CJSSF: In his book, On This Journey We Call Our Life, James Hollis says that, “Our personal myth is our implicit value system, those internalized authorities and controlling ideas that govern our life, whether we know them or not, chose them or not….We are, inescapably, mythological beings. The only questions are: what myth and whose, ours or someone else?
How could this quote illuminate the narrative aspect of the movie “Stranger than Fiction”? And how would it relate to Jung’s idea of a “personal myth”?
KW: Following his break with Freud, Jung lost a sense of his own footing and became very disoriented and distressed. He had written about mythology but now he began to wonder what myth was governing his own life. His “confrontation with the unconscious,” documented in the Red Book, was Jung’s effort to uncover the myth by which he was living. Jung’s genius was the ability to delve into his own psyche and access the myth-making images and energies that reside deep within us all. But we cannot simply adopt Jung’s personal myth; instead we need to discover our own. This film can be viewed as a metaphor for one person’s attempt at that.
By viewing this film psychologically, that is, by regarding the characters and developments as if they were occurring within the psyche of the protagonist (Harold), then we might view this as Harold’s own personal “confrontation with the unconscious.” Midway through his life, Harold is living as if he were asleep, governed by rules and routines, by clock and calendar and unrelated to others or to himself. Then a mysterious voice breaks through into awareness, requiring him to question the basic assumptions, values and premises under which he has been living and offering the opportunity to develop unlived aspects of himself, in this case greater capacities for relatedness and joy. He realizes he has not been functioning as the author of his own life and begins to actively write a new story.
CJSSF: How would you connect this relatedness, in the movie, to Jung’s concept of individuation?
KW: Most psychoanalysts would agree that the capacity for relatedness is fundamental to psychological health. Jung’s contribution emphasized that psychological development (individuation) requires relatedness both with the inner world and with others. Each development supports the other. In fact, the way we relate to other people is often indicative of how we relate to the more challenging aspects of our inner lives. In the film, as Harold begins to relate to his inner life, represented by listening to the mysterious voice, his attitudes change. He begins to break out of his isolated existence to create relationships. He becomes more loving and lovable. He begins to play. He is more alive, more real and more multi-dimensional. These are signs that he is individuating.
CJSSF: The American psyche has been often associated to narcissism. It seems that the current crisis in the country is demanding a more thorough exam of it. Would you explain the meaning of “a central organizing complex” in the sentence that you use to talk about the movie? “A central organizing complex of the contemporary American psyche is the struggle between relatedness and narcissism in which narcissism is understood as arrogance, selfishness and the inability to love.”
KW: This statement was informed by a recent book by Jungian analyst Barbara Stevens Sullivan, The Mystery of Analytical Work (Routledge, 2010). I was deeply struck by Stevens’ definition of narcissism as the inability to relate, leading to the kinds of arrogant, grandiose or self-involved attitudes popularly associated with narcissism. Stevens suggests that the underlying psychological organization or complex which most typically structures our thoughts, feelings and actions, is a split between the opposing poles of relatedness (to oneself and others) and selfishness, defined as the inability to love. I think this correlates well with Jung’s observation that power (and not hate) is the opposite of love. I see this film as a kind of parable about this split and how it moves toward healing.
CJSSF: Would you say a few words about why you chose this movie for the movie discussion?
KW: Because it addresses such core and challenging questions in a playful, humorous and imaginative way. The film is great fun to watch and you can sense the actors having great fun with it too. I love the idea that we can explore and learn as well through play, humor and delight as we can through hard and serious “work.”
Kaitryn (Kate) Wertz, M.Ed., LMHC, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Jupiter, FL, and is currently in the final stage of training as a Jungian analyst. Ms. Wertz draws upon a 30-year background as a therapist, consultant, workshop leader and group process facilitator. Her diploma thesis for the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts explored women’s development of inner authority.
Interview by Lucia Leao, CJSSF Board Member