Presentation. CUNY Graduate Centre, New York, Cinematic Desire: A Cinema Studies Group interdisciplinary graduate conference, March 2010. Revised & edited, August 2020.
Author: © Milana Vujkov
Twenty years ago is when I saw the first episode of Twin Peaks (1990-1991) on television. It was the first Lynchian creation to enchant me, lull me into daydreams, made me spend long hours playing occult detective, but it would not remain the last. Early on, in childhood, my experiences of the numinous were mostly born out of contact with art forms, the written word, or with nature, as I did not grow up in a religious family. But, the most profound ones, for me, were undoubtedly channeled through the medium of the moving image. Films were my tunnel to the archetypal, and I would notice that I would often let them overwhelm me.
As a member of Gen X, the first generations to encounter video games, virtual reality is something we liminally understand perhaps better than any other generation. However, I was already in my twenties when they made their entrance fully into our our collective awareness, so they never managed to override the absolute dominance of cinema in my life.
My early twenties were in the early nineties, also the time of the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, an experience that could only be described as a form of group reverie. A collective generational desire to participate in this other world was palpable. The key characters were our age. We felt we belonged there, beyond the screen, behind the looking glass, that we were, somehow, a part of this world, an extension of this world, or that it was part of us. However perplexing it was, it translated our innermost desires back to us, ones we were unable to name. As Eric G. Wilson concludes in The Strange World of David Lynch, when discussing the numinous qualities of the filmmaker’s work: “Yet while one is pained over his inability to make sense of what he witnesses, one at the same time feels pleasure over a new sensibility: a feeling that he too participates in this crushing power, that he is a pattern of its force” (Wilson, 2007).
A mass enchantment with media narratives is so much a common phenomena nowadays, especially with the advent of reality TV and 24 hour news coverage (even more so via the onslaught of social media), that it is, in contemporary cultural discourse, often filed as addiction to the medium. Or a scopophilic fix. Which it certainly is, to a great extent. Binging storylines, comfort consumption of moods, emotional numbing found in social media rabbit holes, and rampant, pervasive toxicity of both subliminal and overt messaging systems are all self-evident. But can media itself be therapeutic? Could powerful moving images heal our wounds?
Post-Jungian scholar, John Izod in Myth, Mind and the Screen, argues that a full engagement with a visionary narrative has the potential to change an individual’s consciousness altering ways one feels and thinks about oneself and the world (Izod, 2001).
There is something in the nature of a recording that defies rational explanation. It is a replica of life, its twin and its double, and yet, it is also its deathly echo, preserving life by embalming it for eternity. Or at least until the shelf life of the medium itself expires. Lynch evokes this quality perfectly in his work.
When speaking of the scene in the club Silencio in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), Wilson remarks on the eerie qualities of the playback sound that goes on while the performers are removed from stage, reflecting the inherent qualities of artifice in film, and in life, itself: “Everything we see and hear is a copy of an absent original. All is, in this way, derivative, artificial – a film. Life is an immense movie whose script and director have disappeared. It is an illusion divorced from truth, a dream” (Wilson, p. 151).
We experience these ghostly apparitions every day. In the cinema, on television, in the darkness of our bedrooms, hovering over screens, YouTube clips, creating avatars, profiles, a relentless run of digital images self-monitoring our every move. Through this dreaming we are creating and re-creating a series of twin lives, multiple doubles, clones even. Some of these images have the numinosity to affect us deeply, a capacity to both heal and destroy. They represent evidence of an alternate existence, glimpses of a double life, our twin in the archetypal world, skin in the game of immortality.
There is a reason why dreaming is sacred with the Indigenous Peoples, ones that have the longest cultural lineage on Earth. It needs to be taken seriously, it is alive, potent with possibilities, and at the same time elusive in nature. The dangerous liminal space between vision and fantasy is populated by vivid patterns, it should be guarded, and only approached through the creative and the devotional.
Lynch understands this instinctively when he says: “Sometimes you are sitting in a chair daydreaming. That is how most things come for me anyway. You go down deep and something pops into your head. They are everywhere, these ideas” (John O’Mahony, The Guardian, January 2002).
Martha P. Nochimson, in The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood (Nochimson, 1992), describes Lynch as “a surfer on the waves of the collective unconscious.”
