Moana

I would be remiss to not write something about Moana. I took my daughter to see this film as a Black Friday celebration. Let’s start with the trailer, then go through some comments, with spoilers of course.

There’s so much to say about this film that I’m still a bit speechless and struggle to gather all of my thoughts in a way that makes sense. The premise of the film is that Maui, trickster god that he is, steals the heart of Tafiti, the Mother Goddess of all life. His reasoning is that if he gives the key to making life to the humans, then they’ll be able to also make life and can prosper. At least he seems like he had some good intentions, right? He’s punished, though. Cast away on a remote island, and separated from his fishhook, which is the magical tool that gives him his god-like power (remember, he’s a demi-god).

As a baby, Moana, the chieftain’s daughter, finds the heart and is clearly blessed by the ocean for something far greater than herself.

What follows is this totally, and perfectly, Campbellian hero’s journey, except that it’s a very feminine journey. Moana isn’t a warrior (one of my peeves about female heroes–do they always have to be a warrior to have a hero’s journey? That’s so lame.), but she’s someone who feels a call to adventure. Her grandmother teaches her to listen to those voices that whisper inside of her, and when her island starts to die, she finally listens to that whisper. Her anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” ranks up there with “Let It Go” for Great Disney Empowerment Anthems. It’s about hearing the Call, and struggling to get to the point where she’ll heed it. The song is reprised throughout the film at key moments when Moana unlocks another aspect of herself, with the final reprise wrapped into the song, “I Am Moana,” which is the moment when, after failing to confront the volcano god, she gains the courage to finish the journey.

And then there’s Maui. Maui is a trickster. He stole fire, raised islands, and many heroic deeds. When we first meet Maui, he literally acts like HE’S the greatest gift to humanity. His song, “You’re Welcome,” sings like the anthem for any dude who thinks that all women should be subservient and thankful for all the things that the male heroes do. But he’s incredibly lonely and doesn’t know how to be a hero without his fishhook. When Moana tells him that he’s no longer a hero to humanity and that the people are suffering, she uses this ego to convince him to go on the journey with her to restore the heart to Tafiti. What he winds up learning along the way is humility, that he’s not all that (and a hook of tricks).

The restoration of Tafiti’s heart can be read as a message of restoring the feminine, taking care of Mother Earth, having respect for the delicate balance of life…whatever flavor you prefer. In light of the rather tumultuous year that 2016 has been, restoring her heart and Tafiti’s forgiveness of Maui is one of the most beautiful, optimistic messages I’ve encountered recently. Everyone learns a little something about themselves.

Moana returns to her people with the boon of knowing how to be a Wayfinder. She reawakens the ancient spirit of her people, who were career adventurers, not domestic farmers. Maui learns new respect for humans and their relationship with the gods. The gods liked that Maui would raise islands with his hook, because it gave the people new places to explore. This was the natural order of things, which got out of balance because Maui took the heart.

My daughter loved the film. She’s just over 4, so she was most scared by the volcano god (of course). She’s started singing the songs and tells everyone that she’s going to Moana’s island (she’s had a Moana doll for about a month now, and she was really excited about seeing the movie). It resonated with the both of us in a strong way.

All I can say is, “Way to go, Disney!” It’s not a perfect adaptation of Polynesian myths, and I’m sure someone will STILL find something wrong with the depiction of Moana. But it is truly a masterpiece of storytelling and animation (Moana has curly hair and Maui has interactive tattoos). I think this is definitely the right story for the right time, much like Frozen was and continues to be. If you want to look at it mythically, the two films go together: one is about listening to the inner voice (Frozen) and the other is about having the courage to let the voice be the guide (Moana).

I leave you with the music video for the celebrity cover of “How Far I’ll Go.” It’s a little too pop for my taste, but it’s worth giving a listen.

Oh, and one last thing: the music was written by the same people who wrote Hamilton. I haven’t seen/heard Hamilton yet, but now I’m totally convinced to give it a try.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Better Late than Never.

My friend, Nikki Faith, asked in response to my last post what I thought about Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Only then did I remember that I started writing an essay about this film in spring 2010, but never finished. My original intent was to get it published somewhere (I was thinking Spring Journal), but since we’re so far removed from the original release, I’ll just post it here.

It should be said from the outset of any kind of review of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, released by Disney in March 2010, that it is not a remake of the Disney animated movie of the same name. Nor is it yet another adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s books. It is conceived to be more of a sequel that begins on the threshold of Alice’s emergence into adulthood at an unexpected engagement party. Alice, overcome with the idea of marrying an English lord, who has terrible digestive problems and an overly, dominating mother, runs into the nearby woods chasing a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat. She crawls under the roots of the tree, following him – a very sensible thing to do – and immediately falls down a dreadfully long tunnel full of debris and finally landing in a room of doors, the threshold to Wonderland. Throughout her journey, she encounters several of Carroll’s more memorable characters, taken from both “Alice” stories, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Initially, she is told that she is the “wrong Alice” or “hardly Alice,” and is only waiting to wake up from this dream. Wonderland becomes her land of unconscious, and her heroic adventure – taken straight from Joseph Campbell – her process of individuation. As ubiquitous as the symbolism has become in American popular culture, Burton’s revisioning recreates the psychic playground to reflect the struggles and torment reflective of the current American climate.

