Of all the films fleetingly invoked by Jean Baudrillard to elucidate and exemplify his dazzling theoretical and conceptual repertoire,1 few, if any, attract his attention more than – one might say, none seem to haunt him so persistently as – the early German silent film The Student of Prague. Rather improbably, not only does he devote the entire Conclusion – characteristically, of course, anything but an actual conclusion – of his (1998a [1970]) study The Consumer Society (hereafter CS) to a consideration of this arcane film, but its key motif – of the human subject’s mirror-image stepping out of the frame and into the world as a demonic, and ultimately fatal, doppelgänger – refuses to leave Baudrillard in peace, making repeated, usually unannounced, appearances in, for instance, Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]: 95), in Seduction (1990a [1979]: 168) and, more recently, Cool Memories III (1997a [1995b]: 11) and The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]: 148-9), the last of these concluding with a fragment unmistakably entitled ‘The revenge of the mirror people’. Given that so many of Baudrillard’s preoccupations – mirrors, reflections

and shadows; doubling, the demonic image and the precession of simulacra; seduction, duels and pacts; the trompe d’oeil, fractals and fragments; haunting, disappearance and death – might potentially be traced back in some way to his encounter with The Student of Prague, it is rather surprising that his discussion of this film has received so little consideration. The film seemingly escapes the attention of key commentators such as Kellner (1989), Gane (1991), Genosko (1994) and Merrin (2005), and even in Butler’s (1999) study the chapter promisingly entitled ‘Doubling’ contains no mention. Such an omission is even more curious when one considers that

Baudrillard is not the only writer to highlight the film’s significance and offer a distinctive reading of its themes and imagery: the Critical Theorist Siegfried Kracauer opens his famous pioneering 1947 ‘psychological history’ of Weimar cinema From Caligari to Hitler with a detailed consideration of this film, and the contemporary German theorist Friedrich Kittler (1986/ 1999) revisits it at length in his seminal genealogical exploration of modern

media technologies Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.2 How might their divergent historical discussions, the first involving a kind of socio-psychoanalysis of film and its audiences, the latter tracing the startling affinities between psychiatric and cinematic imaginations, provide a frame for, or counterpoint to, Baudrillard’s own account so that one may tease out the film’s wider significance for his ‘fatal theory’? It is this question that concerns me in this chapter.