Projection & Possession - What Is Photogénie?

Thoughts On: Cinema, Archetypes, Projection & Possession

An analysis of positive and negative uses of character archetypes.

As we have been intermittently doing for quite some time now, we are going to delve into some film theory through the ideas of Carl Jung. The idea, or set of ideas, we will be using in this post concerns being possessed by one's archetypes, and the central question is quite simply: What is the difference between being possessed by one's archetypes and unconsciously accessing their depths?

To begin, I shall give a brief introduction to archetypes themselves. Jung uses this term to describe primordial images or imagos; concepts developed in our biologically, culturally and psychologically early or pre-history that represent ourselves and other conscious bodies in our world. The archetypes are idols inherently embedded in our consciousness that we use to categorise and interact with the world as a set of universal forces. For Jung, there were an unlimited number of archetypes, but four central ones: the anima/animus, self, persona and shadow. These four archetypes form a cross of sorts. Pointing downwards is the shadow as it represents, put simply, the dark side of the mind. Pointing upwards is the self, which must be cultivated, and it represents who we can be if whole and unified. Pointing left and right are the anima/animus and persona. These are representations of female and male respectively and representations of ourselves as we would like others to see us. These are archetypes as Jung believes that everyone has these idea structures embedded within them, no matter where or when they were born or how they were raised. Moreover, they are so central because they dictate behaviour on a personal and collective level to the highest degree and with the greatest intensity. One could also suggest that these idea structures are most difficult to integrate into a unity, thus producing a self. Other archetypes include the wise old man, the trickster, the child, the mother, the father, etc. These are less central in the unconscious mind as they are more direct representations of exterior functions and so can be embodied by people we may come into contact with. Unlike the anima, shadow, self or persona, we can then meet and talk to what we believe is our mother, child, trickster or wise old man archetype. Nonetheless, they serve a similar purpose to the more central archetypes as they are fundamental idea structures in the form of ideal images.

Whilst the archetypes are central to the human psyche, and so one may suggest humanity itself, Jung is highly weary about their manifestations around the individual via projection or possession. That is to say, when one allows, for example, their animus, the male part of their psyche, to take the central place in the mind and rule over all functions, something has gone wrong. Likewise, when an individual projects their idea of the ideal man, their animus, onto another individual, something has also gone wrong. The archetypes seem to function best when they remain images in the mind by virtue of the fact that, though they are simplifications of the world, they are dexterous, malleable and imbued with potential when preserved in the fluids of unconsciousness. When the archetypes are extracted from their place in the psyche, that is projected onto other individuals, they turn to stone. Likewise, when an archetype that is not the self (which is essentially an assimilation of all archetypes and thought structures) takes hold of the psyche, possesses it, the mind too turns to stone. One can think of this process as akin to Perseus' confrontation of the mortal Gorgan Medusa.

In the Greek myth, as it has descended through time, Medusa was first a beautiful, though vain woman, possessed by her own beauty and the image of her hair. She was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. What this means is difficult to say. Poseidon was an amalgamation of three central ideas; he was the god of the sea, of earthquakes and of horses. The sea is generally thought to be an embodiment of the unconscious mind itself. Thus, Poseidon was the god of earthly unconsciousness - Hades was ruler of the dark underworld, the world of shadows, and Zeus was the god of the firmament, the higher self. Poseidon also embodied the rage of the earth below people; he ruled earthquakes and so the devastating change they forced upon the ground beneath people's feet; this was, arguably, his link to, and how he linked humans to, Hades, who existed deep below the earth. Furthermore, he embodied freedom via the horse, a freedom that was itself conscious and captured, alas friend to man in that the horse can be rode by a person. (Notably, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus each had symbolic horses attached to their presence). Poseidon more generally seems to be a ruler of some of man's unconscious urges, those connected to nature, its expanse, its destruction and its freedom. With her vanity, Medusa seemingly calls Poseidon to her. Taken literally, this appears to be a highly misogynist statement that implies, because she was beautiful, she was asking to be raped, but, in the confines of ancient mythology, this idea is one that is recurrent and more complex. Just like Persephone, goddess of the underworld and Hades' captor, had her virtues nestled in her power and strength, Medusa has her virtues in her beauty. And just like Persephone had a negative element to her character, she hid away from the other gods with her mother who kept her from being with the male gods, so does Medusa with her vanity, which functioned in a manner to keep men away from, yet yearning to be with, her. The rape of Medusa by Poseidon, much like the abduction and rape of Persephone by Hades, seemingly reflects the dark element of male gods; Hades, ruler of shadow, Poseidon, ruler of unconsciousness, ensnaring women and taking from them what they hide and imprisoning them in what they repress. Thus, the shadow arises from under the virtuous and pure Persephone, taking her from her protective mother, and, in essence, possessing her. Persephone, stripped of her mother and purity, becomes the female counterpart to the shadow, known for her formidable presence. In parallel to this, Medusa, stripped of her beauty, becomes chthoic and daunting, too. Her beauty, which signifies her to be a higher, self-conscious being, is reversed, and she becomes a shadow of her high and consciousness self. Much like the pure Persephone is possessed by that which she repressed, her shadow, so is Medusa; she is taken by the dark side of nature, and brought down into a lower place of consciousness by not only becoming a snake of sorts, a reptile of conniving and dark symbology, but repulsive.