Can an Alice be an Archetype?

There have been several recreations of Alice on the screen, most notably the Disney animated feature of 1951, which cemented the characters into the American mythic landscape. These characters and symbols were also associated with the 1960s counterculture – as noted by the Jefferson Airplane – her constant shrinking and enlargement are handy metaphors for the drug experience. (She does eat mushrooms, after all !)

For all of its bizarreness, Alice’s journey is one of an archetypal hero. She receives her call to adventure following the white rabbit, passes the test of the threshold by passing through the impossibly small door, then undergoes a series of trials and meets many magical helpers from the eternally smiling Cheshire Cat and the beloved Mad Hatter, to name only a couple. She then faces the boon guardian, the Red Queen of Hearts, who, following Disney’s original adaptation, is a combination of two characters in the stories, and her Jabberwocky. Alice escapes the queen in order to return home. Carroll’s journey through the looking glass lacks the accidental fall into the journey and is often ignored in favor of the “Wonderland” symbolism, and many of the characters, such as the wrathful Red Queen and the chess pieces are interwoven. This does alter the stories, creating an Alice mythos that extends beyond the scope of Carroll’s vision.

Alice does not individuate in the stories, which emphasize her curious, playful, childlike nature. Adults pass off her adventure as childish fantasy, and her ability to travel through the looking glass is an extension of the nurturing atmosphere her parents afforded her imagination. Walt Disney’s adaptation emerges during the eras when fantasy life was “relegated to the nursery,” as J.R.R. Tolkien describes. In contemporary American culture, fantasy life sits below the surface of the collective psyche – just below – and it bubbles into conscious life on a regular basis, as evidenced by the successes of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Disneyland, and even the recent Avatar. Fantasy is becoming, increasingly, the culturally-sanctioned outlet for unconscious projection. Adults and children all tune to fantastical elements to act upon their psyche’s desires. Some participate in fantasy communities – from Renaissance festivals to Fantasy football – or play video or LARP games, or watch movies. In all cases, the need is to escape the realities of conscious existence in favor of allowing the unconscious to play. This does have the potential for unhealthy behaviors, such as only living for the video game, and confusing the barriers between the game and everyday life.

C. G. Jung, however, would encourage the fantasy behavior – as long as it is used in a healthy manner. Playing in the psychic playground allows one to tap into the unconscious in ways similar to Active Imagination or sand play techniques help in therapy. The real – REAL – danger, I suggest, isn’t the confusion between reality and fantasy; but, rather, the appropriation of external images into one’s personal internal reality, but that is a discussion of another time.

In Burton’s version, Alice does individuate. She enters Wonderland, technically Underland according to its inhabitants, on the threshold of major personal change and returns ready to take charge of her own life. In Wonderland, she has to regain her “muchness,” the characteristic of her youthful curiosity that fuels her heroic power.

Innocence and Wonderland (Innocence in post-war America versus Burton’s call to arms)

Since September 11th, 2001, any illusion of innocence in America has died, forcing the Dream Makers to scramble within the new paradigm. Arguably, innocence was mainly a cultural illusion to give the image of peace and stability following the two World Wars and the Great Depression. The 1950s are characterized (stereotyped) as sanitized, with the perfect house, the perfect family, and everything was perfectly squeaky-clean. Of course, this image is propagandistic balderdash, but it is into this paradigm that Alice emerges. Now, we are in a new paradigm. As though collectively denying the “War on Terror,” Wonderland is the land of escape. However, Burton’s Wonderland is one fraught with war. Since Alice’s last visit, as an eight-year old young girl, the Red Queen has become the dominant force of Wonderland (or Underland). She has dethroned her sister, the White Queen, and executed a reign of terror on the land that has left forests burned and barren, and the subjects with the fear of displeasing her – in any way at all – because then one would lose one’s head. The Queen’s beheadings are her defense mechanism against the full consciousness reflective of her bulbous head. The beheaded head would become a floating stepping stone in her castle’s moat. The only hope the “Resistance Movement” has – i.e. the supporters of the White Queen and anyone eager for the reign of terror to end – is a prophecy in the Oraculum, “being a columdrial compendium of Underland,” that on Frabjous Day, Alice will rise up as the champion of the White Queen and slay the champion of the Red Queen, the Jabberwocky.

The first problem is in shaping Alice into that champion. When she re-enters Wonderland, she is accustomed to doing what she is told – as a good, English girl should – and is nearly convinced that her fantastical dreams are symptoms for insanity. She is curious, but lacks courage. In a pivotal moment in the film, she chooses to rescue the Mad Hatter from the Red Queen, rather than proceed immediately to the White Queen as she is expected to do. She boldly tells Bayard, the dog helping her in her escape, “From the moment I fell down the rabbit hole, I’ve been told who I must be … I’ll decide who I’ll be from here… I’ll make the path.” She tricks her way into the Queen’s court by pretending to be someone else, rescues the mythical vorpal blade that is destined to slay the Jabberwocky, then escapes with the Queen’s precious Bandersnatch to the White Castle. Though still hesitant to don the armor of the Champion, and still convinced that the entirety of Wonderland is a dream, Alice, nonetheless, develops an affection for the only world that does not perceive her as bonkers.

