The stories of superheroes and heroes resonate with us because they tap into some essential truths about human nature, about our yearnings and aspirations, our demons and dilemmas, our fears and our frustrations. People sometimes wonder whether heroes and superheroes are related to or represent archetypes.
According to Jung, archetypes are inherited ideas about people and personalities in our unconscious. In this sense superheroes and supervillains are archetypes-prototypical personality types that can be found throughout history in literature as well as in the "real world" (the personality types, not the superpowered being aspect). Such archetypes have personality traits, motivations, ways of thinking, and action. The formalizing of the fascinating idea of archteypes, and a set of specific archetypes, is the work of Carl Jung.
Jung is the focus on a new film, A Dangerous Method. Be warned, if you want to see the film to find out more about Jung's work on archetypes, you will be disappointed. The film is not about archetypes. Rather, it's a story of Jung and his ultimately triangular relationship with two people: Sigmund Freud, Jung's colleague, teacher, mentor, and father-figure, and a young woman, Sabina Spielrein, who begins as Jung's patient, became his research assistant, then his lover and colleague.
If you have no interest in psychoanalysis, this film probably isn't for you. However, if you're interested in Jung's life, or the history of psychoanalysis, you might well find the film interesting, particularly the character of Spielrein, whose real life existence and accomplishments have only recently come to light. What I found most compelling about the film was its apparently realistic portrayal of Spielrein-who overcomes adversity and mental illness (apparently hysteria, a more common disorder during that era) and goes on to become a doctor and psychoanalyst. (Noted child psychologist Jean Piaget was among her patients.)
Copyright 2011 by Robin S. Rosenberg. All rights reserved.
Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist. Her website is DrRobinRosenberg.com