At work tonight, I was reading the book Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film by Eric G. Wilson. The author is insightful and this book has more depth than most books about movies. He talks about many of my favorite movies. One of them is Altered States and it got me thinking. There are some other movies with very similar themes: The Fountain, What Dreams May Come, and The Mothman Prophecies.
The most general similarity is that the protagonists are men in a position of authority but a specific kind of authority. They are men of knowledge and in 3 of the movies its scientific knowledge. These characters are heroes but not the traditional hero type.
These movies are balanced by female characters who are of central importance to the protagonists’s motivation. The women add conflict, but they also offer the protagonist an alternative. They are obvious anima figures that represent potential balance.
Another similarity is that these movies are about the supernatural. The main aspect of this involves themes of life and death. In 3 of the movies, its the leading female’s death that inspires the protagonist’s obsessive seeking. The women represent a different way of dealing with life and death. Related to life and death, there is strong use of plants as symbols. In 3 of the movies, tree symbolism is central. In 2 of the movies, the protagonist is studying a plant chemical.
There is one other important character type. The protagonist has some person who acts as a mentor/friend. This person helps the main character in his transformation or otherwise acts as a balancing force. This person might even go part way with the protagonist on his journey, even act as a guide. In some ways, this character bridges the distance between the protagonist and his anima figure. This character has something to teach the protagonist. He/she knows something about the supernatural or at least has some spiritual insight.
In Altered States, the mentor and friend are separate characters. The friend is completely rational, but it is a shaman who offers the protagonist his first insight to that which is beyond the rational. So, the closest to a mentor is a threshold guardian. There is also a shaman-like character in The Fountain who is a threshold guardian Both of these are guardians of the sacred plant.
There is a final element I’ll bring up. These movies are about dualities: male/female, life/death, supernatural/science, rational/non-rational, human/non-human, primitive/civilized, willpower/acceptance, etc. All of these dualites are closely connected.
The protagonist represents one end of the dualities. He is a man playing an important role of civilization: doctor, scientist, researcher, journalist. He is fighting against death and trying to rationally make sense of the supernatural. He is unwilling to give up and accept defeat. So, this leaves the other end of the dualities outside of him. The women character is the most opposite to the protagonist, but in some ways she represents a less clear distinction between the dualities. The whole dualistic viewpoint is that of the protagonist. His either/or thinking is his central conflict.
This blog has been started as two different threads:
Community Film Picks (zFilms) Group
God Pod or Life, the Universe and Everything
Re: Man the Seeker, Woman the Anima
1Vector3 said Oct 15, 2008, 7:55 PM:
|A fabuously rich and insightful addition here, Marmalade. Worth studying !!!
Does The Fisher King fit this pattern? I don’t remember it that well…..
Is that the one where he is a doctor of elderly? handicapped? No, that was another Robin Williams role…..
Just trying to come up with other examples of the pattern…
Blessings, OM Bastet
Re: Man the Seeker, Woman the Anima
Marmalade said Oct 16, 2008, 1:35 AM:
|I’m sure Robin Williams has played a doctor role in more than one movie. I’m not sure which one you’re thinking of.
There are probably other examples of the pattern. But at the moment I can’t think of any.
Two of these movies (Altered States and The Fountain) are about mad scientist types. The difference with The Fountain is that he is obsessed with science because of his love for his wife. Altered States fits the more typical mad scientist. There are plenty of movies about mad scientists.
The basic theme of these movies is the relationship (and conflict) between knowledge and love. In MBTI terms, this mostly has to do with the functions of Thinking and Feeling… especially considering the gender angle. So, going by that basic theme, many more similar movies could be included.