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Beebe, J. (1996). Jungian Illumination of Film. Psychoanal. Rev., 83(4):579-587.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Review, 83(4):579-587

Jungian Illumination of Film

John Beebe, M.D.

Film as a Medium for Realization of the Unconscious

The medium of film is peculiarly suited to psychological analysis because it is closest, perhaps of any art form, to the natural process by which the unconscious chooses to make itself known-by visualizing itself, as in dreams. A starting place for the understanding of film may be found in C. G. Jung's statement, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious” (Jung, 1954b, p. 265). From its beginnings in the first films produced by the significantly named Lumiere brothers 100 years ago, cinema has seized the opportunity to render visible what formerly had been dark to conscious representation, the movements of individuals in their lives over time. Cinema has grown up concurrently with psychoanalysis, and as close siblings nurtured on a common zeitgeist, the two share a drive to explore and realize the psyche.

The greatest filmmakers seem to have grasped almost instinctively the potential of the medium to represent aspects of the unconscious directly, as if it were a regular part of reality, even as Freud demonstrated it to be in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901). Jung spoke of the “figures” of unconscious life, and in a well-realized movie, these figures often insert themselves as characters, complicating the scenario as they interact with one another and with the characters that represent more conscious attitudes. In Scenes from a Marriage (1973), for instance, Ingmar Bergman illuminates the unconscious life of his protagonist couple by introducing a second couple.

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