This is the psychological seduction of the unconscious and of fantasy. Jung dove deeply into his own fantasy/unconscious, as evidenced by the monstrous work of art that is the Red Book. He encouraged his patients to analyze their dreams and engage with art and myth in order to develop a relationship with the unconscious. In doing this, a process he called “individuation,” one could become a fully individual. This does not necessarily mean one would become a unique snowflake in the pool of androgyny (though Jung would encourage that as well, being concerned about collective think, as evidenced in his commentary on the Nazi Party’s involvement across Eastern Europe) but rather undivisable – in-divid-ual – meaning that consciousness and unconsciousness are operating in unison, and not in the opposition that causes psychosis.

Alice was very near this point when she returned to Wonderland. She believed her dreams to be nightmares that recurred nightly for as long as she could remember. She questions her mother on the way to her un-engagement party whether that was normal: shouldn’t people dream different things each night? What she was experiencing were memories. She had completely forgotten Wonderland. She had forgotten her friends and the adventure she had there. Too often, this is the cause of identity crisis. Children are encouraged to leave their fantasy life behind in favor of more adult matters, such as jobs, college, marriage, and even to become a parent someday. “Reality” has no room for fantasy.

Is Wonderland just a Figment of Our Imagination?

This is where I last left off with this essay , so I leave you, dear reader (all two of you) with this question.

The Artist, Hollywood and Change

There are two themes I’ve been returning to in my research these days: Disney and myth-in-transition. The Disney research is paying off; my chair has given his seal of approval on the completed draft. The myth-in-transition question arose as I was writing the dissertation. 2012 is a year full of potential change, and after researching the Cold War for my dissertation, it makes sense that we’ve been in a period of transition that is hopefully reaching its climax. So when a movie comes a long that speaks to this transition, I recommend sitting up and noticing.

The Artist is a film for film buffs, but I’m not going to spend this post describing the film. It’s beautiful, and deserving of all the awards it has won and is sure to win as the cinema award season comes to an end. The two themes that stand out are: finding your voice when it has been taken away from you and coping with transition.

The film is set in the shift from silent film to sound. The main character, George Valentin, found his voice silenced. He was a prominent actor, resembling Douglas Fairbanks, and found himself shut out of the studio because he didn’t want to easily convert to sound. This makes sense. He’s a silent film actor who has made his entire career speaking through his body language. We learn in the last lines of the film that he has a French accent, which is likely part of the reason he is unwilling to convert to sound. His story is not unique to Hollywood’s history. Several actors found themselves unemployed after the switch to sound because they had unpleasant voices for the film technology of the time. Singin’ in the Rain brings this issue to life, with the blonde silent beauty facing public humiliation because her voice is nasal with a thick New York accent. But, when you love something so much, how do you just walk away? George falls into ruin and depression. The two things keeping him going are his loyal dog and his unrequited love for the film’s heroine, Peppy, which he isn’t even willing to admit to himself for most of the film. Peppy helps him find a new voice through dance. The underlying message is that a lost voice can be refound, and likely it’s resting right under your nose requiring a change in perspective of what your voice looks/sounds like.

For all the study I’ve put into early Hollywood history, I failed to link the switch to sound as coinciding with the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression (but I did catch the themes of cinema during the Great Depression). The switch to sound was a major turning point in Hollywood because it involved embracing new technology and changed the face of cinema permanently. The stock market crash and the Great Depression were both major turning points in American history. Rather than change the face of the culture permanently, as we saw with sound technology, what we see with the Great Depression is an indicator of how slowly a paradigm shift can occur (and how much faster this shift has been compared to those of 2000 years ago!). The 15 years of the Depression brought the optimism of the Roaring Twenties to an end. The events of the Depression helped create government policies to prevent such a major depression from happening again. Americans are understandably frightened of economic depressions, though we tend to forget that depressions are part of the natural cycle of economics. The Depression made the events of the World War II possible—not in the sense of causality, certainly, but that the Depression primed the cultural psyche for the American involvement in the war to happen, and was punctuated with a blast of technology that changed the American temperament and relationship to war permanently. War is a cultural cathartic release. Von Franz notes that war is the confrontation with culture’s shadow, but war is also an expression of the culture’s shadow. Notice the last 10 years, the acceleration of America’s mythic transition, war has been a cultural release, as opposed to a full-on confrontation with the shadow. We’ve been fighting an ideology, not an easily identifiable enemy.

Where am I going with this? It’s not about the end of the world or any kind of apocalypse, but it’s about change. Change is inevitable. Films and other myths such as The Artist remind us that we can pull through, individually and culturally.

A Dangerous Method

In short, this is a film about psychologist C.G. Jung. Jung is underrepresented in American culture, even with all the publicity he gets in the academic circles. This is one of the first films I’m aware of that portrays Jung at all, beyond documentaries of course.

