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Film, the Alchemical Medium

Behold my ancient cursed PhD proposal (Goldsmiths, June 2009). It’s time it got some love and a bit of fresh air. In a nutshell, it aimed to study how we are enchanted by film, using early film theory, post-Jungian analysis & anthropology of ritual – and ways the moving image can potentially be employed as transformative tool in art therapy. This ecstatically made it pass the gates, then lost its weird way in the academic maze. I’ll leave it at that. One day I might write about the text’s strange travels, good stuff I got out of it, publish a book, or reboot my bid for title of film doctor. For now, please feast on its faded glory, cite & link, yours might be the kiss that revives it.

[photo: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), dir. Stanley Kubrick]

London, May 2009

Film, the Alchemical Medium: Archetypal Enchantment and the Transformative Potential of the Moving Image

Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.

Ingmar Bergman, Sight and Sound (London, June 1991)

Author: © Milana Vujkov

Keywords: archetypal image, archetypal enchantment, post-Jungian analysis, early film theory, collective unconscious, medium, moving image, film, art psychotherapy, anthropology of ritual, symbolic art, myth, occult, illusion

The medium of film has always held a particular fascination for me. Personal experience, as well as observation of the psychological impact of the medium on my contemporaries, has brought upon meditation on the possible theoretical frameworks and empirical formats I could utilise to further research the phenomena and still stay true to the essence of the experience while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of mystification and biased, private assumptions.

In my quest for finding a theoretical framework to which I could both logically and intuitively relate to in terms of my chosen subject matter I came upon the post-Jungian analysis of film. It seemed to be the most encompassing of all psychological schools of thought I have encountered on the subject as it boldly took into account the emotional response to the film text of both the researcher as well as the researched (filmmaker and spectator). Jungian scholar Don Fredericksen[1] emphasised the importance of an intuitive emotional response of the interpreter in textual analysis thus permitting a methodology which allows the analyst to switch between objective and subjective stances.[2]

With its symbolic approach to interpretation, I felt, it also succeeded in injecting the necessary ‘aliveness’ in conceptual research, not permitting theory to entirely dissect the experience in order to process it in acceptable scholarly terms. In effect, by acknowledging the capacity of film to bring consciousness into relationship with the unconsciousness through the emotional power of the film itself [3]it did not allow ‘the magic and the meaning to slip away unhonoured’.[4]

Jungian and post-Jungian approach takes into account the compensatory function of symbolic art, as well as the dynamic nature of symbols, and its approach is not one of decoding but of analogy, amplification, and expansion of analysis. As early film theory indicated, one of cinema’s early seductions was its potential to break the psychological habit of recognizing only signs.[5] The symbol in Jungian thought has the function of a creative ‘transition from one attitude to another’.[6] The difference between Freud’s reductive, semiotic attitude and Jung’s constructive, symbolic one is, essentially, one of examining lack v.s. analysing presence. The presence of an unknown essence for which a known form stands for points to a symbol, the absence of this essence, the finality of the form’s meaning, is a characteristic of a sign. Freudian thought fixates on the past, determining symbol as guardian of repressed, distressing, unconscious content. Jungian, in a sense, magnifies the potential futures, viewing symbols as means of direct communication between the hereto unknown contents of the vast and fertile unconscious and our ego consciousness.

In any study of film, fetish, a ‘crossover’ form between the symbol and sign should also seriously be taken into account in textual analysis, as an important indicator of art as commodity. Naomi Schor speaks of the fetish as ‘the detail deserted by God’, Rachel O. Moore calls it the ‘phantom detail’– no longer transcendent, distinguished by its excessive materiality.[7] Symbols retain their function only when they remain ‘pregnant with meaning’[8]. In an early encounter with the ambiguities of the silver screen, the permeable distinction between symbol and fetish in the cinema was aptly noted by Jean Epstein when he spoke of film’s capacity to let the viewer ‘see what is not […] this unreal thing exactly,’ and of ‘bringing that image of the absence of objects to life’ as fundamental to its enchantment.[9] Fast-forwarding an entire century, the debate of what is fetish and what is symbol in a film text, if not what constitutes ‘merely’ a sign, remains open.