Medusa's move away from self-consciousness and vanity down to unconscious hatred is catalysed by Athena, goddess of war, handicraft and wisdom. Interestingly, whilst said male gods represent typically female elements, Poseidon nature and the ocean, Athena embodies typically masculine attributes in war, wisdom and handicraft. Maybe this is a process by which masculine was embedded in feminine, feminine in masculine, by the Greeks causing men to associate the anima with Logos and women the animus with Eros and vice versa, but, I digress. With Athena essentially punishing Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon, she is punishing her for being an incomplete and faulted individual; she used her consciousness for benign purposes (self-worship) as opposed to formulating a family and integrating into the masculine component of the world. Zeus punishes Persephone in a very similar manner by permitting Hades to abduct her. However, what occurs to the punished females is, in part, ironic: they become far more powerful (though, no more complete or happier). This power, Medusa's ability to turn men into stone, Persephone's rule of the underworld, simultaneously marks a significant character arc away from an initial, incomplete state as well as a literal possession of one's own archetypes. Medusa then becomes her persona, Persephone her shadow. This does not free them, nor does it make them entirely whole. Instead, they become archetypes themselves: female tricksters you may suggest. Medusa is then equal parts magnetic and repulsive before and after her transformation; she draws men with her beauty, but sends them away out of vanity as a human and draws men with her monstrous nature, but repels them with her stare as a Gorgon. The change that occurs is that her conscious magnetism becomes unconscious; the beauty she cultivates and is well aware of becomes monstrosity that, whilst it remains out of her control, draws men to her to be conquered. In parallel to this, Medusa's unconscious repulsion, her self-obsession becomes conscious; she chooses to destroy the hearts of men not because she is blind to them as she was as a self-obsessed human, but because she can turn her gaze onto them as a Gorgon. This punishment as given by Athena is not a simple penalty as Medusa is transformed from a victim into an oppressor. As a result, she becomes a literalised and emphasised version of her previous self; not necessarily condemned, but turned into an (dark) idol of her previous self. Athena then takes an embodiment of the evils of men, a girl who is raped, and turns her into a slayer of men; she does not change positively, but she does achieve some sub-form of apotheosis in serving the gods and implementing their wrath. Thus, the goddess of wisdom sees a vain maiden transformed into her subconscious, destructive persona as to punish any man who would dare to try and conquer her. The incomplete female becomes a deadly trap for the incomplete man.

