Happy Birthday, Carl Jung: Screenwriting Guru!

Swiss psychotherapist and founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung was born today in 1875. He died in 1961 at the age of 85.

Jung’s influence the field of psychology as well as culturally is profound. For example, the concepts of introvert and extravert derive from Jung. Collective unconscious. Also from Jung. The Myers-Brigg Type Indicator was developed from Jung’s theories. Synchronicity, archetype, shadow, and many more of Jung’s ideas have become part of our conceptual currency. Like this:

Screenwriters and filmmakers owe it to themselves to study Jung. Think you understand the Hero’s Journey? You’ve only scratched the surface until you see the enormous influence Jung had on Joseph Campbell, so much so the latter edited “The Portable Jung”.

The dynamic of the Protagonist transformation arc? In my view, no one provides a better language system than Jung who calls it “individuation“.

How about Jung’s interpretation of dream patterns?

The dream begins with a statement of place, next comes a statement about the protagonist. I call this phase of the dream the exposition. It indicates the scene of action, the people involved, and also often the initial situation of the dream way.

The second phase comes the development of the plot. The third phase brings the culmination of peripeteia, a sudden change of events, a reversal of circumstances, used by Aristotle. Here something decisive happens if something changes completely.

The fourth and last phase is alysis, the solution or result produced by the dream work.

This division into four phases can be applied without much difficulty to a majority of dreams met with in practice, an indication that dreams generally have a dramatic structure.

Applicable to screenplay structure, don’t you think?

If you need a more tangible touchstone as to why you should become familiar with Carl Jung, how about this little movie:

The entire film is replete with Jungian themes and motifs, a subject I introduced in this post: “Inception”: Carl Jung’s Wet Dream.

One of my life’s passions in the last decade has been to study Jung and bring what I find there to the craft of screenwriting. Here is an example of what I mean. This is a quote from Jung:

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains divided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.

Take that idea and apply it to a Protagonist in one of your stories. The so-called “flawed Protagonist” becomes much more compelling and a richer character with which to work if you think about him/her as beginning with a divided psyche, the very nature of which sparks a synergy with the story universe to create circumstances which force that individual to confront their psychological issues.

Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz is an orphan who doesn’t feel at home in Kansas. The universe creates a tornado to transport her to Oz so she could find friendship with Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, a bridge for her metamorphosis to crystallize her desire to get back because, “There’s no place like home.”

Rick in Casablanca is a cynic who has unresolved feelings from an old love affair. The universe brings his ex-lover back into Rick’s life, forcing him to deal with that old wound, and in the process — with an assist from Mentor Victor Laszlo — get back in touch with his idealism, and eventually act selflessly in allowing Ilse and Victor to leave Casablanca.

Red in The Shawshank Redemption has just about given up, his human spirit crushed by years of institutionalization. The universe puts Andy Dufresne into Red’s life, making him deal with Andy’s persistent evocation of hope, fanning those embers within Red, so that by the end of the story, Red goes to meet his old friend, the very last words of the movie: “I hope.”

We see this dynamic in movies — the universe creating circumstances which force a character to confront their Disunity state — over and over and over again. As writers, Jung’s idea causes us to look at the story-crafting process in an entirely different way by asking this question: Why does this story have to happen to this character at this time? Their fate is not random, rather there is an inherent narrative destiny innate to their unique psychological circumstance at the beginning of the story.

It is a stunning concept… and springs from just a single idea from Carl Jung.

And so today, I celebrate one of the bright lights of the creative life with links to some posts I’ve done about Carl Jung:

Carl Jung: “Memories, Dreams and Reflections”

Universal themes in Pixar movies

Who am I?

Who am I? Revisited

And this 5 part series “Writing Reflections on Carl Jung”:

Part 1: Are We Related to the Infinite or Not?

Part 2: Make the Unconscious Conscious

Part 3: Make the Darkness Conscious

Part 4: Psychological Rule as ‘Fate’

Part 5: Become Who You Truly Are

So here’s to you, Carl Jung, the screenwriting ‘guru’ we deserve!

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