At this point it should be noted that there still exists a general indifference to Jung (if not a latent suspicion) in film and media studies, since the dominant materialist theories are inherently at odds with such cornerstone Jungian concepts as is the collective unconscious. Postulating that anything other than instincts, social and cultural influences might shape individual consciousness is often viewed as essentialist, and the idea of ‘collective storage’ as uncomfortably metaphysical,  pre-Darwinian and reactionary. As the contents of the collective unconscious are thus  perceived as unchangeable, not constructed by an individual or society, but preordained and universal, it is natural that, from a progressive point of view, the concept of inheriting ‘patterns of behavior’ might seem developmentally inhibiting. Furthermore, Jung’s lifelong study of religious and esoteric thought and his use of esoteric metaphor in therapy, particularly his insistence of using alchemical principles in describing the therapeutic process, leaves little in the way of defending his attitudes as entirely materialistic. In turn, religious scholars fairly uniformly accused Jung of reducing God to an element of the psyche,[10] a view to which Jung continuously offered the Kantian philosophical distinction between things as they truly are, noumena, and things as we experience and know them, phenomena. Jung insisted throughout his opus that he was only interested in the human experience of what was felt as divine, the numinous, not in speculating on the actual existence of the divine, or the ‘supernatural’. It is a noumena, and hence inherently unknowable independent of our perception. He did, nevertheless, postulate that the psyche (soul) is naturaliter religiosa, that it possesses a ‘religious function’[11], an ingrained desire for meaning, a teleological imperative.

To this, we might add that any concept or a priori structure that converts our experience into an abstraction must inevitably lead us to erroneous conclusions.[12]And although there exists a vast amount of empirical data that suggests the validity of the idea of collective unconscious, not just in psychology and sociology, but also in physics, biology, anthropology as well as much further left-field, there is as yet no concrete evidence of its existence, as there is not of most other, more broadly accepted psychological concepts.

Therefore, if at times Jungian thought utilises the esoteric as metaphor more than academically palatable, for the purpose of my argument, and my subject matter, it seems that it does so with a valid reason. There is an element in the medium of film that is so much more than the sum of its parts. This quality has been pondered on by early film theorists to great extent, so their work inspired me further, as well as the work of contemporary theorists that builds directly upon it, such as the ‘savage theory’ and works relating to film as religion, the inherent uncanny qualities of the film image, as well as the occult experience in popular culture, which will all be highly referenced in my study of what this unsettling quality could be.

It is an exciting time when a new medium is born. More often than not, from a psychological perspective, the freshness of observation while experiencing an hereunto unknown phenomenon, and the initially unavoidable emotional evaluation, facilitates pinpointing its innate peculiar qualities so ingeniously, and, possibly, highly accurately, that it could very well outweigh, in core insight, all the latter-day wisdom on the subject.

Antonin Artaud in his seminal essay Sorcery and the Cinema speaks of ‘a whole occult life [revealed in cinema], one with which it puts us directly into contact […] Considered as such, in an abstract way, cinema in its raw state [le cinéma brut] emits something of the atmosphere of trance conductive to certain revelations’.[13] André Bazin spoke of the urge to film as parallel to the ancient Egyptian tradition of mummifyng the dead,[14]and credited the camera with an objectivity that seemed to cater to a specific human appetite for illusion and the proclivity of the mind towards magic.[15]Epstein thought of cinema as polytheistic and theogonic, as it summons objects, creating lives that have little to do with human life, and are more ‘like the life in charms and amulets, the ominous, tabooed objects of certain primitive religions’.[16]Vachel Lindsey views cinema as an ‘expression of the old in that spiral of life which is going higher while seeming to repeat an ancient phase’,[17]as Walter Benjamin highlights the correspondence between the world of modern technology and the archaic symbol-world of mythology.[18]Béla Balázs makes an ingenious observation when he assigns to the film camera the power to photograph the subconscious.[19]The frightening power of the ‘occult lens’ is aptly noted by Robert Bresson, as well: ‘What no human eye is capable of catching, no pencil, brush, pen of pinning down, your camera catches without knowing what it is, and pins it down with a machine’s scrupulous indifference’.[20]

The machines create a double ‘translating a person into an image’,[21]an illusion of life, replicating spirit and creating its identical twin. The conjured sibling has all the geography of its original but its nature is not the same. From the moment life is caught by the camera lens, it becomes autonomous from its source and its further existence depends on the eye of the beholder. However, the irony is that an authentic original never really existed in the cinema in the first place, and that is why all films could also be viewed as simulacra- copies of degraded icons[22] or, perhaps, copies of a forgery.

In Theory of Film  Siegfried Kracauer compares the film screen to Athena’s polished shield given to Perseus, as Rachel O. Moore quoted in Savage Theory, and this allegory will, hopefully, serve me well in establishing the core of my argument and the central premise of this study, a term I have tentatively coined archetypal enchantment: ‘By looking at the reflection of Medusa rather than Medusa herself, Perseus might safely see that which would otherwise destroy him, thus redeeming the horrors of experience from oblivion.’[23]

