, in Sigmund Freud: Interpretation of Dreams (1900),Freud argues that ‘dreams are wish-fulfilments’ and that those wishes are the result of ‘repressed or frustrated sexual desires’. He says the ‘anxiety’ surrounding these ‘desires’ turns some ‘dreams into nightmares.’
Essentially, looking at the film in terms of a Freudian psychoanalysis, it can be suggested that Nancy’s (Langenkamp) nightmares revolving around Freddy Krueger are in some way representative of ‘repressed or frustrated sexual desires.’ Ultimately she has reached the point in her life where she is having stronger sexual urges than before and they are confusing and frightening her.
Meanwhile, Nancy’s boyfriend Glen (Depp) is the complete opposite to Freddy. He is caring, softly spoken and even playfully bullied by his friends. He is a far weaker male figure and his death reflects this. He is bloodily engulfed by his own bed, which mirrors the female’s menstrual bleeding after sex.
Nancy’s libido is seeking out a stronger male figure, not one easily overpowered by her own sexuality, like Glen. Freddy bursting through the spandex-like wall and her bed-sheets and his clawed hand emerging between her legs as she falls asleep in the bath are all subtly sexually charged. They represent the powerful breaking of the virginal menstrual she subconsciously desires.
The Mother and the Oedipus Complex
Freud says that it is the mother who ‘takes up her duty of guarding her daughter’s chastity.’ In the film it is Nancy’s mother who, disregarding the idea of the ‘Freddy nightmares’, attempts to protect her daughter by barring the windows and bolting the doors. But this simply makes things worse when Freddy escapes the dream-world and Nancy is trapped in the house with him.
The Oedipus complex refers to the daughter’s ‘turning-away from her mother’, which Freud argues is an ‘extremely important step’ in the course of a young female’s development into a woman. This repression of her desires by her mother (Nancy being trapped in the house with Freddy) only leads to a ‘fear of being killed by her’. This, Freud says, then brings on a subconscious ‘death-wish against her mother’, represented in this case by Freddy, who, having entered the real-world, kills Nancy’s mother, ironically, as she sleeps.
The Individuation of the Heroine
Individuation is essentially the child finding its own path away from the parents and, as Carl Jung says, ‘becoming a single, homogeneous being.’. According to Marie Louise von Franz, this was once closely associated with the life of Christ, but in modern times it has changed. She says, ‘we are healed, fulfilled, and made complete when our physical instincts are normal, especially the sexual instinct.’
She further argues that Freudians believe the ‘root of all evil is sexual repression; if the amatory functions take their natural course, then everything is resolved and in order.’ In the film this is obviously represented by Freddy, who, as a symbol of teenage sexual repression causes ‘evil’, so to speak, when he is unfulfilled.
Neither of Nancy’s parents succeeds in protecting her from her own sexual development, shown metaphorically in the film by the fact that Nancy is most at risk from her own subconscious (or nightmares) where they cannot protect her. It is Nancy alone who must learn to control and fulfill her desires, which she does by confronting Freddy at the end.
However, the final twist reveals that Freddy is still alive and it becomes uncertain as to what is subconscious dreaming and what is reality. Ultimately this suggests that as humans we can never fully control these desires, especially during maturation, and they can never be fully explained.
Brians, Paul, Sigmund Freud: Interpretation of Dreams (1900)
Freud, Sigmund, The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud ed. James Strachey and Ann Freud (London: The Hogarth Press, 1961)
Jung, Carl, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffe (London: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1963)
Von Franz, Marie Louise, Interpretation of Fairytales (New York: Analytical Psychology Club, 1978)