Sunday, January 29, 2012

CinemArchetype #2: The Anima

Jung described the anima--the ego of the feminine unconscious to the male conscious mind--as like the sphynx or the Mona Lisa - enigmatic, cryptic, mostly silent - neither alive nor dead nor undead, but a dweller in the space beyond such trivialities. Her refusal to be known fully by her outer male / consciousness is perhaps an underlying cause of so much patriarchal oppression in our world. We can't silence her midnight reproaches so we try to silence her outer projections. But it never works.

In order to placate her we must make an effort to 'find out what she wants' through much patient sitting in asanas and art. She is the ultimate 'unknown' that the male ego spends its life trying to seduce, make contact with, capture on canvas, harness, destroy, embrace... but she can never be fully known or possessed, only accepted as the enigma she is.  And thank god, because if she was ever understood fully, the world would open up into the pure white light of the infinite. And then what do you do with your time? Where do you find your inspiration?

Here's one of my attempts to show that, it's a Dorian Gray deconstruction of a scene from Nightmare Alley (1947). 

Erich Kuersten "Nightmare Alley" 2003

Man projects the anima into his girlfriends, wives, daughters, and then is crushed when she disappears from their faces. The girls of the movies and of his dreams are ageless and enigmatic, so they take over the job. So there's the ghostly obsession of Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo for the 'nonexistent' Madeline, Twin Peaks for Laura Palmer, the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, or the ghost vengeance of a Jess Franco nymphomaniacal heroine like Maria Rohm in Venus in Furs. Or there's her inescapable nurturing, her madonna-like perfection mocking your violent failings even as she consoles you, as with  Jessica Chastain in Tree of Life (below).

Eye's dark pupil, mirrored
Some feminist critics might decry these characters as unreal or male fantasies, but they miss the point - they are male fantasies but who is doing the fantasizing? The conscious man tries to understand his unconscious woman through fantasizing about her. Perhaps it is also the other way around, our inner anima fantasizing life as a man looking at herself in his mirror. Madeline is obsessed with the painting of her past life, like Jimmy is with her present.

Men can't control their unconscious mind (by definition) any more than we can (most of us) decide what we want to dream about when we sleep. If a man can make peace with his anima, either through art, meditation, astral voyaging, lucid dreaming, good deeds or just accumulated wisdom, he is en route to becoming a 'whole' soul. When he writes it is more like dictation. When he paints he just sits back and lets his inner woman guide his hand. The anima steps out of the shadows of the unconscious, halfway during dreams and art (and sometimes really good sex), and he steps into it, halfway, he lets go of the wheel and lets the wife drive for awhile --and then they are married in the Jungian reunification alchemical ritual.  But he will never understand her, never know her except that which she wants to reveal.

The anima speaks only in dreams or moments of poetic artistic rapture (or madness),
a ghost woman you love more than any living woman,
but you can't easily understand her language...
One day you learn that the language she speaks to you is French,
it takes you years but you learn French and finally you get to understand her,
finally she is yours to understand
for that one conversation.

But the next time you get a chance to talk to her
she speaks only in German.

So now you have to learn German.
So then she only speaks Japanese, and so it goes...
She runs through every language known to man, back into ancient Greek and Latin,
Sumerian, Mayan, and lost Atlantean.
You dog her heels every step of the way.

Finally all out of languages, she refuses to speak at all.
She merely smiles the enigmatic Mona Lisa sphinx smile.

When you finally match her even then, even learn this new language--the hardest of all to learn--the silence...

Then the only thing left for her to hide in
is what lies beyond silence,
and when you go there too, meditate in total quiet, she surrenders
at last, and
you are finally married
and on your honeymoon,
and she's waiting in bed...

But to get her to strip,
you're gonna have to learn poker.
1. Kate Hepburn - Bringing up Baby (1938)

In the best romantic comedy there is the idea of a gender-flux sprite as Shakespearian elemental - the sprite who raises mischief and chaos to fluster the male ego, to reduce its prominence in the constellation of consciousness by exposing it to the chthonic forces of nature. Rather than civilizing herself, this untamed tomboy mare wildernesses the civilized; she forces the westward expansion to, at last, contract. She is the inhale after the land-grabbing exhale.  No one is better at this getting a professor to inhale than Kate Hepburn in Bringing up Baby, Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey and Paula Prentis in Man's Favorite Sport?