This could ring true of all art forms, and indeed, all worthy in art. However, film, in its complete reliance on technology for its very existence seems to have the most reflective power of all. In the hyper-reflective post-modern era, the art of filmmaking poses as the epitome of our fragmented existence aided by the penetrating, immensely intimate ingredient of the camera’s ‘independent eye’, an element which, as Epstein commented, helps us escape the ‘tyrannical egocentrism of our personal vision.’[24]  In addition to its ability to circumvent the ego-bound pitfalls of pure, distilled, personal vision, film’s accessibility makes it a perfect vehicle for artists’ projecting not only the personal unconscious, magnified, on the silver screen, but also as conduit to an encounter with the projected collective unconscious, for both artist and spectator. The film experience further facilitates spectators’ introjection, identification, a process opposite to projection, internalising experience of the world that creates empathy investing the object on screen with the libido thus forming a psychological alignment which draws the spectator to bestow characters or film stars with his/her allegiance.[25]Christopher Hauke, post-Jungian scholar and filmmaker, in Jung & Film, in reference to Steven Spielberg’s subjectivity and personal history as prominent traits the director’s work, rightly concluded that one of the reasons for the immense popularity of his films lies in the possibility that Spielberg’s private concerns coincided with the collective concerns of the culture, as a whole.[26] We could then argue that Steven Speilberg, and George Lucas permanently changed the landscape of filmgoing and box office appeal, with Jaws (USA, 1975) and the Star Wars saga (USA 1977), respectively, precisely because their personal vision was, deliberately or not, so uncannily in sync with the zeitgeist. Otherwise, it would not have been able to produce such an instance of ‘collective innervation’, a term coined by Benjamin,[27] as the success of cinema depends heavily on its shared subjective experience.[28]

Lucas did reveal that Joseph Campbell’s writings on ‘monomyth’ and the hero’s journey influenced his output greatly.[29]Although the idea has been since heavily disputed, the assumption that there exists only one myth in humankind, endlessly reproduced in cultures across the world- a model for the human journey of self-discovery,[30]could provoke us to further ponder on the kind of narrative that could inspire such widespread attraction. Émile Durkheim and Bronislaw Malinowski viewed religion and myth as expressions of social integration and social conflict, similar to Karl Marx, while anthropologist Clifford Geertz maintained that religion shapes society as well, as an independent cultural force.[31] In that light Jung’s approach to myth might be viewed as reductionist, since it could be seen that it imposes general psychological categories to all cultures, locally specific details of myths being minimized and attention focused on their conformity to archetypal psychological patterns.[32] However, some films, like Star Wars, for example, still attach millions of people to its lore and that might lead us to conclude that visionary narratives, independent of their artistic value, could indeed rise from the collective unconscious, almost impersonally,[33]and are, therefore, not that easy to conjure purely intentionally. If that were the case, the equation for popular and box-office success would not have so many unknowns.

The possibility of the existence of a second psychic system, other than the one of personal unconscious, postulated by Freud, a system of universal nature identical in all individuals, intrigued Jung while he observed similarities in the delusions of his psychotic patients. Frequently exhibited behavior and elaborate knowledge that patients could not have reasonably been expected to acquire in accordance to their previous life experience, education, and locality revealed a particular convergence in mythical themes that spurred on his further investigation. The phenomenon encouraged Jung to conclude that this second psychic system does not develop individually but is inherited. He further postulated that the collective unconscious consisted of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and give definite form to certain psychic contents, while myths, legends and fairy tales are carriers of a projected collective unconscious.[34]

An archetype is a dynamism ‘translated’ into consciousness by the numinousity of the archetypal image. Archetypal images must have a universal potential, however, they also need to be shaped by contemporary culture in order to communicate through its signifying systems.[35]Jung made clear that only the predisposition to have a certain experience is inherited, not the experience itself.[36]An individual’s entire archetypal inheritance makes up the collective unconscious which is coordinated by a central nucleus which Jung termed the Self or the ‘archetype of archetypes’[37]As archetypes could also be seen as clusters of images which invoke associated feelings and attitudes,[38] post-Jungian approaches to the archetype view it as a ‘site of tension between biology and culture’[39]

In Jungian textual film analysis, the contra-sexual archetypes, the animus and the anima, the compromise formations, bridges between the individual and the unconscious world, are of particular importance, as is the concept of the shadow, personal, collective and archetypal – the repository of all traits repellent to the conscious mind. When the shadow is activated, most commonly through projection, it is charged with affect taking on an autonomous life of its own, beyond the ego’s control, and is compensatory to a consciously held attitude.[40]The collective shadow is activated when the contents of the personal unconscious merge with the archetypal contents of the collective unconscious bringing them along into consciousness. The mythological figure of ‘the Trickster’ would be synonymous with the collective shadow and the alchemical figure of Mercurius, the Dionysian shape-shifter,[41]a concept which Campbell described as ‘a summation of all the inferior traits of character in individuals’, as well as an ‘interpreter and intermediary between man and the powers behind the veil of nature’. [42]In much rarer occasions the shadow appears as archetypal image belonging entirely to the realm of the collective unconscious, thus representing an encounter with evil, or in more monotheistic terms- the devil.[43]