The story concentrates on Jung and his patient Sabina Spielrein. Without knowing too much about my history of Jung – I haven’t read a biography, I stay away from discussions such as The Aryan Christ because I believe all thinkers are the product of their times and environments, and I haven’t read Memories, Dreams, Reflections all the way through because I was frustrated by Jung’s arrogance – Spielrein is portrayed as Jung’s first psychoanalytic patient and the “guinea pig” for him to solidify his theories. Her analysis inspires Jung to meet Sigmund Freud, who was already published in the field of psychoanalysis, and their relationship becomes one of mentoring father to curious son and is one that fueled the fire for the psychoanalytic revolution of the last century. Jung makes the mistake of falling for Spielrien and launches into a sexual relationship with her after sending her to university at the prompting of a patient Freud sends to Jung. At this point, the story begins to follow two storylines. One is Jung’s relationship to Spielrein and the other his his relationship to Freud. Through Spielrein, Jung finds release, freedom, and an outlet for his growing theories. And in Freud, he finds a friendly face in a burgeoning field. The tensions between Freud and Jung are made evident from their first meeting. Some are economic – Jung is nonchalant about his wealth, which annoys Freud, who struggles with his status – and some are a matter of transference. Freud makes it clear that he sees Jung as his intellectual heir, while Jung doesn’t return the sentiments. It is in this last point that I feel the movie advertisements are misleading. The movie shows Spielrein as a catalyst for the separation between Freud and Jung, but not as the sole cause as the ads inform us: “Sabina Spielrein, the beautiful but disturbed young woman who comes between them.” What comes between the two thinkers is Jung’s willingness to embrace unscientific approaches in his psychology, whereas Freud held firm that only proven science was acceptable. I suspect that Freud’s adherence to science is the product of his Jewish heritage and a constant life-battle to be accepted.

Had this film, directed by David Cronenberg, not been about historical figures, based on historical facts, it could easily have fallen into cliché. But because this figures are so important, it adds a dimension to the film that only films “based on true events” can.

A little about the actors: As someone who is not a Freudian, I appreciated Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Freud. He made him human. Authentic. Kiera Knightly offered one of her best portrayals, and I would be disappointed if she didn’t get some nod from the award circuit. Occasionally “Kiera Knightly” leaked through her characterization, but she was able to bring Spielrein to life. Spielrien, it should be noted, was sent to university by Jung as part of her treatment. In an era when women were discouraged from going to school, she wanted to be a doctor and became a contributor to psychoanalysis in her own right. I can only imagine that if she had survived World War II, her contributions to the field would have greatly influenced psychology. And there’s Michael Fassbender as Jung. I’m not too familiar with Fassbender as an actor, but I did enjoy his performance in Jane Eyre. His portrayal of Jung captures Jung’s introverted awkwardness, his curiosity, and his internal struggles with his theories and his passions. In short, he came across less like the arrogant jerk I interpreted him to be in MDR, and more human.

This film is based on a play, “The Talking Cure” and a book, A Most Dangerous Game. It is interesting to note that in the acknowledgments at the end of the film, the Freud archives are thanked, but nothing with Jung.

I think that this film is a valuable contribution to the study of Jung. It makes the suggestion that Spielrein influenced his theories, especially the animus/anima, which I understand may not be wholly accurate, but we can forgive a little Hollywood license. The film is reverential in nature, not critical, but it does allow you, the viewer, to be the judge. There is some S&M sex in there, but it is portrayed discreetly. From the advertisements about S&M, I was half expecting this film to be comparable to Eyes Wide Shut. Jung and psychology are the focus, not the sex. We are even given hints that the sex is what fueled Jung’s theories to go in directions away from Freud and his sexual theories.

One last note, the film ends on the eve of World War I. In the obligatory “what happened next” notes at the end of the film, we are informed that Freud died from cancer after being forced out of Austria by the Nazis. Spielrein worked as a psychologist for Communist Russia, but died a widow, assassinated by Nazis in the war (she was Jewish). Jung lived a full life, died peacefully, outliving his wife, Emma Jung, and mistress, Toni Wolff. The note makes reference to his nervous breakdown in World War I, which is hinted by the end of the movie. This nervous breakdown, we know, sparked Jung’s theories into new directions.

What’s The Point? My Review

1971’s The Point is an animated feature based on a fable by musician Harry Nielsen. It is set in the Pointed Village in the Land of Point, where everyone and everything is driven obsessively by the point. One day, Oblio is born with no point. Though he and his family learn to work around his “disability” (as it would be described today), he nonetheless poses a threat to a local bully, who is the Count’s son. The bully and the Count conspire to have Oblio banished to the Pointless Forest for violating the law of the land that everything shall have a point. The first thing that Oblio observes in the Pointless Forest is that there are a lot of points. He meets a pointed man, which three faces, who keeps appearing at strategic intervals to “teach” Oblio how everything he has just experienced is pointless, but he himself refuses to help Oblio understand the point of anything. Among some of the many “pointless” characters Oblio meets, a Rock Man (or a Stoned Man, as he accidently once calls his people) tells Oblio that you don’t have to actually have a point just to have a point. And Oblio begins to see the hidden point to everything. For example, the point of the Balloon Women is to laugh and dance, or that the point of the Leaf Man is collect leaves. He determines that the only truly pointless person in the pointless forest is the pointed man. Once he makes this realization, he arrives at the Destination Point, pointing him back home to the Pointed Village. Everyone but the Count is excited to see Oblio again, who reveals the truth about points. The angered Count knocks off his cap to find out that Oblio has indeed grown a point, and this revelation causes the entire Pointed Village to lose their physical points in favor of the metaphorical point. They became round, proving that not everything necessarily has to have a point.

