What are the Jungian Archetypes? Meaning and Examples from Film

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Jungian archetypes are core ideas of human behavior and experience proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. These archetypes represent universal themes and images that derive from the collective unconscious. Jung believed these archetypes appear across various cultures and influence human behavior and experiences. These archetypes appear in art, literature, dreams, and religions, symbolizing basic human motivations, values, and personalities.

The Collective Unconscious

At the heart of Jung’s theory lies the collective unconscious, distinct from the personal unconscious that Freud emphasized.

The collective unconscious consists of inherited psychic structures and universal and impersonal forms. This means they are common across humanity and do not result from personal experience.

Archetypes are elements of the collective unconscious that manifest themselves through literature, art, dreams, and religious iconography, among other mediums.

The Major Archetypes

Below are the four Jungian archetypes. I’ve included examples of characters from movies that embody each type.

The Self

The Self is the archetype representing the total personality’s unity, integration, and harmony. In cinema, the quest for self-discovery and internal harmony is often prominent.

Movie Example: In Eat Pray Love (2010), Liz Gibert’s (Julia Roberts) journey worldwide underscores her quest for personal coherence and self-integration.

The Shadow

The Shadow consists of sex and life instincts. It contains the darker aspects of the personality, the repressed, ignored, or undeveloped traits. The shadow often embodies what a person fears or despises but can also be a source of spontaneity and creativity.

Movie Example: Gollum’s struggle with his darker self in The Lord of the Rings series is a good example.

The Anima and Animus

The Anima and Animus represent the feminine aspects present in the collective unconscious of men (Anima) and the masculine aspects present in women’s collective unconscious (Animus). They function as guides to the unconscious mind and act as mediators between the conscious and unconscious aspects of the mind.

A person can be overtaken by their opposite gender traits, leading to negative behaviors. A man influenced by his feminine side might show moodiness and irrationality, while a woman influenced by her masculine side might display aggression and excessive assertiveness.

Movie Example: In The Piano (1993), Ada McGrath has chosen not to speak since she was six due to being suppressed in a patriarchal society (represented by her father), i.e., the animus in her. When her father later sells her and her daughter, Flora, to New Zealand frontiersman Alisdair Stewart and leaves her beloved piano on the beach, this animus is seen again. Only when she gets to play the piano (and later give herself to George Baines) can she shed the animus’s influence and be her feminine self.

The Persona

The Persona is the mask or image we present to the world, designed to make a specific impression on others while concealing our true nature.

Movie Example: In The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), the protagonist, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), manipulates his persona to gain the favor and trust of wealthy elites.

Summing Up

Jungian archetypes provide an analytical framework for crafting and understanding movies. While they’re not explicitly found in screenwriting literature as other archetypes, such as The Hero and The Mentor, they still offer a way of understanding characters and their motivations in film.

Up Next: Character Archetypes in Film.

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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