Jung viewed psychology to be the only science that has to take ‘feeling value’ into account and described the archetype as ‘connected with the living individual by the bridge of emotion’.[44] Jungian scholars have readily applied this approach in film theory. Mary Dougherty noted that Jung insisted that powerful images are the ‘natural language of the unconscious, and that emotion is the chief source of consciousness’[45] And if Jung implied that ‘projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face’, Luke Hockley, concludes that ‘extrapolating from the personal to the collective suggests that the unknown face of our culture’s unconscious can at least be glimpsed in films’.[46] John Beebe asserts that in film, as in no other medium, we can actually see the behavior of archetypes[47]– as cinema is a medium of images it is inherently more linked to the transpersonal.[48] Jungian psychology also emphasises the social significance of art as compensation for cultural lack, and as Eva-Maria Simms notes, in balancing ‘the tendencies of the collective consciousness by evoking primordial forms and injecting them into the discourse of a culture’.[49] It would be prudent at this point to observe, Hockley reminds us, that ‘all images, even the archetypal images, have an ideological dimension’. [50]

John Izod believes that a full engagement with a visionary narrative has the potential to change an individual’s consciousness. It can alter the way one feels and thinks about oneself and the world, all of which is not an entirely comfortable process.[51] The process of integration of projected contents could lead to the individual identifying with the unconscious contents, and thus their ego might become inflated. If there exists a confusion between the archetypal content that interacts with the individual and pure archetypes this could lead to losing discrimination and loss of awareness that one is only a part of wider system and identification with the entire system. Jung referred to this as psychological inflation, when the archetype takes over the personality.[52]Because of a temporary loss of discrimination, the paths to conscious information are defunct, and this could lead to an illusion that one is dealing with forces that act on their own behalf. The archetypal contents flood the personality blurring the differences between them and the ego.

This, of course, is a pathological state leading to mental illness, and I would not, in any circumstance, endeavor to pathologise the experience of watching films. As Izod further noted, we are observing publicly circulated symbols to which ‘people have been exposed relatively fleetingly in a public arena’ and which are not experienced as intensely. But in certain occasions a symbol in a film may ’resonate strongly with the energy of an archetype’[53] bringing on an intense psychological pressure ‘in moments when the individual’s and the filmmakers’ desires coincide’. That is also the point where ‘most spectators suspend disbelief’.[54]

The purpose of this study is to understand and formulate this state of partial inflation I have termed ‘archetypal enchantment’, which could be defined as a type of an emotionally ‘altered state’- mostly only temporary, but, in some cases, even lasting a lifetime. It will also endeavor to find certain parallels in contemporary cinema to several archetypal motifs and argue ways that these numinous patterns could emotionally impact the spectator and, more specifically, ardent fans of analysed films. It will also postulate ways this condition can be utilised in the process of personal transformation and integration through art therapy. My purpose is to understand how the transformative potential of this condition can be harnessed for personal growth, rather than allowing the enchantment to trap the psychic energy of an individual by holding one captive in a perpetual, ritual and infantile state of imaginary action.

Human desire for alternate worlds could be viewed as an ancient occult desire which stems out of not only finding fault and imperfection in reality, feeling the need to escape it, but also out of an inherent yearning for meaning, transcendence, a need to return to the ‘source’ of life, be ‘renewed’ by it, transformed, no matter what our perception of this ‘power’ may be. Our wish is not only to be tricked, mesmerised by illusion, but also to be spiritually nourished, it is part of our search for cult value in experiencing art. As Wassily Kandinsky lamented almost a century ago in Concerning the Spiritual in Art ‘our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal’.[55] Laura Mulvey coined it the ‘pleasure in the irrational’ in Death 24 x a Second, concurring that in the aftermath of the Enlightenment the world of the sacred was in retreat from religion, and emerged formidably into culture.[56] But out of excess of pleasure and a constant desire for stimulation, addiction emerges, as well, not only as fetishisation of experience, the bread-and-butter of consumer society, but as an affliction of the soul, a loss of deeper meaning. As Emily D. Edwards noted in Metaphysical Media, ‘film is both the “trip” and the drug’– as people often perceive media as one entity, this ‘integrated media personality is a merger of trickster and shaman’.[57]

However, John C. Lyden argues in Film as Religion‘one who wishes only to live in ritual time, or in virtual reality of a film or computer game, has fallen into pathology in his preference of the imaginary world over the empirical world – and will soon have difficulties living in the empirical world’.[58] Similarly to religion, as well as all forms of spiritual practice, film too offers a connection between this world and the alternate world in presenting a model of how things ‘really are’, or ‘should be’, in essence creating ritual, not unlike a psychic, shaman or priest. It can also ‘allow the living to feel as though they have had contact with those who have died’, which further suggests that death is a sensory experience in which ‘only the aural and visual senses can survive’– the two senses that are the peculiar bias of moving-image media.[59]