This brings us to the Perseus myth. Polydectes was the king of the island upon which Perseus lived with his mother, Danaë. The king had fallen in love with Perseus' mother, but Perseus didn't like him, so he protected his mother from him. The king had to then devise a plan if he were to gain access to her. He threw a party to which guests had to bring a gift; a horse for Hippodamia, a queen who was known as the tamer of horses (in other words, she who transforms unbridled freedom into freedom that a man can control and utilise). Perseus did not have a horse and so, having turned up to the party empty-handed, promised to give the king whatever gift he desired. Polydectes desired the head of a Gorgon. With this, the king asks Perseus to decapitate a negative anima, Medusa. In turn, Perseus is put on a quest to prove that he is not possessed by his mother - that allegedly being the reason why he keeps her from the king, who has fallen for her. That is to say, consciously or not, the king sends Perseus on this journey as a way of testing his relationship with females and questioning if he is in the grips of an Oedipal mother-son relationship. So, to prove he is not coddling his mother, unreasonably keeping her pure image from desecration at the hands of another man, Perseus confronts the deadly vain female. He in turn confronts she who turns the hearts of men into stone. Translated into psychological terms, he confronts an archetype that threatens to possess him, to turn his psyche into something unchanging and non-functional. In defeating Medusa, in taking control of her gaze, Perseus overcomes possible possession. He does this by using weapons of the gods, a sword and shield from Athena and Zeus, a cloak from Hades and sandals from Hermes. He then gains the ability to protect himself from she who is wise and destructive; he gains the ability to slay from he who is wise, who looks down from the sky; he gains to ability to hide from the shadow; and he gains the ability to fly from the trickster. Each of these gifts then imply an individuation process, Perseus becoming a complete individual by assimilating into his self multiple forces and personas. He completes part of this cycle by defeating Medusa. And what springs from her is the Pegasus, which is what she was impregnated with by Poseidon; nestled in Medusa by becoming possessed was what she likely sought, but, in the eyes of the gods, misused, all along: freedom. Perseus lets loose this freedom, a horse, which, ironically is the symbol that sent him on his quest all along. As a result, he allows self-autonomy to emerge from a possessed female; he does this literally for Medusa and symbolically for his mother as he proves that he is not trying to possess her, but protect her from a king who, it turns out, is possessed himself - he projects on to Danaë his archetypes and he uses trickery to attempt to posses her. The most complete version of the Perseus and Gorgon myth, in my view, then concludes with Polydectes opening the satchel holding Medusa's head and being turned to stone himself.

The Perseus myth provides an expressive exemplar of what archetype possession and projection then are as it essentially breaks a cycle of animas being forced upon women and, in turn, destroying men. We shall need to keep this allegory at hand as we go on to discuss the phenomena of projection and possession in cinematic stories. So, let us then take a step away Greek mythology and towards a cinema of sexploitation.

Around the late 50s, there exploded a pornographic cinema of powerful women, pathetic men, nudity, crass humour and absurdity. The cinema of Russ Meyer is arguably the foundation of this wider body of films. Films of his such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and The Immoral Mr. Teas are then the embodiment of a filmmaker being turned to stone by Medusa. Such remains true with exploitation films that are descendent of Meyer's cinema; films like Slashdance, Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity, 1977's Cinderella and more. What these films so often represent to the highest possible degree, is a filmmaker that is possessed by his archetypes, his anima most commonly, projecting them through a lens of a cinematic story. In these stories, female is impure yet all-powerful whilst men are pitiful and weak. Nonetheless, under the control of the dominatrix that is male sexuality itself, men find pathetic pleasure in ogling at the female form in its impure and powerful glory. They stare into the eyes of Medusa and find bliss in being turned to stone. Whilst this cannot be more true in regards to films such as The Immoral Mr. Teas and Faster, Pussycat!, it can be seen to some degree in less exploitative, more mainstream and less absurd cinemas. Here we quickly come upon the realm of the mainstream 'male gaze'. If one takes a film such as Flashdance from 1983, they will find a movie that has the pretence of being about empowered females, but, in large part, plays out just like a sexploitation film with females serving the role of embodied anima, impure and powerful, the holder of the serpent gaze, but not yet a Gorgon, instead, just the victim of Poseidon's rape. A film such as Flashdance clearly conforms to feminist criticisms of cinema concerning scopophilia, the male gaze and castration. Alas, I am not a fan of terminology such as the 'male gaze' as it is inarticulate to a rather reprehensible degree. Where one may say that an individual is possessed by their anima, many choose to say that a male gaze is simply cast; that man is inherently oppressive and, just by looking and having his look satisfied, something troubling is occurring. There is nothing inherently corrupt about male or female, however, conceptions of what is male and what is female are all too easily corrupted. This is what we see in Meyer-esque exploitation films and those who exist in its shadow.

We have come upon this subject matter before in a post in which I provide an alternative to a theory of the male gaze with a theory of objective and subjective impressionism. However, whilst I dealt with films that are primarily mischaracterised by the too-simple theory there, with reference to Jung and possession, it becomes clear where I agree with the theory despite its inarticulations. But, it is from this point that we can continue to further question where the theory of the male gaze can (if it should ever) be applied, and where it maybe should not.