Katharine Hepburn doesn't normally embody the anima, she's more the 'wild wise woman' (see CinemArchetype 11). She's too independent, too her own woman, too conscious and wily and, like Jane Fonda, contemptuous of the very concept of mystique. But with the aide of a familiar, especially if it happens to a be a wild animal (like a leopard), she nails it. In Bringing up Baby, Cary Grant's absent-minded paleontologist has been keeping his right-brained feminine unconscious on such a tight leash it finally snaps off, freed by the backdraft of whizzing golf balls, golf carts, car running boards, sock burning, crazy phone calls, clothes theft, bone-burying dogs, and finally a vicious leopard shadow twin.

2.  Laura Palmer - Twin Peaks / Fire Walk with Me

Hey! Where were you for the last hour? I've been looking all over for you.
I was standing right behind you, but you're too dumb to turn around.

Laura Palmer's absence creates separate fantasies in all her men. Her dopey eyed self-serious biker hunk, James (I hate him), keeps trying to drag her into a tortured teen lovers-style Twilight-esque devotion, "Quit tryin' to hold onto me so tight, baby," Laura says (after having just tooted up before homeroom), "cuz I'm already gone... gone... gone."

Lynch's female characters tend towards this kind of nebulous lostness, this 'hold me as tight as you want but you'll never find me" paradoxical elusiveness. He knows enough to know how little he knows--how little can be known--about the anima. And because he does know he doesn't know, he's able to depict her frustratingly (to her lovers) ephemeral contours way more succinctly than most. It's a quality tied into cinema, with its form of idealized feminine mystique -- i.e. we fall in love with her via an image onscreen, and she enjoys our collective adoration/attention. The character's (or actress's) lover/husband on the other hand, craving closeness, exclusivity, and full knowledge of her ways and thoughts, might go out of his skull with jealousy and self-pity from having to 'share her'--the real her, i.e. her image--with any lovesick fanboy with a TV set. If we knew her personally, we'd feel less involved, less like we have the right to project our anima onto her. The lens of the anima works in reverse to the regular lens, in that the more you focus on details, to see the 'real' woman below the persona, the less you can see of the anima. When she's in total clarity, your anima has nothing left to work with.
"Women who are of 'fairy-like' character especially attract such anima projections, because men can attribute almost anything to a creature who is so fascinatingly vague, and can thus proceed to weave fantasies around her." - Maria Von Franz
I'd argue with Franz that saying the men weave the fantasies is perhaps a little general, if we're talking about the anima we're talking about a part of the male psyche that is not under the control of the male ego. The feminine unconscious either spurns or approves of the 'screen' woman on which to project itself; while the specifics may be structured by male conscious desire, that structure is just another puerile dead end if the anima is not onboard. If it is, the fantasy goes far deeper than any genital or pre-genital-based eroticism or maternal salve; it goes to the true union of the divided self, which seems--to the easily-spooked male ego--both the ultimate fantasy and a truly terrifying proposition.

3. Maila Nurmi as Vampira
"I once loaned Maila a copy of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. In particular, I wanted her to read the chapter on the “anima,” Jung’s term for female archetypes – witches, goddesses, vampires, saints, etc. – that are actually fantasy projections of the inner male psyche, i.e., of the male’s unacknowledged feminine aspects. (When a woman does it, the projection is known as an “animus.”) After returning the book Maila declared, “I am an anima.” - C. Jerry Kutner (BLAD 1/11/08)
4. Brigitte Bardot
"It is better to be unfaithful than faithful without wanting to be." -BB
Bardot is a hero of mine for her decision to use her money and fame to bring attention to animal cruelty, The Brigitte Bardot Foundation. She understands her mythic anima resonance--her remote silence covers men in reproachful invitation. We will never measure up to her staggering hotness, never quench the simple fire of discontentedness in her warm pout. She evades us as effortlessly as a swan evades a pool of sullen sharks. This evasion causes strip clubs to stay in business, the tips are like the replacement divots on the green of missing connection. At least with the foundation, those tips go to a good cause, and are tax deductible. Give what ya can... these wild things deserve it.