Film organically suspends the flow of historical time for the spectators, removing them from linear time, projecting them into the mythic, archaic moment.[60] Mircea Eliade spoke of the cyclic view of time found especially archaic religions,[61] a view not unlike Marshall McLuhan’s concept of ‘no history’ and perpetual present in media. This model is one of cosmic repetition, not Judeo-Christian completion,[62]however both models of creation can be emotionally accessed through ritual, bringing one outside of ordinary time and space to ‘the sacred realm in which creation can once again occur.’[63]Francisca Cho has pointed out that the dichotomy between historical and mythical time does not exist in Chinese thought, thus the essential purpose for all myths is to provide ‘patterns for living a life’.[64]

In Jung’s Psychology and the Occult I came upon his fascinating analogy between  ‘primitive’ pathology and his concept of the unconscious. There seemed to have been a clear distinction in early belief between two causes of mental (and hence, also somatic) illness – the loss of soul, and the possession by a spirit. Jung termed the former soul-complexes, unconscious complexes that normally belong to the ego, and the latter, spirit-complexes, ones that normally should not be associated with it.[65]In that light, Jung viewed the idea of ‘spirits’ as ‘unconscious autonomous complexes which appear as projections because they have no direct association with the ego’. [66]If any ego-associated complex becomes repressed, the individual experiences a sense of loss, and when it is made conscious again – an increased sense of power. However, if a complex of the collective unconscious becomes associated with the ego, thus emerging into consciousness, it fascinates the individual, but also carries with it a disturbance, an uncanny presence, alienation from every-day life. Removal of this content from consciousness brings about a sense of relief.[67]

Of course, the archetype also has a positive numinosity.[68]As John Hollwitz points out in Jung & Film– experiencing archetypal images feels ‘like being touched a little by the gods.’[69] Edward F. Edinger believes that the ego’s desire to identify with the divine, become inflated, is essentially the urge to identify with the Self.[70]Jung concludes that ‘primitive’ pathology expresses this condition very aptly as a ‘spirit interference’.[71] Marie-Louise von Franz calls it the ‘threshold phenomena’, ‘irruptions from the unconscious into consciousness, which have both creative and destructive potential’[72] She urges that the contents then need to be amplified further in order to be consciously understood and therefore have positive transforming potential. Jung believed that if the translation of the unconscious into a communicable language is successful it facilitates redemption.[73]In alchemy, bringing the conflict of opposites into consciousness leads to the recognition of an ‘alien other in oneself- the Mercurius’, which was conceptualised by alchemists as the source of all opposites.[74]

Balázs’s believed that the peculiarity of film as art is that, unlike in all other art forms to date, the permanent and inner distance from the work of art both fade out of consciousness of the spectator in order for one to willingly take part in cinema’s mesmerism.[75] Bachelard compared gazing onto the film screen with gazing into flames of fire, a contemplation which ‘provokes intellectual yet nonlinear thought that occupies a space between the dream world and conscious cognition’.[76] He believed that what binds fire to the human gaze is similar to the quality of cinema spectatorship – its singularly excessive nature and magnifying reverie. In order to release oneself from the ‘repression of usefulness’ one should heed ‘the lesson thought by fire […] you must annihilate yourself’.[77] Scale of the cinema screen is, of course, excessive in itself, but the ability of the camera lens to magnify produces what Epstein called ‘the soul of the cinema’– the close-up, a metaphoric amplification of unconscious content to an excessive degree. Balázs likened it to an aria in opera, ‘a moment when a timeless dimension of human experience can be caught and contemplated’ – but, as Beebe notes ‘once the archetypes are summoned, they take on their own life’. [78]

At this point we must not forget that the hypnotic effect of cinema is often partially dismissed, not entirely undeservedly, in various contemporary theories of spectatorship. From Raymond Bauer’s theory of the ‘obstinate audience’ filtering meaning through a personal belief system[79]to ‘aesthethic scepticism’ and the intellectual unwillingness to suspend disbelief,[80]to the fatigued spectator too overwhelmed and distracted by the hyper-extension of modern existence. Epstein actually believed that this fatigued state could be taken advantage of in cinema for bypassing conscious cognition and thus provoking an unmediated effect on the spectator.[81]Direct link between the media and their effect on audiences was the concept of the now marginalised ‘magic bullet’ theory,[82] a view that the ‘bullet’ is not only the mediated message, but also the medium that delivers it. Similarly the ‘hypodermic needle’ model of cinema conceived by the Mass Culture theorists proposed that filmgoers were ‘injected’ with ideology of the filmmakers in the theatre, and their response could only be that of unquestioning acceptance’.[83]

The aim of this study, however, is not speculation on the validity of any theory of spectatorship, but in arguing that there could exist a psychological affinity between film text created by the filmmaker and the emotional disposition of the spectator, aided by the discussed particularities of film as medium, provoking a specific and prolonged emotional state, and that this state would be most likely to occur when the film text relies heavily on mythological material.