In my recent work, I revisited my early fascinations. The uncanny quality of the moving image has been studied by early 20th century art theorists, in particular. Due to the novelty of film as medium, at the time, their ideas provided a freshness of perspective. I found great similarity in their discourse with later post-Jungian analysis of film, as well as in the works of contemporary theorists building directly on early film theory, such as ‘savage theory’ of cinema as modern magic, works relating to film as a new religion, as well as the occult experience in popular culture.
All of this informed me and helped define the central premise of a much larger study, of which this paper is a part: the examination of a psychological affinity between a film text created by the filmmaker and the emotional disposition of the spectator, aided by the particularities of film as medium, which could provoke a specific and prolonged altered emotional state, not one of pathological psychological inflation, but a less intense state of partial ego-inflation, one of archetypal enchantment and that this state would be most likely to occur when the film text relies heavily on archetypal, mythological material. The aim of this study is to grasp and, hopefully, provide a glimpse of the psychological patterns behind the experience of the numinous, and bring this understanding about through the medium of the moving image, reveal, or at least feel, the deus in the machina.
The choice of following archetypal motifs, in this case the motif of the twin/ double, rather than particular myths lies in the inherent cultural bias of myths, and my wish to circumvent this issue. But, most importantly, because the archetypal motif or figure 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. Considering the aforementioned psychological affinity between a film text created by the filmmaker and the emotional disposition of the spectator, and taking into account archetypal enchantment as heuristic assumption, an intuitive judgement on my part, one could conclude that all the participants in this process, the filmmaker, the spectator, the protagonists of Lynch’s films, along with the author of this paper, are all enchanted by a particular archetypal motif. That we are all under its numinous, and simultaneously, sinister spell. Enchantment is thus dualistic, as well. It harbors a double in its bosom and walks a fine line between inspiration and terror. Its nature is inherently arcane. Antonin Artaud in his seminal essay Sorcery and the Cinema spoke of “a whole occult life” that is revealed in cinema. Lynch is certainly inclined towards the esoteric in his work. One wonders if the philosophical ideas of Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, had any influence on his cinematic representations of the ghostly doppelgänger.
In his Mystery of the Human Double Stenier goes on to describe these doubles as spirits emanating from Earth’s electromagnetic fields, entering our bodies alongside our souls, at birth, and differing in qualities according to geography, as they are our connection to matter. In many parts of the world they are difficult to differentiate from one’s own soul, however, in the region of Americas, Steiner asserts, they can be seen, and from that geographical quality, he concludes, stems the Native American understanding of the nature of the twin/double.
Steiner did not base his theories on conjecture alone, he inherited them from Tibetan Buddhism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Zoroastrian dualism, medieval alchemical lore, as well as Theosophy, the Anthroposophy’s 19th century twin. This philosophical melting-pot patterns an entity that seems to be incredibly close to Lynch’s depiction of ‘the dweller on the threshold’, the sinister ‘shadow twin’, the manifold figure of the Trickster, parallel universes, transitional spaces between twin worlds (the lodges, red rooms, and haunted cabins in the woods) and his frequent use of Tibetan and Native American myths, most notably in Lost Highway (1997) and Twin Peaks lore. Lynch’s enthusiastic advocacy of Transcendental Mediation further attests to his spiritual tastes, extensions of his art, or more likely, vice-versa.
One more proponent of early film theory, Walter Benjamin, highlighted the correspondence between the world of modern technology and the archaic symbol world of mythology (Moore, 2000). Lynch’s view on technology and its ability to capture the mythic, symbolic and the arcane is visible throughout his oeuvre, frequently verging towards techno-paganism, a branch of new paganism that employs new technologies as tools of enlightenment, instruments for neopagan rituals. As Gaston Bachelard compared gazing onto the film screen with gazing into flames of fire, both processes characterised by their excessive nature and magnifying reverie, Lynch plays with the metaphor of fire punctuating moments of cinematic ecstasy, desire, rage and demonic possession. Béla Balázs made an ingenious observation when he assigned to the film camera the power to photograph the unconscious (Moore, 2000). Jung insists that powerful images are the natural language of the unconscious, and, significantly, that emotion is the chief source of consciousness.