5. Marlene Dietrich 
"Mystery is a woman's greatest charm."

Like Bardot and Garbo she became reclusive once her looks could no longer be maintained. Movie stars like Dietrich are artists of the persona, sacrificing a normal life in the public eye (ala charity galas, Curtis Harrington hag horror TVMs) so their anima cachet can resonate forever, siphoning the energy of our desire until we fall back, weakened by masochistic reverie and aged into shriveled eye stalks while they stay young forever, captured in the mystic black and white eternal, soaking up viewer after viewer like a Bathory sponge of gaze. Our romantic memories, dredged up from our dating history are absorbed into the celluloid of the vampire anima, light up her skin through sleep's latticework shadow. In withholding her 'whole' self (which includes unsavory aspects like suffocating vanity and hausfrau cleanliness-obsession) our inner projection of the anima finds its focus for the first time in Dietrich, again and again, like a dead ship igniting into windswept sails and mizzenmast hoisting. 

 6. Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958)
 "The movie turns on the slightly malicious question, "Who is Kim Novak?" a question which becomes more frightening, and unanswerable, once the secret of her dual identity within the film is revealed. The initial sequences, for all their beauty in summoning up the enchantment of the anima archetype, belong to a familiar-enough theme in psychology and art--the man as victim of seduction. The fall of James Stewart's character Scottie into "acute melancholia complicated by a guilt complex" is what he deserves from biting into this familiar apple. Indeed, the cumulative kitsch elements of the romance--the staginess of the exposition of the preposterous plot; the tourist's view of San Francisco's prettiness in the long, languishing silent sequence; the poor quality of the "museum painting" of the nineteenth-century woman Kim Novak is supposed to be obsessed by; the monotonous unreality Novak brings to the reading of her lines; and the ponderous earnestness of James Stewart as he becomes her victim--all have a wearying effect, much like the depression of coaddiction." - John  Beebe (The Anima in Film
6.5. Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie (1948)

A romantic ghost story, it cost a fortune to make and Jones was bland as a ghostly girl, and smitten artist Joseph Cotten more like some genteel old grandfather having his DEATH IN VENICE pre-stroke moment than an ardent young painter discovering his anima muse in a ghost or vice versa. Barely disguising his bafflement with the terrible poetic dialogue that no one in their right mind would ever speak or write, you want to smack Cotten with a cast iron 78 of "In the Gloaming" for making things worse instead of better by bringing cornpone sincerity to what should be a semi-mad poet (like say, Mischa Auer would play him). Instead we're stuck with treacly strings letting us know just how full of macabre melancholic whimsy we're supposed to feel while he mopes around waiting for another vision. Lillian Gish as a nun lets us know the Jennie Cotten he loves is long dead, but hey, he has the painting he made of her, and her promise she will return, leaving him only a scarf as a signifier she was real. It's a scarf she leaves him by the sea like my anima leaves me at the end of THE LACAN HOUR (2004) and I hadn't seen this when I made that movie!

And I'm sorry I've seen PORTRAIT at all, but hey, the final shot of the painting is in color makes it all worth it, like a bit of Oz ruby color stain on Dorothy's farm girl girl dress in black and white reality, which I think would have been a groovy touch. It's worth seeing for that final color shot though, especially if you see that shot having come home high from meeting some random new girl who's really hot and you felt a deep connection with her, and it's trailing you home, a giddy reverie, though you don't have her number or remember her name but your whole life's lit up in ways it wasn't before, and that color shot of the painting comes randomly on TCM, while you're just half watching it and you realize your anima just banked a three coincidence bumper shot, projected three different levels of meaning, and whoa, your writer's block is knocked into the side pocket, freeing the table as she wafts back in your life for another flickering ghost shadow stretch. Just don't try to touch her.