Jung maintained that the fundamental question about myths is one of their enduring relevancy – ‘why the same old stories are experienced and repeated over an over again, without losing any of their prestige?’[84] Both Eliade and Geertz believe that myths gain their relevance by providing a connecting link ‘between the ideal world of the sacred and the ordinary world of the profane’, as films make a connection between the real and the ideal.[85]Izod pointed out that myths ‘bear the ineradicable traces of dreams, reveries, desires and fears that have touched many people’. He maintained that one of the primary functions of Jungian textual analysis is to identify and interpret some of the undercurrents of collective feeling that ‘electrify’ those films which move us most and that the expression of our deep-rooted desires and wants is ‘inextricably bonded to the formation of myths, no matter what medium of communication is employed’.[86]

Biblical scholar Bernard Brandon Scott believes, however, that to reflect on the presence of myth is to cut off its power,[87] while many sociologically orientated theorists such as Bernard Scott view myths as irrational attempts to unite contradictory views in society- fruitless attempts at escapism.[88] Darrol Bryant, another religious scholar, marks the difference between religious and secular culture with the former seeking ‘to mediate a transcendent order’ and the latter as having no referent beyond itself and thus only worshiping itself.[89]

In deciding to venture into an analysis of four archetypal motifs, as the second part of this study, and their respective deployment in the opus of six visionary filmmakers, charting possible ways that these ‘electrifying’ contents could influence the filmgoer, as well provide a model for therapeutic purposes, I would prefer to adhere to Christian existentialist philosopher Paul Tillich’s view the relationship of art and religion. He proposed that the content of great art is in fact quite similar to the content of religion in its ‘directness towards the Unconditional’.[90] ‘If you seek psyche, look first for the visionary’ remarked Hollowitz in Jung & Film,[91] and as Edwards points out in Metaphysical Media, ‘within the archaic time of the media world, it isn’t historical fact but the search for primordial paradigms to which audiences respond’.[92]

The choice of following archetypal motifs rather than particular myths lies in the inherent cultural bias of myths, and my wish to circumvent this issue, but most importantly due to the particular element I will be examining – the idea of ‘archetypal enchantment’ of the spectator and its possible consequences. It is the archetypal motif or figure that would be the underlying cause of the numinous emotional reaction of the audience, no matter what individual myth or myths the analysed films are influenced by. In my selection of the filmmakers whose work I will be examining I am, unfortunately, limited by the scope of this study. Therefore I have decided to chose filmmakers whose work is not only well-known but has become somewhat of a quasi-myth of our culture, in itself. Another discerning quality of the opus of the selected artists is, of course, the continuous re-emergence of a singular motif in their work, as well as the strong individuality and idiosyncrasy of their output.

In examining ways I would be able to attempt to empirically validate my argument, I  resolved to include filmmakers whose opus has also a strong world-wide fan-base. The method I would be utilising in surveys I would construct and disseminate on fan websites and forums would be phenomenological in nature, and geographically non-specific. Kirwan Rockfeller study (1994) mentioned by Edwards in Metaphysical Media examined three case studies of people revealing emotionally moving film experiences and showed how these experiences contributed to the behavior and cognitive frameworks constructed by individuals.[93] I plan to follow a similar path of investigation in lieu with the post-Jungian perspective. Films are also frequently referenced in Jungian therapy, as ‘movies take up residence in the mythic layers of [the analysand’s] psyches and are therefore psychologically relevant to their lives’.[94]

The archetypal motifs I will be examining are of ‘hubris and the fall’ in the films of Stanley Kubrick, motif of ‘sacrifice and redemption’ in films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Lars von Trier, ‘decent into the underworld’ in the opuses of Roman Polanski and Jane Campion, and the archetypal figure and motif of the ‘twin/double’ in the work of David Lynch.

In addition to this, I will be referencing various other filmmakers whose output was strongly influenced by selected motifs- as well as avant-garde artists in whose experimental films mythology and ritual are explicitly depicted, such as Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Alejandro Jodorowsky, amongst others. Another field that I will be commenting on will be the phenomenon of technopaganism, a branch of new paganism that utilises new technologies as tools of enlightenment, instruments for neopagan rituals.[95]

In the third part of my study of the premise of ‘archetypal enchantment’ I plan to work on the medium of film itself, using the technique of active imagination, and the idea of temenos, the sacred imaginal space/time continuum filmmaking could provide. In creating a series of short experimental films which would use personal material- photographs, stills, art, music, video footage, and combine them in ‘freeform’ with footage that would be shot especially for the purpose of following a particular archetypal motif, I believe that a certain pattern of involvement of the personal in the collective and paradigmatic could emerge and point the way to using this method for therapeutic purposes. Along with having, ideally, twenty volunteers, world-wide, as case studies, I would be constructing a case study of my own output, as well, maintaining a videographic diary with analysis of each filmic piece.

