Thursday, March 08, 2012

CinemArchetype #7: The Shadow

The Shadow is that most threatening of archetypes, the malevolent root chord of the subconscious. As opposed to the anima/unconscious which is more collective and soul-based, the subconscious is the basement of repressed memories and desires, a dank cellar stuffed with taped-shut moving boxes that still shift back and forth occasionally like something's trying to escape from them. Freud's big short sighted flaw in his visualization of the subconscious was perhaps insisting that these dark lower storage cubby holes were merely to store the still-beating heart of our repressed memories and desires. For the purposes of 'the Shadow' this is no doubt true. As soon as we learn to hate ourselves, the shadow is there to take the hate off our backs so we can function in daily life.

But in successfully denying the eros, the freedom, the lust and passion and abandon of uninhibited desire, the conscious subject eventually becomes stale, plays it safe, has nothing interesting to say, becomes a derivative Body Snatchers pod-style copy of their former self. If they want to get their mojo back they need to traipse gingerly down into the basement and poke around in those taped-up boxes, find some vitality and get the hell out of there fast, maybe work out a treaty --let the demon out in a small safe setting --a kickboxing class, the dance floor, or--as Buddhists do--via sex.

If this is not done, the conscious self grows weak and watered down and the repressed shadow goes up in proof.. until it finally explodes in a whiskey still fireball / autonomous complex.

 As humans we unconsciously understand this and our culture invariably has pressure valves in place, some air holes on those boxes, a special outlet moment or holiday when the demons are uncrated and marched into the light so they can breathe and stretch. Such holidays have been with us since the dawn of time: Halloween, solstices, May days, drunken wedding receptions, bachelorette parties, post-prom beach trips, peyote ceremonies, etc., but in incorporating the shadow even for a night or afternoon we face all our collected hate and revulsion, our rage, all the repressed junk in mid-fermentation. That's why it's best to depressurize early and often, so that resentment-ferment doesn't have a chance to build...
"Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions." - Jung, Psychology and Religion: 131
 1. Mila Kunis as Lily - The Black Swan (2010)
"If the shadow figure contains valuable, vital forces, they ought to be assimilated into actual experience and not repressed. It is up to the ego to give up its pride and priggishness and to live out something that seems to be dark but actually may not be. This can require a sacrifice just as heroic as the conquest of passion, but in an opposite sense." -- Dr. M. L. von Franz 'Man And His Symbols', Dell Publishing/ copyright: 1964, by Aldus Books, Limited, London
Especially as Black Swan is a film about doubles you would think Portman and Aronofsky would be more honest about the doubling used in her dance scenes -- the perfect meta refraction of the impossibility of a unified Self.

2. Orson Welles as Harry Lime - The Third Man (1949)
As a writer of westerns, Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) makes a living by translating American history into the formulaic story of good triumphing over evil; you can tell which side is which by looking at the color of their hats (black =bad / white=good). But when Holly blunders through the mire of  post-war Vienna, he finds that all hats are gray.  He reacts, as ugly Americans will, as if it's his duty to translate the gray shades into a high contrast ratio so he can figure out who he should save and from what. As if emblematic of that gray area, Harry Lime lies 'dead' until Holly becomes so far in over his head that his repression mechanism--his ability to distinguish good and evil-- fails, and Lime bursts out of the shadows, literally.

Not exactly evil, Lime creates evil through the black market watering down of antibiotics in post-war Vienna, something any of us might be capable of in such topsy-turvy circumstances. Harry's freedom from moral restraint is a superb shadow to Holly's burdensome, nosy parker idealism.
"...the dark side of his being, his sinister shadow…represents the true spirit of life as against the arid scholar."  - C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
 3. Andy Serkis as Gollum - Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Gollum is the end product of spending too much time in the crack den that is wearing the ring and entering that other realm, the gradual lessening of worldly faculties at the great enhancement of the other. Frodo must access Gollum's use of the secret routes through the mountain of Mordor, but not become a Gollum himself. In other words, he must train his darker self to get the light through to its completed task without going overboard and letting himself be subsumed all the way, like...

 4. Peter Parker as Dark Spidey - Spiderman 3 (2007)
I hated the first two Spidermans but like the third, mainly because it redresses the problem of Tobey Maguire's sad sack "I'm too busy meddling in New York's crime world to pay my rent, but I'm really trying!" wussiness as Peter Parker. I can't abide his tourist-like wally wannabe hangdog malarkey in the first two films, not to mention his cop-out refusal to kiss Mary Jane at the end. What a pisher! But all the balls Parker was holding underwater come bouncing up when black alien goo affixes itself to him in the 3rd go-round. Suddenly he's not afraid to stand up for himself and expose Topher Grace's photoshopped attempts to steal his job at the Daily Bugle, or to strut down the street wowing the girls who pass him in all directions, and to order around the landlord's lovestruck daughter like a personal maid.