Embedded in the theory of objective and subjective impressionism is the idea that people are simultaneously object and subject, individual and idol - in fact, this may be the very heart of the theory and a primary criticism of a theory of 'visual pleasure' that does not account for this. It is then in my estimation that a viewer can all too easily confuse the representation of archetype with archetype possession. And this is quite an alluring trap as it takes a kind of embodiment for a filmmaker to project an archetype into a cinematic space. However, there is obviously a difference between embodiment and possession, between a filmmaker representing an anima or a shadow on screen and being possess by it. If one, for example, looks to a film such as No Country For Old Men they will see an astounding projection of the shadow in Anton Chigurh. The shadow is used in this film to do great evil. However, evil does not possess the story; it is not its primary function to be amoral. If one looks to a more difficult example, they can turn to a film such as Irreversible or Salo. In both of these films the shadow is centralised, which is to say, immorality is the focus of a narrative in which great evil seems to preside over all things. However, I would not suggest that either film is the product of possession. I do not think that Salo is a particularly articulate or purposeful film, but Irreversible certainly has some substance to it because it generates photogénie.

Photogénie is an idea of filmmaker and theorist Jean Epstein and is profound, but simple:
What is photogénie? I would describe as photogenic any aspect of things, beings or souls whose moral character is enhanced by filmic reproduction. And any aspect not enhanced by filmic reproduction is not photogenic, plays no part in the art of cinema.
Photogénie is a shot, or rather, it presides over a shot that morally enhances its subject matter. With photogénie, an object or subject is assigned meaning that calls out to a viewer. So, though Irreversible is a film that contains an almost unending rape scene that bears no photogénie, its final shots are highly photogenic - and by virtue of the extended rape scene. It is then with the conclusion of Irreversible that time is shown to destroy everything; and in juxtaposition to the rape, it is directly implied that the rape will be destroyed by the flow of time and, in turn, will give way to a brighter spark of life: a baby. The images that carry this meaning are photogenic and so the film proves itself to not be possessed by its archetypes, instead, it holds in its hand the head of Medusa having released Pegasus.

And such is the function of films that exist close to possession: they are the ones who most clearly come to hold the head of Medusa and who best free the Pegasus, providing an example of artistic freedom being used for substantial good. Meyer-esque sexploitation films open the satchel holding Medusa's head and become stone, they do not free a Pegasus; they are possessed.

It is with photoénie that we have a tool with which we can distinguish the possessed narrative from the narrative that embodies and uses archetypes. If a film is, in total, photogenic, is morally enhancing in some way shape or form, then I do not believe that it can be possessed. Functional and positive morality is a function bound to the complete and whole self. To perceive morality is to perceive the truths of the self and in turn one can trust that, though archetypes are present, they are integrated into a higher system that we call the self. Translated into cinematic terms, if a narrative can become whole and meaningful by virtue of its archetypes, it is an infallible one (infallible as films, which can never be perfect, can be).

To provide one more example, I have to turn to the cinema of Satyajit Ray. It is Ray who has captured, in my opinion, some of the most profoundly affective photogénie upon the face of Madhabi Mukherjee - in, in particular, Mahanagar and Charulata.

These two films are quintessential examples of photogenic narratives as they operate with a key visual philosophy: The sovereign individual is an idol. This philosophy emerges through Ray's treatment of Mukherjee's image and character. In both Mahanagar and Charulata, the wife character played by Mukherjee, is trapped by the confines of the wife and mother archetype. That is to say that she understands the duties of both mother and wife, but seeks more and, at the same time, is not necessarily recognised as a whole individual transcendent of the archetypes she imitates. However, mechanisms of freedom are presented to her through work and writing; it is by working and dressing for work as well as writing and interacting with another writer that she develops as an individual, confronting her fears, playing multiple roles beyond a singular persona and expressing her developing self. We recognise this with Ray's close-ups of her face and eyes in particular. And in this process of filming, Ray constructs a 'crystaltype', which is to say, he makes an idol and an individual out of Mukherjee's image and character. This character and image are not purely individual as they are not free from archetype projection, but it is nonetheless through projection that they shine individual humanity. And so Mukherjee's individual is two-fold, both masked by duty and archetypal cordiality whilst exuding truths of the intimate self. Photogénie in such circumstances mediates between archetype and individual, archetype embodiment and projection and self expression, but is not so simple as to be a product of possession.

To move towards a conclusion, we can proffer an answer to our initial question. What is the difference between being possessed by one's archetypes and unconsciously accessing their depths? The difference is moral enhancement and the recognition of self via photogénie that produces substantial meaning.

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