Juxtaposing the studies of spectatorship and filmmaking would further facilitate defining the qualities of filmmaker-as-spectator and spectator-as-filmmaker and, hopefully, offer solutions to the central premise of harnessing the potential of the state of ‘archetypal enchantment’ for personal transformation. Focusing on amplifying the ‘aura of the person’ in the experimental films, while downplaying the raging post-modern cult of ‘personality’– the ersatz glamour of a fetishised commodity[96], could possibly lead us to understand the causes of another post-modern phenomena ‘the loss of purposeful aliveness’- archetypal ennui.[97]This could further help define the term ‘personal mythology’ in an entirely innovative way. Granting the subjects of the art experiment the power of the director’s ‘final cut’ of their personal stories and in lieu with Jung’s particular interest in the narrative construction of the psyche and the integrating dynamism of the Self, we would also be potentially examining a psychic reality to which each person has access, but which transcends the bounds of personal history.[98]Lydia Lennihan quotes Jung in Jung & Film commenting on Parsifal’s crucial mistake in the legend of the Grail – forgetting to ask the vital question of who the Grail serves ‘because he was not aware of his own participation in the action’.[99]Enabling the individual to descend into their own ‘underworld’ in order to accomplish the heroic mission of integrating the personal and collective unconscious[100] within the protective confines of a ‘discrete representational space’ or ‘digestion zone’ of their film’s temenos[101]would also allow them to view their internal movie and thus bring its meanings into consciousness. If the base power of emotion is the propensity to disturb the equilibrium of the psyche,[102]then, from a Jungian point of view, the quest and trials of the hero ‘are likely to end in a change in the equilibrium of the Self’.[103]

The alchemical metaphor of projecting aspects of the psyche into the magnum opus, the alchemist life’s work, transforming the ‘lead’ of prima materia, the chaos of creation, into the ‘gold’ of gnosis, the knowledge of the divine, achieving the hieros gamos the ‘union of opposites’ and thus furthering ourselves on the path of integration and individuation has been appropriated in Jungian methodology not only in relation to the therapeutic process, but also in depicting the process of creating art. Pat Berry in Jung & Film, points out that creative arts need pathology[104]and believes that film ‘responds to psychopathology by going into it, crafting it’.[105]In Savage Theory Rachel O. Moore draws on Sergei Eisentein’s analogies between the spirit world and images on film concluding that in those terms ‘artistic practice operates on principles similar to magic and a primitive form of thinking’, the cinematic metaphor functioning the same way as homeopathic magic, with the part substituting the whole.[106]

Christopher Hauke in Jung & Film reminds us that in the last few decades Western society has witnessed ‘a growing hunger for that which seems absent from Western culture at large’ – the spirit, emotional knowledge, intuition, the non-material.[107]Scholar of Hinduism Wendy Doniger believes that myths ‘encode meanings in forms that permit the present to be construed as the fulfillment of a past from which we would wish to have been descended’[108]and from the Jungian perspective each individual must recapitulate these myths as the journey of individuation is universal.[109]Lyden in Film As Religion underlines the necessity of  religion being preformed in order to become meaningful[110]and views rituals as ‘myths enacted and dramatised’ believing that ritual makes ‘the religious realm visible in the world in a way that myth cannot.’[111]If we transpose this to the ritual of creating a film, or, paradoxically, even watching it, the participation mystique of the Mundus Imaginalis, a state midway between rational perception and dreams, allows insights that arise to bring about an ‘aura of faculty’ to the process, a quality that Geertz associates with religious ritual.[112]And as Hockley wittily concludes in his post-Jungian analysis of the film noir– an approach to film that takes analysis out of the consulting room ‘putting it back where it belongs- in the cinema’ would be a very timely.113 This stand, in turn, facilitates further innovative approaches of harnessing the transformative potential of the moving-image.

Author: © Milana Vujkov


Edwards, Emily D., Metaphysical Media: The Occult Experience in Popular Culture, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005)

Hammond, Paul (ed), The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema, (San Francisco: City Lights Books),

Hauke, Christopher and Alister, Ian (ed), Jung & Film: Post-Jungian Takes on the Moving Image, (London: Routledge, 2001)

Izod, John, Myth, Mind and the Screen: Understanding the Heroes of Our Time, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Jung, C.G. (ed) , Man and His Symbols, (London: Penguin Arkana, 1990)

Jung, C.G., Psychology and the Occult, (London: Routledge Classicis, 2008)

Jung, C.G., Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (London: Routledge, 2008)

Jung, C.G., Psychology and Alchemy, (London: Routledge, 1968)

Kadinsky, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, (London: Tate Publishing, 2006)

Lyden, John C., Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals, (New York: New York University Press, 2003)

Moore, Rachel O., Savage Theory: Cinema as Modern Magic, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000)

Mulvey, Laura, Death 24 x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (London: Reaktion Books, 2006)

Papadopoulos (ed), Renos K., The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications (London: Routledge, 2006)


[1] John Izod, Myth, Mind and the Screen: Understanding the Heroes of Our Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.8.