Harry Nilssen is cited on the Wiki as saying:

I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s a point to it.’

And I kind of feel that that is the only way to really understand the point of The Point. I used to watch this on the Disney Channel, back when the Disney Channel was still a premium channel that showed classic Disney films and shorts, as well as an interesting selection of counter-culture subversive animation. Given the context of the 1980s, the choice of the Disney Channel to broadcast The Point probably has something to do with its messages of accepting diversity. It’s not that there’s a point to anything at all, but that because Oblio was born differently than everything else doesn’t mean he should be cast aside.

But there has to be more to it than that. This film was released in 1971, in the aftermath of the “come-down” from the 1960s, a decade full of change (especially among minority groups), war (Vietnam), and utopianism (peace and love). The Counterculture Movement (blanketing all of the sub-movements), once perceived as pointless, proved that it actually had a point. Even the burn-out Rock Man has a point, but he has to stay in the Pointless Forest because his point does not conform to the rigid pointedness of the Pointed Village. There is an embrace of society’s Fringe Culture in this film. From the perspective of society, they are pointless, which is why they are on the fringe, yet from their perspective, they are very pointy. Everything has a point.

And then there is the matter of the Pointed Man. He jumps in and out of Oblio’s journey like a three-headed god. Knowing that this character was created by Harry Nilssen and knowing he had a connection to the Beatles, I’m going to make a leap in logic and assume that this figure is inspired by the Trimurti of Hinduism. The Trimurti depicts the three Hindu gods, Brahma (Creation), Vishnu (Life) and Shiva (Destruction), as three facets of the same cosmic principle, and they are often depicted as three heads on the same neck. So this three-headed pointed man keeps popping in and out (literally, he’s there, then he’s not). Though Oblio concludes that he is pointless, he actually is helping Oblio come to the point of his journey, and in this case, he is fulfilling a trickster role. The pointed man knows full well what the point happens to be, but by intentionally trying to mislead Oblio by making him think that his adventures have no point, he is actually leading him straight to the point, that everything has a point (and everything is a part of Brahaman…). This realization of the point heals a Pointed Village that didn’t even know it was broken. The same can be said about the aftermath of the mass disillusionment that came with the end of the 1960s. Though everyone thought they had the point, they didn’t, and needed to be reminded.

This is framed by a father reading his son a bedtime story, though the son would rather watch his favorite program. A fitting frame to tie the message of the point into the modern world, even somewhat suggesting that television has no point, that story is where the point is to be found. A message especially true of today’s affinity with “reality television.” Yes, the argument can be made that there are some phenomenally storied television shows out there, but the point is that they are dwarfed by the number of “reality” shows.

So I guess that’s the point of The Point.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

*Warning: Contains Spoilers.*

In the purest use of the term, in cinematic parlance, none of the Harry Potter films are particularly “good.” Sure, they are filled with eye candy (visual effects and actors alike), but the acting is often dry or forced, and the scripts too often make assumptions based on readers’ prior knowledge of the books. This is more apparent in the first films, when they were trying to stick closely to the books. By the last films, the script had to take license just to squeeze the story into the limited time of cinema. Deathly Hallows benefits from being split into two films, though I still see this as a money-making move on WB’s part and less a story preservation technique.

As I said in my Potter-thon post, I’ve long since made peace with the divergences in the film adaptations. Harry Potter is one of the few things I love more than cinema, and my enjoyment of the films is greatly reduced when I compare plots. The last couple films (Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows) have benefited from my grad school sabbatical of reading the HP books, and I have not read the entire series through but once since the Deathly Hallows book release. On a personal side note, I’m sad to realize that my Deathly Hallows, Part 1 post was lost in the Mythic Thinking Shake-up of 2011.

*Below there be spoilers*

I appreciate that with DH2, the script writers finally stopped making assumptions about reader knowledge. In fact, this is the first film of the 8 that does this so well. Before he died in Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore failed to give Harry the laundry list of where to find the remaining horcruxes. The cup of Hufflepuff (which is just another gold cup in Belatrix’s vault, no significance given to it) is found by logic and Harry’s connection to the Horcruxes. They speak to him and he can feel them (this becomes key in helping Harry understand that he is a Horcrux too). Utilizing Harry’s failed occlumency lessons, Harry is able to learn about the other 2 horcruxes they can’t identify through logic: Nagini and Ravenclaw’s diadem.

The acting in this film was far superior to the previous ones, especially by those characters who step up during the battle: Neville, McGonagall, Dumbledore and Snape. I’ve never seen Alan Rickman pull off such a depth of dramatic acting before. The visual effects, likewise stunning. The “King’s Cross” scene, one of my favorites from the books, was one of the best in the film.