At this point, it would be useful to remind ourselves of a few key Jungian concepts. The collective unconscious, an inherited second psychic system independent to the one of personal unconscious, has been postulated by Jung along with the term ‘archetypes’ of which it consists of. An archetype is a dynamism translated into consciousness by the numinous quality of the archetypal image which must have a universal potential and connects the archetype with the individual by the bridge of emotion. However, archetypal images also need to be shaped by contemporary culture in order to communicate through its signifying systems. According to Jung – myths, legends and fairy tales are carriers of a projected collective unconscious. John Beebe in Jung & Film asserts that in film, as in no other medium, we can actually see the behavior of archetypes – as cinema is a medium of images, it is inherently more linked to the transpersonal (Hauke, Alister (ed), 2001).
In Jungian terms, following the archetypal motif of the twin/double poses two key issues. Firstly, as twins appear abundantly in mythologies around the world the scope of this paper, unfortunately, does not allow discussing the actual myths that would correspond to Lynch’s narratives. But, as we did, however, mention the possible chief mythological sources of his opus, the particularities will then remain to be analysed in further study on the subject. Secondly, in world mythology, twins are often cast in various roles: they can sometimes be protective masks, our mirror selves, but they are most frequently two halves of the same whole, or represent the aspect of the Self that is the shadow. Therefore, the twin/double archetypal motif could resonate with several key instances of the twin/double in our psyche, according to its Jungian interpretation. Our persona, the conformist double of our conscious mind, as the external embodiment of the twin, can be seen in Lynch’s opus quite directly, frequently as mirror images, or as masks, often blank or grotesque, but most poignantly in the strangeness of ordinariness in Lynch’s vintage Americana characters. Further observation of the mirror image would then lead us to twinship in the archetypal realm, as it both conveys the persona, and its mirror opposite, the shadow, opening doors to the twin world of doppelgängers.
The anima and animus archetypes of the collective unconscious, especially the syzygy, the divine couple, the combination of the anima and animus representing wholeness and completion, is touchingly conveyed in several Lynch films, starting with Blue Velvet (1986), through Mulholand Drive, to Inland Empire (2006). These doubles can be actual heterosexual couples, with a hermaphrodite twist, but also same sex twins. The shadow twin/double, the doppelgänger, however, is one of the most recurring images in his work, and it appears as the intruding spirit, the trickster, the ‘evil twin’, the demon within. The shadow in the personal unconscious consists of all our suppressed or unacknowledged negative traits, or, as is in the case of the positive shadow – our rejected qualities. However, the shadow in the collective unconscious, becomes the archetypal shadow, an incarnation of evil itself.
Therefore the motif of twinship can thus be directly related to the key archetypes of the collective unconscious and through archetypal images become a truly powerful source of enchantment in storytelling.
Finally, in pondering on the genesis of the term ‘enchantment’ I came upon Jung’s fascinating analogy between tribal theories of psychopathology, shared by the shamans, the curanderos, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures, and his concept of the unconscious in his Psychology and the Occult. Lynchian lore invokes these, as well, with his myriad transgressing spirits, demonic possessions and ordeals of creative, shamanic illness.
By that worldview there is a clear distinction between two causes of mental 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. 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. Jung refers to it as psychological inflation – the archetypal contents flood the personality blurring the differences between these collective patterns and the individual ego. Removal of this content from consciousness should bring about a sense of relief.
This analogy further inspired me to form the idea of archetypal enchantment, one of partial ego-inflation, contemplate on its connection to cinema, its psychological consequences, and reflect on its potential therapeutic use.
Psychological inflation, 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 notes, we are observing publicly circulated symbols which are not experienced individually as intensely. But in certain occasions, he further argues, a symbol in a film may resonate strongly with the energy of an archetype bringing on an intense psychological pressure in moments when the individual’s and the filmmakers’ desires coincide (Izod, 2001). And as Ron Garcia argues “David [Lynch] creates an emotion in everybody by tapping into the subconscious. From a Jungian perspective, the subconscious is real: you’re there until you wake up, and some people don’t wake up from those nightmares.” (Garcia 1992)
However, as the archetypal image also harbors vast capacity for positive numinosity, its therapeutic use has for some time been employed in Jungian psychotherapy, as well as art therapy, with developments in branches of art psychotherapy relating to use of cinematic material.
Experiencing archetypal images, enjoying their full transcendence, incorporating their power into our personal lives, enables us to view ourselves as parts of a greater whole, the Unus Mundus, which, as John Hollwitz, another Jungian scholar, concludes, feels “like being touched a little by the gods” (Hauke, Alister (ed), 2001).
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