Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dark Side of the Soul

2000 - Sunset in my kitchen, black and white film
What richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vast, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void. 
M. Proust 

Dracula, Maxim De Winter, Faust, Dr. Jekyll, Shylock, Heathcliff, Batman: what do all these characters have in common?

Substantially, we can say, they're all good and extremely sensitive men.
Yes, Dracula indeed. Shylock, too; and Heathcliff, wasn't he a nice and romantic boy once? What happened then?
Just like all of us, they had a strong dark side to which they surrendered during a crucial moment of their life.
Of course, we real people do not bite men's and women's necks and feed ourselves with their blood (well, sometimes we do); that is pure fiction. But how many times have we looked back to our past and found a most reproachable action, one we're still ashamed of; one we still find it difficult to believe it was us acting so? Have you ever felt like it wasn't really you committing a blameworthy deed, one that you or someone else later decried as morally unacceptable?
In a sense, you're not too far from the truth: it wasn't really you.
Let me rephrase this: it was you, but under the influence of an unconscious - thus, uncontrolled - "tempestuous energy"; the same that populates the dark, undetected and unknown realms of the psyche, that is kept repressed, hidden, and that springs forth in the many Walpurgis Nights of our soul.

Be careful how you interpret! It would be very easy to justify our bad deeds by saying that we simply couldn't help it. True, at times we can't prevent ourselves from acting in a certain way, or from giving vent to extreme pronouncements. You just have to think of your own personal history to find a great number of examples; also certain patterns in the history of humanity seem to validate this theory.
Yet, it is the responsibility of each individual person to acknowledge the presence of a dark side - what C.G. Jung named Shadow - as an active part of our psyche. It is our personal responsibility to come to terms with it, and bring it to a healthy balance with the rest of our personality. 

I think this concept - the dark side of our soul taking over us, inducing confusion - is very well depicted by Lars Von Trier in his movie The Antichrist. One scene in particular presents it with ghastly symbolism: Willem Defoe is walking in the undergrowth of woods. Suddenly, as he reaches a patch of high ferns, he sees a fox lying in it. The animal is all wet and intent in tearing bites off of its own intestines. Willem Defoe, paralyzed and caught by sheer terror, observes the scene until the fox utters with a cavernous and threatening human voice the words, "Chaos reigns".

How many inner contradictions the human soul is exposed to!
Yet, it is their presence that make us human, fallible and as imperfect as we are.
It is the portrayal of the obscure half of the soul that gives fictional characters psychic and psychological depth; contradictions give characters a dual nature and make them more believable, more interesting, more human and, as such, a reader or an audience can better identify with them.

How can anybody be empathic with, say, Superman! He's all good, all perfect, all pure, all gentle. You can only explain those unaltered qualities with his alien nature. Too easy being a hero that way! No inner conflicts, no traumas, no ghosts to struggle with.
I'd rather play Batman!

Who's the most contradictory, darkest, yet all in all good fictional character you have encountered so far? 


  1. The interesting villain needs to be intelligent or have some aspect that makes us curious or empathetic. Hannibal Lechter is interesting because he is intelligent and cultured, but depraved as well. Adolf Hitler was evil, but there must have been something in him that drew people to him and even now draws our interest.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  2. The most recent villain I've encountered like this was Loki, first in the Thor movie then in The Avengers. (Yes, I'm a nerd.) You're right; we absolutely are responsible for our own darkness. That just makes it sadder.

  3. I enjoyed Jayne Cobb in Firefly a lot. Not someone I'd want to know in real life, but a great character to watch. I enjoy Batman more than Superman for all the reasons you say.

    Great post, Jay. I'll have to file this away. It's sparking some creative energy. Thanks. :)

  4. Lisbeth from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! Heart in the right place but I'd never want to cross her! LOL! Take care

  5. Arlee,
    I am going to mention something about that in my next post, which will be the sequel to this one.
    To me, what is psychologically very interesting is the fact that a whole country wanted exactly what Hitler wanted. Thanks for mentioning that. I think it's impossible not to talk about it when writing about our dark side.

    Loki, very interesting.
    He has a very active role in Germanic myths.
    Yes, you're a nerd! ;)

    Thanks for your comment, Mary.
    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think it's a very current and crucial topic, both in real and in fictional life!

    Thank you Kitty,
    I haven't read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet, but many friends recommended it! I'll include you in the list of people who recommended it!
    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Replies
    1. My old blog got too busy to handle. If you go to conniptionfitsrus. blogspot I'm there. Kinda hiding.

  7. What a loaded post. This reminds me of the psychological idea of the id, ego and superego. As for characters, I would have to refer to some of the characters of LOST...Ben, maybe???

  8. I don't know about the most contradictory, but one of my favorite characters is the one played by Jeremy Renner in the movie NEO NED. He's out of control. He's violent. And he defies all authority. He's the guy that has the audience rooting, "Lock him up and throw away the key!" Until the end. It's not until the end that we realize love in it's deepest, most pure form has been his driving force all the while. #greatmovie

  9. I don't know about the most contradictory, but my favorite character of this sort is the one played by Jeremy Renner in NEO NED. He's out of control. He's violent, and he defies all authority. He's the kind of guy that has the audience shouting, "Lock him up and throw away the key!" He's a handful of a mess that has no hope. But then we see differently. At the end of the movie we see that the deepest, most pure love has been his driving force all the while. Talk about two sides to every coin... #greatmovie

  10. Heather,
    Yea, it is a bit. But know what, I had had in mind to write about this for a while... You'll see the next one!

    Nice to see you again!
    I think you posted the same comment twice. I'll keep them both; it makes one more comment!
    I don't know Jeremy Renner or Neo Ned, but here again we find interest and depth in a character who's laden with contradictions.
    Thanks for stopping by Jasmynne!