But I left the theater with some mixed feelings, and here’s why. Most of them are concentrated on the last third of the film.

When he is going to the forest to die, Harry resurrects his parents, Sirius and Lupin. In this scene, powerful as it is, Harry asked Lupin something about his son. Son? This was not mentioned in the film. Tonks tries to hint at it before the “Seven Harrys” scene, but that does not mean it should be mentioned here. Nor does said imaginary “son” appear anywhere in the film. It should not have been mentioned.

Molly Weasley’s famous line is anti-climatic. In the book, I always got the sense that she was stepping in to defend Ginny from Belatrix, not stepping up to challenge her. There was no fire to her line, and frankly I didn’t find it believable. When she offs Belatrix, I didn’t cheer as much as I did for the book.

Ginny’s only emotion toward Harry was when she thought he had died. Not any sign of happy relief to find out that he was alive. I get that she was overcome with grief, losing her brother and all, but come on. She didn’t even acknowledge him after he defeated Voldemort.

Which is another problem. Sure, Hogwarts was destroyed. Sure, many people died. But Harry’s victory just went unacknowledged. Not even a handshake or congratulations by a professor here or there. You can get away with something like this in a book, because you can write about how the hero was satisfied, etc. But since we can’t read the hero’s thoughts in a film, something should happen to illustrate this point. The only point I got from this ending was that Harry was more alone at the end of his mission than he was when the books began. Yet, the ending of the book was supposed to be about building Harry’s new family and letting the old one go.

I have always disapproved of the epilogue, and the epilogue in the film is no exception. I’m glad they kept the same actors and aged them a bit, but there is just no life in the film’s epilogue. The acting falls flat again.

This leads me to conclude that the Harry Potter films are just pure entertainment, and supplements to the books, but that they cannot stand on their own. This is, of course, the danger of any adaptation from book to film. But it can be done. Even Tolkien purists will acknowledge the quality of Peter Jackson’s films. Indeed, Jackson took the “right” kind of licenses when making that trilogy. The Potter films just fall short.

Our server at the Alamo Drafthouse was mentioning to customers that last night was the end of their childhood. This does raise an interesting thought, one that merits consideration at another time.

Pirate Week Wrap-up: My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The first thing I will comment on is that the film wasn’t as bad as some of the reviewers are saying, but it is clear that the franchise has lost steam. I don’t know how much of this is the doing of the director or how much is due to the fact that one a small number of the characters from the first three movie are present (including the Black Pearl). That said, it was all that I expected it to be and I had a very good time watching the story unfold.

The mission in this movie is to find the Fountain of Youth, as we expected from the very end of the last movie. Three different factions are trying to get to the Fountain, and only two solicit the help of Jack Sparrow, and he jumps back and forth between the two: Captain Barbossa has sided with the Royal Navy to help claim the fountain for England and Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica seek the fountain to avoid a prophecy that Blackbeard would die at the hand of a one-legged man. The fact that this prophecy exists is a testament to the amount of stretching the writers had to do in order to write the script. The One-Legged Man is Barbossa. We figured that out early. The only question is a matter of how, which we figure out long before the final battle. As much as I enjoy the movie, that doesn’t mean I enjoy predictable scripts.

The other party after the Fountain of Youth is the Spanish, but their reasons are less personal and much more noble. Beyond that, I can’t say without giving away too many spoilers.

The Fountain of Youth and Jack’s role in its finding is a really interesting way to end the Pirates franchise. Many of the lines in this film point to the end in ways that they didn’t in the last one. So even though there are rumors of a fifth script out there, it would be a disservice to the franchise to go with it after wrapping it up so nicely. The Fountain of Youth is believed to bring eternal life. In the Pirates mythos, two people are required to drink from the fountain. One person drinks water without the mermaid tear and the other drinks water with the mermaid tear (hence the need for two silver chalices). The one who drinks without the mermaid tear gives their remaining years to the one who drinks with the tear, a sort of age donation. It’s not eternal life, though I guess with enough victims, one could live forever. Or at least longer. And that’s the message of the movie.

The Pirates originally set sail in 1967 with the opening of the Disneyland attraction, and it is by far one of the most popular attractions at all Disney theme parks. They don’t need a Fountain of Youth to live forever. They have a permanent home in our hearts and in our entertainment history. And so will the films.

Afterall, while Dead Men may Tell No Tales (haha), Audio-Animatronics and movie characters tell tales as long as we keep the power turned on.

I saw it in 3D, and like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, this is one of those films that does not require being seen in 3D. So, unless you insist on going to a particular theater that is only showing it in 3D (as I did), then I do recommend watching it the old fashioned way. I like the eye-candy of 3D, but I wish they’d realize that people wear glasses and that the 3D glasses they distribute at the theater are really uncomfortable to wear over regular seeing glasses.