Of course as Manson once sang old ego is a too much thing. His ego comes in and overdoes it and Parker ends up becoming like a grandiose coked-up Spider Hyde, but at least, by the end--thanks to his own encounter with the shadow and its eventually balanced incorporation into his psyche--he's able to stop blaming criminals and landlords for his namby pambiness and in forgiving the world, he forgives himself, and we're finally left with a real hero.

5. Owen Wilson as Hansel in Zoolander (2001)
As Hansel, Owen Wilson is not really a shadow in a negative sense, but he represents the aspects of self Zoolander really needs to absorb, like the ability to turn foes into bros, and to see the world as warm and inviting instead of as merely a vehicle for the endless deluge of adoration that keeps Zoolander's hungry ghost nose ever troughside. In short Hansel is an anti-shadow, representing the easygoing compassion Zoolander's ego has kicked to the cellar over the years.

 If we study this in relation to Lily in The Black Swan, we're left with the story of an artist's evolution--perhaps the inverse of a superhero-- as aspects of suppressed altruism and tactile extroversion are allowed to open up a closed-off narcissist with the result he's less worried about people's perceptions of him and more genuinely concerned about others' welfare. To do that you got to get humble. Lordy, it's hard. Druggy tea helps.
"Jung says that if we could fully meet our Shadow, we would be immune to all any moral or verbal insinuations. We would already have seen this for ourselves. Finding this sort of transformation to a state beyond guilt is a task for the hero/ine who has the strength to descend into the underworld and wrestle dark creatures." - Tony Crisp  (Archetype of the Shadow)
6. Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden - Fight Club (1999)

From  (Masculinity and Self-Annihilation. )The quest for liberation seldom extends beyond that liberation, and this is why revolutions so quickly turn into dictatorships, and the joy of Saturday night’s ecstasy turns into Tuesday’s deep depression, and the girl you love to party with turns out to be destructively bi-polar. Norton tries to halt Tyler’s spread of malice, but it is too late; you can't blind yourself twice, you can only try to 'double see'.

7. Rutger Hauer as Wulfgar - Nighthawks (1981)
A terrorist in the 1970s mold ala The Baader-Meinhof Complex and Carlos, one can draw a line in the masculine psyche sand from Hansel's transcendental bliss to Tyler's liberation of the civilized man from staleness to violence, to Wulfgar's freewheeling Thugee-ish super-terrorist. His famous line to Sly Stallone's cool cop is "We're not heroes, we're victims!"

The shadow Wulfgar represents posits an alternative to complacency in the face of corrupt leaders' genocide and oppression in far-off regions while the population grumbles but does nothing to stop it. The terrorist mentality is one of nomadic quid pro quo, so violence done against the Arab people in Palestine is retaliated for by random bombings in NYC ten years later. Wulfgar  treats 'this world' like a dream - who cares, Holly, if some of those ants down there stop moving? Or as he says to a guy right before he shoots him point blank with a Mac-10, "You're going to a better life." The cops must move towards the reverse, making the worse life stick around -- the larger picture can't matter, they support 'this life' for better or worse--and in the end, wrongs and rights cancel themselves out and leave only Disney left standing where once beautiful Times Square filth did thrive.

8. Bela Lugosi -- The Wolf Man (1941)
A metaphor for our young country's anxiety about our seemingly inevitable intrusion to Nazi-occupied Europe, The Wolfman shares a main character with The Third Man: Larry Talbot is very similar to Holly Martin. Like Holly, Larry gets in over his head with his distinctly American self-righteous naivete. But then Talbot goes farther than Holly, becoming a killing machine, starting with the old gypsy's werewolf son Bela (Lugosi) and since in the process he's bitten, Talbot ends up inheriting the curse. In other words, Bela is the shadow Larry incorporates all too well; he gives this new animal force its own time slot --nights of the full moon--to run amok, and lets Larry pick up the pieces.

Released a year before Pearl Harbor, The Wolf Man reflects the anxieties of a country determined not to waste its boys' lives in any more war-torn European quagmires. In other words, we in the US were Talbot and Lugosi was the Axis, Evelyn Ankers the innocent populations of free Europe. In killing the guy who tried to take over the world we are now forced to take it over in his place. We become the inheritors of the global house keys by default, as well as the full moon madness of heavy power.

Talbot's main flaw as a person is that he's thick-headed and presumes the world runs how he was taught it should in schoolbooks, and that Evelyn Ankers must fall in love with him because he's chosen her... and his dad owns everything in town. The wolfman self represents the logical end point of that attitude: the date rapist or Mai Lai massacre-maker (or that amok nut in Afghanistan). As the conquering white male we have been led to expect a world waiting to embrace us unconditionally. When it doesn't happen all we can think of is the world must be insane, so we can take from it whatever we want. Let the Larry of tomorrow morning pick up the pieces! Rrroaaarrr!