David Thomson writes a great bit about Portrait of Jennie in his highly recommended Have You Seen...? He covers the troubled history of the film, how Selznick was in some ghastly downward spiral, blind to everything but pleasing his wife at the time, Jennifer Jones...
"One cool observer of the whole fiasco was Alfred Hitchcock, at the end of his rope with Selznick and nearly free of his contract with him. My reason for saying that is the hunch that the man who would make Vertigo learned a lot from Portrait if Jennie: the erotic allure, the morbid sexual fantasy, the being in and out of life, the green light even (the original Jennie ended in a wash of green [which has been restored by TCM - EK]) and above all, the intuition that this love story would work best if allowed to strike dread." (682)
7. Lana Del Rey

The critics who attack Del Rey for her 'makeover' from Lizzie Grant show in their hostility just how effective this adopted persona is as an anima. She is the Marlene Dietrich of her time and we should remember that Marlene too had a makeover upon coming to Hollywood -- losing thirty pounds and four back molars, among other modifications. There's not a single Hollywood star, I'm fairly sure, who is 100% 'real' according to Del Rey's detractors' definition. So it speaks to the raw archetypal sore spot Rey's poked that so many critics feel they must attack her, while others, like me, feel the need to defend her. When you become something to fight over, it's not even 'about' whether you're 'real' or not. If someone tells you they had a dream about a witch would you say, "Bro, that witch is totally fake"? Of course not. What's important is that Del Rey is the anima of 2012; she is the amnesiac succubus, the Diane Selwyn of Mulholland Dr. and the candy colored clown they call the sand woman in Blue Velvet. Her seemingly augmented visage is like if Madeline / Novak had plastic surgery to resemble the portrait of Carlotta Veldez.... or

8. Rita Hayworth as Gilda (1946)
"They go to bed with Gilda but wake up with me." 

Del Rey's weird lips make her a kind of anime comic book version of Rita Hayworth, who showed she understood her persona's hypnotic effect when she famously said the above line. But Hayworth never bowed to the pressures of being an anima, of trying to be a living archetypal image. Rather, the anima rather bowed to her insistence that she was indeed a woman and not a phantom projection. Her image is strong enough it can thrive even in such a self-imposed prison--one literally imposed almost by force of her animus onto her in Gilda--thus Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is about prison. That's why I always get a little sickly claustrophobic watching Gilda - the feeling of suffocation caused by her seedy choice of men, namely the very square-headed and seemingly shorter than her Glenn Ford, who tries to rope her off the way those icky brothers all tried to rope BB in ... and God Created Woman (1957), by cockblocking her, stifling her libidinal-elemental archetypal freedom. I've hated him ever since, regardless of his role (he's pretty great in this, tho).

9. Ava Gardner as Pandora in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Di Chirico "The Profit," 1915

No one was going to cockblock or stifle Ava Gardner's libidinal-elemental archetypal freedom, not a possessive homicidal bullfighter, a racing car driver, or any of the would-be suitors who dash themselves upon her rocks in the haunting and underrated (naysayers need to watch it again on Blu-ray) Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Only James Mason, the original flying dutchman who promises her deathless timeless love aboard his slick craft, knows what to do with all Pandora's aching archetypal beauty. And he embraces her enigmatic grace first by painting her before he even meets her (top), and then after she angrily blots out her face with white he incorporates the white into a De Chirico type mask, restoring and enhancing her unknowable elemental mystery rather than trying to reign it in like the other men orbiting her. An archetype himself, the Dutchman whisks her from the time-bound concerns of mortal men and into the constellations where she belongs.

 10. 4-Way Tie: 
a. Gene Tierney as Laura (1944)

Falling in love with a painting is easy; your anima projects right onto it like a silver screen. But if the painting comes to life (as you so devoutly and ill-advisedly wish) all of a sudden it's not a projection screen but a dark, swirling muddy mess of paint that never dries and thinks you're beneath her social class... or at any rate you think she thinks that. Detective Dana Andrews falls in love with Laura via her image while investigating her murder, but when Laura appears suddenly off the canvas and replaced by a real woman in a boxy raincoat and sour wet expression she's no longer an anima, and he's disappointed as well as intimidated. Naturally his anima is going to have to pick more reliable projection screens if he wants to develop an unhealthy obsession - hence her preference for dead celebrities like Marilyn Monroe (like Poe for his Lost Lenore), who will hopefully not suddenly return from the grave and demand you get a job or take out the trash. 

b. Rebecca (1940)

The painting / initialed sundries, and sumptuous bedroom of truly dead Rebecca on the other hand is so fogged up in anima-projection that her still living and ever-brooding Laurence Olivier all but ignores his real life new young wife, played by Joan Fontaine. He loves young Fontaine at least in part because she seems pliable, young and as anti-anima as possible. Meanwhile Rebecca's ghost overflows all screens and no real woman can compete lest she become more ruthless and wicked than Rebecca herself. 