Review of a new myth: the Kingdom Keepers Series

I was at Disneyland the first time I discovered Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series. I went to the park after a session at Pacifica, during which my cohort and I were discussing the intricacies of modern fairy tales. During the class, I had the epiphany for the perfect video game, one that would fuse the principles of Kingdom Hearts (i.e. a hero who is assisted by the Disney characters over the course of his adventure) with a murder mystery or some other mystery of some sort, and this particular mystery would be set at Disneyland. Each attraction would hold some clue toward the solution of the mystery. And if you remember that old Nintendo game that was set in the Magic Kingdom (whose name has long left me), then you understand the premise that us, the player, would have to wind our way through the virtual attraction in order to get the clue.

So imagine my happiness that someone had already written the story for me!

The Kingdom Keepers series is about 5 kids who are hired by Disney Imagineering to be turned into DHIs (or Digital Hologram Imaging), which act as digital hosts through Walt Disney World, becoming themselves an attraction. Unbeknownst to the kids, the Imagineers (or rather, at least one key old timer) did some wonky programming that gave the kids the ability to turn into their DHI while they sleep. The reason? The Overtakers, primarily comprised of Disney’s villains and other shady characters, were threatening to, well, over take Walt Disney World to destroy the magic. Being villains, they are easily able to do this, but just can’t get organized enough to actually succeed easily (something about the evil ego). The point of the series seems to be the continual thwarting of the OTs in the interest of preserving the magic. Thus far, there are four books to the series: Disney After Dark, Disney at Dawn, Disney in Shadow, and Power Play. The first three books are set in a different park at on the WDW resort, and the fourth one is currently all over the place. Pearson has hinted on his Twitter (or maybe others have hinted for him) that at least one of the future books will take place on the Disney Cruise line.

Hey, Ridley! When are the OTs going to threaten Disneyland!? Or what about the other resorts around the world?

There are a few different mythic themes at play in this series that makes it so fascinating, and I don’t just mean the obvious setting in Disney:

1. Collective hero/collective villain – In the traditional frame of the ubiquitous (perhaps now cliché) Campbellian hero’s cycle, the hero ventures into a magic “otherworld” and undergoes this journey to get the boon or some other reward, depending on the nature of the quest. While this hero does have magical friends and other helpers, the hero must ultimately conquer the villain alone. However, in recent popular mythologies, we are seeing more and more a trend for a collective hero. While Finn is considered the “leader,” he recognizes that each of the other Keepers has his or her own strength, which always comes in handy to succeed in the task. Recognizing this, the OTs also realize that they have to work as a collective if they are going to overshadow the Keepers. Typically, in Western literature, the evil villain got to that point by being extremely ego-driven, often perceiving his or her helpers as a means to an end, and easily disposable. However, in these books, the OTs are learning (because they’re out for power) that by working together, they become a force that can almost completely trump the Keepers. A collective fighting a collective, not solo hero versus solo villain. That there are a number of stories emphasizing the concept of the collective (hero more often than not) suggests to me that there is a shift happening in our cultural psyche, perhaps even in our collective unconscious, that recognizes that the black-and-white paradigm of previous heroic myths will not restore the balance to our swiftly-tilting planet (as evidenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender).

2. The use of technology – Technology is scary. Many commentators – and you know who they are – are quick to point out that technology is bad for us, pointing to various social issues that underscore this point: movies such as Terminator, Blade Runner, or even Avatar; or the astonishing statistics that technology makes kids stupid (which, let’s be honest, is really the fault of a poor educational system, not that they play video games). The Kingdom Keepers, however, utilize technology as the means by which they can enter into the mythic realm or otherworld and play on the same plane as the OTs. However, they also utilize technology as their primary means to communicate and coordinate. In the first novel, VMK (Virtual Magic Kingdom) was still open (and I wish it would re-open!), and the kids used their virtual avatars to communicate. Despite what one may think, technology is here to stay, and the Kingdom Keepers demonstrates a good use of it, rather than the super scary, apocalyptic use – that’s for the OTs.

3. A meta-fairy-myth setting – Disney theme parks are a fairy tale setting unto themselves. They are a real life otherworld that all of us are capable of visiting, and having that mythic experience that we otherwise can only read about. The Kingdom Keepers are a myth, tackling our culture’s images of “evil villain” and keeping the evil at bay (the whole good versus evil thing). They are acting out the myth in our culture’s fairy tale setting. This is really groovy.

Now there are games you can play at the Kingdom Keepers website, making the books an interactive experience. Next step? Actual DHIs or maybe a virtual Kingdom Keepers attraction at Disney? (BTW, Disney, if you’re interested, I’ll be glad to send you a prospectus of the latter.)

These are the perfect books for any lover of suspense fiction, young adult fiction, and fairy tales/myths. And now, to finish the fourth book.

Using the Mask to Confront the Shadow: A Look at MirrorMask

MirrorMask, a story by Neil Gaiman and film directed in 2005 by Dave McKean, is a graphic fairytale of how a young girl, Helena, is forced to cope with her mother’s illness, which she does by retreating into her world of fantasy. One night, she wanders through a door and is stuck in a world where everyone believes she is the daughter of the Black Queen and responsible for the White Queen’s illness. When given the opportunity to glimpse into her own world through windows, she sees this Princess, named Anti-Helena in the credits, destroying her world. These glimpses help Helena realize many things about herself. In order to return home,Helena must face her shadow by finding the MirrorMask and facing the Princess with it. This raises the question of why one would wear a mask, specifically a mirrored mask, to confront the shadow. This film demonstrates that the mirrored mask, literally and figuratively, acts as a portal between the conscious and unconscious and as a tool for owning the shadow.

