By combining the techniques of psychoanalysis and cinema—the talking cure and the talkies, private disclosure and public oration, listening intimately and listening with the masses—Breitz confounds the difference between the individual unconscious and the collective unconscious. Him + Her may offer a concentrated portrait of Nicholson and Streep. Yet insofar as these actors and their films have been shared by countless viewers around the world, Breitz’s installation constitutes a collective document, if not an example of social portraiture. In other words, Him + Her might just be a bit like you and me.
The self-worth of the female characters that collectively amount to Her is largely inflected through their relationship to the men in their lives, while the male characters in Him somewhat more narcissistically struggle with issues of self-definition, sanity and sexual performance. Breitz’s engagement of two iconic actors to play her leads allows a broader reflection on the performativity of subjectivity. At the same time, the works prompt us to view celebrity as an ingredient that has become increasingly central to contemporary identity formation. Breitz has said that Nicholson and Streep are not the true subjects of Him + Her: her focus lies instead on “the unconscious of mainstream cinema, the values and layers of meaning that slowly start to make themselves legible when the big plots are stripped away.”