Friday, January 2, 2009

The Female Shadow

The Shadow, a term introduced by Carl G. Jung, contains all the impulses and desires in our psyche that are repressed, undeveloped and denied by our conscious mind.

Examples of the male shadow abound in genre movies, from Mr. Hyde to Tyler Durden, the Wolf-man to the Hulk. The civilized man has a double, another side of himself, also male, who acts out his darker, animalistic, selfish, aggressive, violent, or sexual urges.

Recently, in my own work, I find myself investigating the shadow side of the feminine. And by this I don't mean a woman as a stand-in for the repressed impulses of the male psyche. I'm looking for what eluded both Freud and Jung - the unconscious she.

It’s easy enough to find movies with typical female shadow figures: the vamp, the femme fatale, the creepy-pubescent-girl. What I'm looking for our stories about ordinary women encountering their own shadow-sides directly.

Two examples come to mind...

One is the novel, Come Closer, by Sara Gran. In this shockingly disturbing story, a perfectly ordinary, happily married, successful young woman finds herself inexplicably acting out impulses that are violent, obscene, and self-destructive.

The other is the film Swimming Pool, directed by Fran├žois Ozon, in which an uptight, well-mannered, middle-aged, English novelist encounters a lascivious, crass, teen-aged, French nymphomaniac, who may either be a murderer or a figment of the older woman's imagination.

Hours after publishing the first draft of this blog, Richard Lowry, a producer friend of mine, reminded me of the best and probably most obvious example, Bergman's Persona.

However, I'm looking for more examples - stories of Ms. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Any thoughts on the female shadow? Any examples in film or literature you would point me to? Please leave them in the comments section.

I should add that Jung believed that The Shadow contains not only those parts of ourselves that we would rather keep hidden, but also our greatest strengths, similarly bottled up to suit the needs of civilized culture and our ordinary world…

… which is why it continues to fascinate me.


Unknown said...

How about Bergman's Persona?

interesting blog, Sean.
let's catch up soon
hope you're well

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Usually power magnifies the shadow in both male and female. The old adage "All power corrupts" is false. Powers merely magnify flaws that are already there.

The male shadow is usually base and animalistic, so I suppose the female would be, too. Perhaps black widow-ish or predatory.

Anyway, as usual, you've opened Pandora's Box. Wait, there's another one... !!

Anonymous said...

it's interesting you bring this up as i've been exploring that idea as well as that of the Freudian ID.
I'd definitely like a female perspective on what your doing.

Anonymous said...

How about the film Hard Candy?

Tim McGregor said...

GINGER SNAPS (best werewolf movie ever) might fall into this category. The shy little sister Bridgette watches big sister Ginger transform into a teenage predator as the werewolf curse takes hold.

Maybe MONSTER, the Aileen Wuornos biopic, fits into this too.

Am I a Customer of life? said...

Great posting on "The Female Shadow"!

Jung was right. These shadows truly show our strengths, if not hidden as well. I can see how important lighting and shadows are in creating an atmosphere in a film. I would like to read more on this subject.

Am I a Customer of life? said...

Also Sean, this topic also reminds me of the 1976 TV show, "Charlie's Angels". I guess "Ivan Goff" and "Ben Roberts" hit it on the nail with these female shadows as well. Or it was the creative producing genius of "Aaron Spelling" or "Leonard Goldberg".

I remember watching it as a kid and always kept tuned in when watching good looking women with guns in a shadow like form. Go figure. : )

Anonymous said...

Hmm...ok, well, as a female, I can see where you're limiting yourself in what the female shadow side would be - men almost never get it....for most women I know - our shadow selves are the selfish side of ourselves. The part that wants just for ourselves - that often would like to run away and just not have to worry about anyone else - that side that can be demanding and get what we demand. When you hear about a woman leaving everything - kids, husband, whatever behind and disappearing to start a new life - that's definitely coming from the shadow side. I think when men think Shadow side they only see destruction or possibly sexually profane behavior as an outlet - because that is usually what they would relate to as their shadow side. Don't get me wrong - women are just as capable of those things as men....many women probably wouldn't see some sexual behavior as profane in the same way men would - but it's certainly an element of the shadow side. But for most women I know that have any kind of responsibility in their life...and most of us do - abandoning all of that, to pursue selfish desires of any kind, would be the most deplorable thing they could do - regardless of the situation they would be abandoning. But I can tell you this - we've all thought about that one from time to time. :)T

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Neale Sourna said...

I really like anonymous' comment, but maybe because she says more clearly what I was thinking in recommending good old "Bridget, the Bitchet" from "The Last Seduction."

The selfish, hardcore shadowy self is her normal self and she uses several shades of "white shadow" or "light shadow" as her defense against men, using what THEY expect against them.

Then she gets her freedom, her money, her stretch limo without bothersome men demanding she be wife, lover, predator, or distressed damsel.

--Neale Sourna

Sonya Rose said...

Hi Sean,

This is most interesting. I'm going to meditate on this blog a little while longer. A lot of the mystery lies so deep within ourselves. Have you ever heard of a book called "Secrets of the Soul" (1926)?

I've had dreams of the shadow (and so have many of my relatives and friends, too). I'm not so sure if the shadow is one gender, like female or male. It maybe both sexes in one being but what do I know?!

I'll be back~

Meantime, may the New Year bring you much peace and happiness, as well as the strength and courage to continue to follow your heart, your dreams. Keep on writing. You're so talented!

May you forget the weight of yesterday and continue to focus on the path ahead, always guided by your heart & soul and the light of hope. May you find beauty in everything and goodness in everyone. Easier said than done, I realize! :)

I wish this wish this year for all my friends.

Sonya Rose

Sonya Rose said...

Actually, that book I mentioned is called "Secrets of a Soul" (not "Secrets of the Soul") and it was made into a German silent film back in the roaring 20s. I think for anyone, male or female, our souls are a deep mystery. Sometimes, we can develop illnesses or severe fears in life from our childhood or growing experiences; they lay deep and are sleeping in the subconscious for years. Then, one day out of another tragic event, they can rise to the surface. Certain events trigger it; maybe, something very dramatic.

Interesting, my sister (in early 40s) had a mini-stroke on her way to work in the ER; her body started to break down slowly. Funny things began to happen. That one event brought back some very painful, horrific memories that she thought she buried. In fact, her life would make a great screenplay.

Talk to you, later.

Anonymous said...

How about DePalma's "Sisters" or Ridley Scott's "Thelma and Louise" - both fit the bill.

Anonymous said...

Thelma and Louise doesn't fit into the category of female dark side. Those girls just learn to stand up for themselves - they're not monsters.

So again, coming from a woman:
If bestial violence is the base of the male dark side, I'll second that selfishness is the base of the female one. One manifestation of selfishness is to run away and not worry about anyone else (like Anonymous above said)... but another is to use and abuse people to satisfy something within the character...

I don't know that selfishness is terribly cinematic, though.

Anonymous said...

When I think of a woman's shadow, I can't help but think of Kali... a pure unhindered relentless destroyer, not only unfeeling but without mercy. "Unhindered" being the keyword. Women are hindered by emotions, society, and themselves. I think if what's in a scorned or hurt woman's head could materialize, it would be very scary sight.

Anonymous said...

The book and movie Revolutionary Road. I very much identified with the female lead character, who was obviously miserable with the choices she made for her life. If she had acted on her shadow impulses, left her husband and children she would have been free and happy...albeit alone. Her husband would have found a second wife and stepmother for the children. I've been married and I do not believe it's for everyone. The confining traditional male and female roles and unspoken, unresolved expectations has the potential to drown the light in both women and men.