The shadow refers to aspects of oneself that are hidden in the unconscious during the course of persona development. On occasion, these aspects can boil to the surface and cause a temporary uncharacteristic outburst, or can cause long term personality shifts. According to Carl Jung, the shadow is a “moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscous of it involves recognizing dark aspects of the personality as pruent and real” (Jung 8). The contrast between Helena and the Princess illustrates this stark contrast: for every aspect of Helena that is light, it is dark within the Princess. Helena hones her creativity through art, whereas the Princess is destructive. The film highlights the relationship between the conscious and the shadow by emphasizing the striking ressemblance between Helena and the Princess: “Yes, you look like her, but you’re not her are you?” asks the White Queen’s Minister. Helena’s moral challenge is one we all face in our lives, that of owning the shadow and being conscious of how it affects decisions and relations between people. Before Helena enters her shadow world, she argues with her mother, who falls ill with an uncertain outcome. She blames herself for her mother’s illness, having allowed her shadow to temporarily control the situation.

 

The processes of “owning the shadow” and not allowing it to get out of control involves recognizing and honoring it. The confrontation between the conscious and the shadow is not a battle between hero and boon guardian, though it can manifest as such, but rather more of a truce. The conscious agrees to honor the shadow, and the shadow promises to behave itself. In the coming-of-age story, the hero does not fully defeat the shadow figure, but does come to an understanding.

 

Helena’s journey through her shadow world, which she created in her drawings and hung on her bedroom wall, forces her to confront the world she not only created in her drawings, but also within her unconscious. This world consists of neighboring Light & Dark kingdoms. The mythology within this world talks of a young girl who sat down one day and began drawing. When she ran out of room, she flipped the paper over and continued on the other side, thus creating the two kingdoms. Helena’s mission is to restore peace between the two kingdoms by finding the charm that will awaken the White Queen (her manifest desire to cure her mother). The Kingdom of Light knows that Princess Anti-Helena came for a visit and then the queen fell ill (her unconscious self-blame for her mother’s illness). The Kingdom of Dark accusses the Light of kidnapping. The Charm, as Helena discovers, is the MirrorMask, and by finding the mask she an awaken the queen, restore the delicate balance between the two worlds, and go home.

In stories and in mythic ritual, masks are often used to alter the appearance of an individual, either for a disguise or in imitation of a specific figure. In either case, this represents a supression of the individual ego in favor of an adopted persona. Masks help shield one’s identity, temporarily pushing traits below the surface. Whether the mask is temporary, permanent, or permanent but constantly changing, it provides a metaphor for the process of individuation as one pursues one’s own hero’s journey.

Masks play a large role in Helena’s life. Her father runs a circus, and both she and her mother perform alongside clowns, acrobats, and other performers. Helena’s teenage crisis extends from her desire to have a “real life,” meaning one in which she is valued for herself not valued as a circus performer, a stable life with friends with real faces. When she enters her shadow world, she finds that she is the odd one for not wearing a mask. Her friend, Valentine, criticizes her for not having a proper face, and the White Queen’s guards comment upon her changeable expression as they carry her to the palace. Valantine asks, “How do you know if you’re happy or sad without a mask?” Although masks are commonly used to hide one’s feelings, they become the means to understanding expression within Helena’s shadow world. This characterizes not only the opposite nature of the shadow world, but also the importance of masks in Helena’s psyche. Her life is marked by masks, always having to put on an alternate face for circus goers.

 

Because masks act as the keys to true expression between this world, a mirrored mask melds the expressions of both the mask’s wearer and of the outside person facing the mask, bringing them into each other. The MirrorMask also acts as a portal between the shadow and the conscious worlds. Its reflective properties force the shadow and the ego to look upon each other, forcing them to unite, before crossing between boundaries. When the ego wears the MirrorMask, the shadow is kept within the shadow world, but the opposite is true when the shadow wears the mask, allowing it to enter the conscious realm. Allowing the shadow to gain control, as Anti-Helena did, can lead to dischord in the consciousness and imbalance in the unconsciousness. Such dissonance distracts the hero, ourselves, from the archetypal journey, and one will have to spend time cleaning up the mess, in addition to atoning for mistakes.

A film like MirrorMask serves as a reminder that one’s worst enemy is often within oneself, and that Self must be confronted at some point during life’s journey. This does not mean that Helena has conquored all of her dragons and has become unified with the Self, but she at least now possesses an awareness. This insight gives one the ability to navigate the remaining mysteries of the unconscious. The journey is never complete, especially not after one task, but every success adds experience and wisdom to interpreting one’s life.

Works cited:

Jung, Carl Gustav. “The Shadow.” Trans. R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 9, part 2. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959.

MirrorMask. Dir. Dave McKean. Perf. Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon. Jim Henson Productions, 2005.