[2] Izod, 2001, p.24.

[3] Christopher Hauke and Ian Alister (ed), Jung & Film: Post-Jungian Takes on the Moving Image (London: Routledge, 2001) p.198.

[4] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.24.

[5] Rachel O. Moore, Savage Theory: Cinema as Modern Magic (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p.41.

[6] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.21.

[7] Moore, 2000, p.81.

[8] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.18.

[9] Moore, 2000, p.85.

[10] John C. Lyden, Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals (New York: New York University Press, 2003), p.59.

[11] C.G. Jung, Second Edition, Psychology and Alchemy (London: Routledge, 1968) p.13.

[12] Renos K. Papadopoulos (ed), The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice and Applications (London: Routledge, 2006), p.16.

[13] Paul Hammond (ed), The Shadow and Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema (San Francisco: City Lights Books), p.103.

[14] Moore, 2000, p.24.

[15] Moore, 2000, p.91.

[16] Moore, 2000, p.22.

[17] Moore, 2000, p.19.

[18] Moore, 2000, p.25.

[19] Moore, 2000, p.66.

[20] Moore, 2000, p.112.

[21] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.216.

[22] Moore, 2000, p.76.

[23] Moore, 2000, p.23.

[24] Moore, 2000, p.94.

[25]Izod, 2001, p.18.

[26] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.169.

[27] Moore, 2000, p.43.

[28] Izod, 2001, p.20.

[29] Lyden, 2003, p.217.

[30] Lyden, 2003, p.60.

[31] Lyden, 2003, p.62.

[32] Lyden, 2003, p.60.

[33] Izod, 2001, p.23.

[34] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.67.

[35] Izod, 2001, p.47.

[36] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.77.

[37] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.79.

[38] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, 191.

[39] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.10.

[40] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.94.

[41] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.107.

[42] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.100,101.

[43] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.96.

[44] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.80.

[45] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.11.

[46] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.189.

[47] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.212.

[48] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.12.

[49] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.191.

[50] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.188.

[51] Izod, 2001, p.21.

[52] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.42.

[53] Izod, 2001, p.21.

[54] Izod, 2001, p.19.

[55] Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (London: Tate Publishing, 2006), p.6.

[56] Laura Mulvey, Death 24 x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (London: Reaktion Books, 2006) p.34.

[57] Emily D. Edwards, Metaphysical Media: The Occult Experience in Popular Culture (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005), p.46.

[58] Lyden, 2003, p.53.

[59] Edwards, 2005, p.23.

[60] Edwards, 2005, p.27.

[61] Lyden, 2003, p.64.

[62] Lyden, 2003, p.66.

[63] Lyden, 2003, p.64.

[64] Lyden, 2003, p.66.

[65] C.G. Jung, Psychology and the Occult (London: Routledge Classicis, 2008), p.138, 139.

[66] Jung, 2008, p.137.

[67] Jung, 2008, p.140, 141.

[68] Jung, 2008, p.141.

[69] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.87.

[70] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.59.

[71] Jung, 2008, p.144.

[72] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.103.

[73] Jung, 2008, p.145.

[74] Papadopoulos (ed), 2006, p.101.

[75] Moore, 2000, p.63, 64.

[76] Moore, 2000, p.131.

[77] Moore, 2000, p.133.

[78] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.216.

[79] Edwards, 2005, p.8.

[80] Edwards, 2005, p.9.

[81] Moore, 2000, p.9.

[82] Edwards, 2005, p.7.

[83] Lyden, 2003, p.46.

[84] Jung, 2008, p.186.

[85] Lyden, 2003, p.67.

[86] Edwards, 2005, pg.7

[87] Lyden, 2003, p.20.

[88] Lyden, 2003, p.63.

[89] Lyden, 2003, p.12.

[90] Lyden, 2003, p.15.

[91] Hauke and Alister (ed), p.86.

[92] Edwards, 2005, p.29.

[93] Edwards, 2005, p.218, Kirwan Rockfeller, Film and Dream Imagery in Personal Mythology, Humanistic Psychologist 22.2 (1994): p.182-202.

[94] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.20.

[95] Edwards, 2005, p.24.

[96] Moore, 2000, p.80

[97] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.211.

[98] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.29.

[99] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.62.

[100] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.97.

[101] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.5.

[102] Izod, 2001, p.15.

[103] Izod, 2001, p.13

[104] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.77

[105] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.78

[106] Moore, 2000, p.74

[107] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.154

[108] Lyden, 2003, p.71

[109] Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.108.

[110] Lyden, 2003, p.80.

[111] Lyden, 2003, p.79.

[112] Lyden, 2003, p.52.

113 Hauke and Alister (ed), 2001, p.191.

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