C. Ligeia - Tomb of Ligeia  (1964)

All of the Corman-Poe cycle films are filthy with devolved animas but as the morbid end game of the de-evolution of a psyche where the anima projection screen endures even into death, Ligeia takes the metaphor deep. In Laura the woman in the painting was still alive, in Rebecca dead, and in Ligeia undead, alive in cat form and hot corpse-spirit possession form, i.e.  abstracted into necrophilia (this is one of the few films where 'pussy-whipped' is a genuine action).

11. Christine Gordon as Jessica Holland in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Jessica is a great example of the unassimilated anima; the one that will not fade all the way back into the shadows nor merge into the male consciousness even in part; thus she is a cross between the madwoman in the attic ala Jane Eyre and the painting of Rebecca. She was evidently Rebecca-esque in life--i.e. manipulative, slutty, and bi-polar--and now she is halfway into becoming as dead as Rebecca, as undead as Ligeia, and as immortal as her own (nonexistent) painting.  And as an anima she serves only to cockblock her nurse and tear a tropical island family apart, all while Calypso singer Sir Lancelot recounts her misdeeds in his honeyed, irresistible voice. 

I'm not the first to question Leo's insistence on dead wives: check out Nathaniel R's awesome Dead Wives Club poster above. The question is, why? An anima has actually more power in her 'dead' state, yet is less of a threat; she is neither bound up in the eternal sleep of zombie Jessica and the sleeping Snow White nor alive like Laura or Bardot. She is free to rule the psyche of the 'male' consciousness without worry of clashing with the 'real' thing. In other words, unlike Dana Andrews in Laura, Leo never has to worry about his obsession suddenly coming to life and doing un-anima things like taking too long in the bathroom or nagging him about his drinking. He can just stay up late and guzzle hooch and stare at her framed photo--eyes welling up with tears. This is the ideal state for all actors afraid of being upstaged or getting too intimate and open, i.e. unmanly; the dead wife allows all the anima interaction to occur deep down in the dream state, so she can't embarrass you in front of your friends. And it's a great excuse for binge drinking... and not stretching. Amen


  1. Interesting commentary.
    Of course, this works vice-versa; masculine aspects of the female (animus) and women see themselves as Anima. Western societies (however machinated, objectified and distanced from nature (and reality!)) invest much time in worshipping female icongraphy. Likewise, women aspire to this imagery/iconography, trying to acheive physical "perfection" and a "feminine mystique" a "je ne sais quoi".

    You are right about feminisms clunky comprehension of such subtleties as anima/animas; feminism would have had defined anima as pro-female and anti-female, unable to comprehend Jung's ideas within their pseudo-political, pseudo-social, one-dimensional framework.

    Intriguingly, feminism's intended masculinasation of females (as a way of adapting to masculine, Western societies) may wish to see (as you mention) the anima as a product of male sexualized fantasy. Yet, the mysterious, beautiful, nurturing and intuitive aspects of women are a powerful part of female identities. This is part of femaleness that women cannot help being and enjoy being!

    To conform to political correctness and/or feminism seems to be a form of "castration" for women and, indeed for men!


  2. Great list.

    It's always interesting in pop culture to watch one of these archetypes take over an actress or singer. They gradually sort of grow into the archetype role, and there's very little they can do about it, because after that, they don't "won" their public persona anymore... least for a while. There's always sort of a clock ticking on it.

  3. Another great list with some food for thought in it. Not sure I agree with all of it, but on the surface it seems pretty spot-on. I've tackled some of these in my fiction (knowingly or not), and I must say they are fun to delve into.

  4. Have you seen Carl Jung's own anima as portrayed by Keira Knightley (Sabina Spielrein) in Cronenberg's 'Dangerous Method'? Cronenberg is doing absolutely everything to repress her and letting Jung come out as some kind of a self-righteous bastard without any feelings or affections. A highly professional Ego, as compared to the Id (Sabina), that has to die and be replaced over and over again, to grant the Ego the right to dismiss and destroy it.


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