9. Maria Montez - Cobra Woman (1944)

The evil twin is a reliable marker for 'the shadow' in Jungian archetypal psychology, but through the fractured lens of Hollywood's pre-PC 'exotica' mill, the twins (both played by Maria Montez) become a swirling, intoxicating spectacularly colorful miscegenation fantasia. The good twin, Tollea, is about to be married to a bland honky seaman with the deceptively 'native' name of Ramu (Huntz Hall). We first see her innocently getting ready for her wedding under the watchful eye of the British consulate, and then she's kidnapped... by Lon Chaney Jr.!

Ramu too will have his evil shadow too, in the form of Martok (Edgar Barrier) the sinister counsel to evil cobra princess Naja. Ramu even subdues Martok and changes clothes with him, cementing their link. As this is all occurring under the draconian misogyny of the code, both Naja and Tollea seem incapable of thinking for themselves without male guidance, but the main difference is that Tollea is part of a happily 'civilized', i.e. colonial present, with loving old British consuls fussing over her trousseau, while Naja represents the threat of the unassimilated Other, the shadow of the Commonwealth. Her violent sacrificial ways are a link to the Thugees (Gunga Din), Fu Manchu, and countless other savage 'yellow' or 'brown' or 'black' menaces that served in the era's pop culture as both villains and justifications for British subjugation. We might recall that Mel Gibson even justifies Spanish conquistador subjugation of the Mayans this way in Apocalypto. 

 10. Josh Brolin as Trupo - American Gangster (2007)

Though he's presented as the film's only real bad guy--a dirty cop compared to the 'clean' one played by Russel Crowe and an amoral, greedy thug compared to the upstanding citizen drug kingpin played by Denzel--it's hard to not root for Trupo just because he alone seems to have some genuine moral complexity, and balls. When we see, for example, Crowe counting out hundreds of thousands of drug money dollars he found in an abandoned vehicle and is now about to impound in evidence, we feel the contempt of the cops looking on who would have loved to just pocket the cash and forget all about its origin, and why not? Meanwhile the whole idea of the war on drugs is a farce anyhow, so it's hard to root against cops taking a cut to look the other way. Is it the dealer's fault if kids get shot in the process of cops launching an armed attack on their innocent heroin and crack processing tenement room? Personally I don't think so. Brolin's character may be evil but at least he has archetypal resonance and appreciates the value of a dirty dollar. (see "A Well-Tempered Potier")

11. Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan - Touch of Evil (1958)
 To understand this shadow one need only look at the goofball "Mexican" political policeman (Chuck Heston) in Touch of Evil vs. the corrupt and corpulent Welles. Here Heston has a hot Janet Leigh on his arm and the best this 'Mexican' can do is send her off to some remote hotel alone to be terrorized, as she'd later be in Psycho. He can neither focus on his case--calling her every five minutes, petulantly saying "I'd like to be able to take care of my wife in my own country!"--nor sexually satisfy Leigh, instead using every excuse in his book to avoid the terror of her sultry negligee languor.

Quinlan, on the other hand, has bulldog focus, sensing through his game leg the weird gay frisson of Vargas' avoidance of his sexual responsibility ("where's your wife, Vargas?") and actually getting things done, even if it's through cheating. His eventual destruction leaves Vargas in the position of having killed a cop, and being forced to realize that Quinlan's hunch was right, the kid really did plant that bomb.

And it never dawns on Vargas that if his wife should be killed or successfully railroaded for murder and drugs then his love of law and order might seriously be questioned and he'd go all Dirty Harry on them much the way Quinlan has (his own wife having been strangled years ago, no doubt triggering the beginning of his rule-bending corruption). Once Chuck finally realizes his bride is missing he storms the Grandy bar, shouting "I'm not a cop anymore I'm a husband!" and trashing the joint. Vargas is too thick-skulled to see that his rage over his missing wife essentially turns him into Quinlan, a once-honorable cop who's spent decades in that bar-trashing state, still making sure no one else gets off on technicalities like the strangler of his wife did.

She was strangled, Pete. 

 12.  Scar - The Lion King (1994)
"Scar could be considered Simba's Shadow Archetype in Jungian terms: he is an adult with young Simba's headstrong and cocky nature and immature understanding of what being king means ("I'm the king, I can do whatever I want"). The plot is only solved when Simba defeats Scar, removing from himself his childishness." - TV Tropes
Yikes, that Scar one hit a little too close to home! I'm out. My shadow is capped, you hear? CAPPED!


  1. I've been following this archetypes list, and I glad you finally got to the Shadow! Been waiting for it.
    Thanks for giving some good examples too. Definitely gonna go to the depths myself after watching some of these films.

  2. Great series! The other examples of shadows are textbook cases, but the one that impressed me was Quinlan in TOUCH OF EVIL. I never thought of Quinlan as Vargas' shadow but you lay out an intriguing case for that reading.

  3. Owen wilson could represent what is called the Golden Shadow, positive traits that aren't integrated into the ego.

  4. Abby as Owen's shadow in Let Me In. (Eli is not Oskar's shadow in Let The Right One In.)


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