Thoughts On: Amélie - The Crystaltype


Amélie - The Crystaltype

Thoughts On: Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, 2001)

A discussion around the movie and the construction of character.

One of the most beautiful things about art is the fact that it can capture a mode of being, contrive a person and a character, that is simultaneously infinite and singular, that is potential and is a moulded idol. Great characters, our favourite characters - one of mine is Amélie - are just this; they are human and they are pawns. They transcend both ourselves as a sloppy, confused and lost beings, stuck within ourselves with too much potential and not enough capacity, as well as themselves as idols and ego-projections meant only to massage our shortcomings and basic desires. Great characters are not human like you and me, but nor are they subservient to our humanity.

What seems to make me me and you you is our position in both space and time. We are bodies in one certain state. Because we exist in the physical world, there is a continuity in our being - we can come to see this as 'the self'. But, because we also exist in time, our mode of being is in constant flux; the persona emerges. Thus, the self is not just who we are, but the part of us that is preserved as who we are changes over hours, days, months, years and decades. You are that little piece of you that has always been apart of you and will continue to be apart of you until you are not only gone off of this earth, but pass from all memory.

Characters on film exist in space and time. However, their space and time is not infinite like ours. As a result, they can only ever be so much, and they can only ever change so much. They can only be what is put on screen, and they can only change over the course of a run-time. This is somewhat true with real people who are not ourselves; we know them only from what we see of them and for as long as we know of them. Ourselves, however... we have been there for and seen almost every moment of our being; our conception of self is incredibly deep, transcendent of the infinite space around us and the infinite time around us because we also recognise the infinite depth within us; we know our mind. Other humans have minds, we tell ourselves this--we try to as a means of getting along with them and moving forward in life. Characters don't necessarily have minds.

There is a fallacy about much of film criticism whereby we talk about characters as if they are human; as if they are free of us and we recognise their humanity. But, how easy this is to do with even the real people around us is debatable. There then emerges a Lacanian philosophy of character, one that suggests that what is on the screen is only a reflection of ourselves. This perspective bears much truth; the humanity we assign to characters is very much so us walking in their shoes, seeing them as ourselves, their humanity as, in fact, just an appropriation of ours. There is something crucial missing from this theory, however, and that pertains to the fact that we are in infinite space and time and feel that we also have infinite depth within us. If we do not know ourselves completely, and always have the potential to surprise our past self with how much we change in the future, then how can our reflections be just reflections? Do they not bear some of this potential too? Humanity is inclined to think of itself and that around it as inexacerbatable potential. Because characters are very much so a reflection of ourselves, they then do take on their own autonomy to a good degree; we assign to them what we assign to ourselves: potential. And thus characters seem to have a free will, a gift of the spectator who believes they have free will themselves, or, at the very least, some autonomy and much potential.

So, whilst characters are on screen, trapped in finite space and time, they also have limited access to the vaults of our potential. They can then awaken within us emotions and ideas that we would not have been able to access without them. And much of this is a consequence of the fact that characters are a construct of another human being. To follow this thought, in many ways, we may just be seeing through characters - through the medium of film - and communicating directly with the humanity of a filmmaker. However, there still remains the fact that all humans have potential that human constructs - films, characters - inherit. And so not only do characters have an autonomy and potential given to them by the spectator, but they also gain something from the filmmaker. From the communication between the spectator and filmmaker through character comes even more potential on top of this. This is why characters and art in general bear a transcendent quality. If humans can feel the presence of the transcendent, then we can and will assign it to our greatest constructs; and story and character are certainly some of the greatest human constructs.

Who, then, are characters? They are what we desire, they are created, they are a construct, a reflection, but simultaneously somewhat autonomous and transcendent of ourselves and their creators. Characters, great characters in particular, characters that evoke the most complex of emotions and thoughts within us, are crystaltypes.

The crystaltype is the archetype manifest; it is the plastic conceptual human. Jung deals with archetypes as mental projections, as incredibly close to conceptions of self and psychological being. Archetypes seem to be trapped in the mind. Archetypes also exist between ourselves and art. Some characters in films, for example, are shells for an idea that we provide - that idea is archetypal and they are archetypes. Archetypes are medium-level-complexity constructs of cinema. We have discussed elsewhere that impressionism can manifest archetypes. However, impressionism's limits exceed the archetype. Beyond the archetypes subjective and objective impressionism can construct are 'symbols' and 'characters':

We have previously described 'characters' in this context as having the illusion of humanity and autonomy due to their complexity. We can describe characters of this sort now as 'crystaltypes'. In being archetypes manifest, crystaltypes, great characters such as Amélie, walk around a finite space and in a finite time endowed with great potential by the spectator and filmmaker who creates them. They are then very much so contrived objects without autonomy and real potential - they are solidified in their capacity - but are solidified in such a way that they become crystals; intricate, precious constructs that reflect humanity and thus bear a transcendent quality.

Whilst the archetype is a shell, the cystaltype is a precious stone - caricatures may as well be plastic figurines. Understanding great characters as crystaltypes begins to clarify their position in art as simultaneously subservient to our desires and also out of our hands, too precious to call our own and a projection of us alone. To love someone, to believe you are in love with another, is to perceive them as both idol (a crystal object) and subjective, individual, conscious human. The idol you bear of those you love - your mother, sister, brother, father, wife, husband - is bound to the archetype. To perceive them as only the archetype, Jung may suggest, is an indication of un-individuation. To perceive them correctly, as an individuated human, requires an acceptance of their subjective being, free of our ego and desires. However, growing up and individuating doesn't mean we lose a mother, a father, brother, etc. In my view, philosophies of complete disembodiment, of entirely relinquishing desire and possession, would inform such a faulted view as this. To grow up doesn't mean we are to let go of archetypes entirely. I would question if this is even possible, to not see our mother as a mother, to see our wife as just another human and so free to operate as a stranger to us may. To grow up is to see their humanity and archetypal role merge, which leads to the creation of the crystaltype.

The human crystaltype and the fictional crystaltype are incredibly different, but are built in a similar way; archetypal role meets individual humanity. What separates character from human is the act of creation. Human-to-human relations are relations between two true selves, we create and project our own images. Human-to-character relations are relations between ourselves and the screen as a one way mirror with a filmmaker projecting behind it. Characters cannot create themselves, they are created via committee and art as communication. As a result, the crystaltype character is far more solid and unchanging than a human, they are confined to finite space and time and have limited potential: just as much as we and their maker can manage to give them. Nonetheless they can shine with transcendent meaning, and such a quality is what we describe when we label certain cinematic constructs 'great characters'.

I have discussed the intricacies of what builds Amélie into a great character previously and so won't provide this analysis again. However, for the fact that she operates as both archetype and character, object and subject, makes her a crystaltype. But, with Amélie as a crystaltype I hold close, I'll leave things with you. What are your favourite characters? What makes them crystaltypes?

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