The Love Interests in a Great Story

by James Bonnet

In the previous two story course articles, we looked at The Marvelous and Terrible Elements, the things without which the hero or the antihero could not complete their passages, and prior to that we began our introduction to: The Character Archetypes and Major Players of a Great Story.

In this new sequence of articles, we will venture further inside The Golden Paradigm, and I will continue our discussion of the creative unconscious archetypes. In great stories, the metaphors that personify these archetypes are the forces of assistance and resistance – the  allies or enemies and other major players who confront and surround the male and female heroes and antiheroes and act as antagonists, mentors, helpers or guides. Psychologically, these are the archetypes that generate the feelings and impulses that motivate and influence the choices and behavior of our conscious selves. Which is to say, the same archetypes revealed in story are operating in our own psychology. They are, in fact, the stewards that can guide our conscious selves through the passages. In the real world, these same archetypes help to create the different roles we play in society.

These are just some of the things great stories are trying to tell us about ourselves. And understanding how all this works will put you in touch with the source of the enormous power possessed by the most memorable and enduring characters of the world’s greatest novels, films, ancient myths, legends and fairy tales.

There are many ways to be drawn into the adventure. You can fall into it (Die HardCaptain Phillips), be forced into it by things like press gangs or the draft (12 Years a Slave; Saving Private Ryan,) it could be part of your job as an FBI agent, lawyer, etc. (The Silence of the Lambs; The Verdict) or you can be lured into it by the positive and negative, male and female love interests, which are also known as the positive and negative anima or animus archetypes, and are the subjects of this article.

According to Carl Jung, the anima is the inner figure of woman held by a man’s psyche, and the animus is the inner figure of man at work in the woman’s psyche.  They are subliminal to consciousness and function from within the unconscious psyche. They act as guides and become necessary links with creative possibilities and instruments of individuation. Individuation being Carl Jung’s path to a fully realized individual.

In great stories, the metaphors that personify the positive and negative anima and animus archetypes are the positive and negative male and female love interests of the hero and antihero. I call the negative anima the temptress or femme fatale and the negative animus figure, the corrupter.

We encounter the positive anima (feminine love interest) in just about every story that has a male hero. She helps to lure the hero into the adventure and acts as his guide. Psychologically, the positive anima is a man’s inner vision of divine beauty and the source of his most productive fantasies. In real life, she’s the girl he falls in love with and wants to marry, the girl he makes promises and commitments to. Her love inspires him and is a major source of positive reinforcement. Under her spell, he longs to be a real hero, a man of honor, a mensch, a man who acts courageously and meets his obligations. And if his character is flawed, she’s the one who can shape him up or pressure him to get out there and make it happen.

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper is bi-polar, subject to fits of uncontrolled anger and violence, and obsessed with his estranged ex-wife whom he caught in their shower with another man. Jennifer Lawrence, who has a few emotional quirks of her own, uses a deceit (her offer to act as a go-between in an exchange of letters that could lead Cooper to a renewed contact with his ex-wife) to lure Cooper into a dancing partnership (the marvelous element) which happily and eventually helps both of them to overcome their problems and find true love. In The King’s Speech,it’s the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter), who challenges her husband, the stuttering Duke of York and future king of England (Colin Firth) to seek speech therapy from an Australian speech therapist living in London (Geoffrey Rush.) In Hugo, it is Chloe Grace Moritz, the young girl who helps Hugo work out his problems with the forgotten pioneer filmmaker, George Melies (Ben Kingsley.) In One Chance, Julz (Alexandra Roach) encourages her stage-frightened boyfriend, Paul (James Corden ) to pursue his operatic career. In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal’s (Dev Patel) beautiful girlfriend, Latika, (Freida Pinto) is the prisoner of a notorious mob boss, and Jamal’s scheme to rescue her requires him to win 64 million rupees on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

The negative anima is the temptress, the young witch, the femme fatale. She uses sex, and other temptations, to lure the hero and antihero to their doom. In story, this is Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. In The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s Naomi (Margot Robbie) the  second wife of Leonardo DiCaprio. In the hit HBO television series, Entourage, it is all of the sexy groupies encountered by movie star, Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his boyhood friends. Psychologically, she is a major ally of the lower self and the inner seductress who lurks in the centerfolds of a man’s mind. In real life, she is a bimbo or a real fatal attraction. I was walking along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills recently and strolled past a  handsome, obviously successful young man having an intense discussion with a very attractive, young woman in the doorway of Prada – just as she was saying: “Are you kidding? What kind of an offer is that? I will need twenty thousand dollars a month just to shop.”

The positive animus (male love interest) is the ideal husband and lover to the feminine hero. He protects, rescues and guides. He is her contact to the soul. He is Amor to Psyche, Superman to Lois Lane, the general’s son to Mulan, and Leonardo DiCaprio to Kate Winslet in Titanic – the one who guides her away from suicide, a disastrous marriage, and a frigid death. Patrick Swayze in Ghostwould be a perfect animus figure, guiding Demi Moore from the other side, if Demi Moore’s character wasn’t so passive. As it is, Swayze is both the animus figure and the hero. It is his adventure. If he were a true animus figure (i.e. if she were the one solving the problem), he would be a perfect metaphor for this male psychological counterpart which influences and guides the feminine ego from the other side of consciousness.

The negative animus (corrupter) is the negative male counterpart at work in the woman’s psyche. Like the temptress, he is a major ally of the lower self, so he tries to sexually seduce, undermine and enslave the feminine ego, but he can also be experienced psychologically as a highly critical inner voice. In real life and story, men taken over by this archetype can be real bastards, a brutal husband or lover, or a dictatorial male chauvinist pig. He locks his women in a pumpkin shell, a tower, a kitchen, a psychological or real dungeon. He ridicules her ideas, criticizes her appearance, is insanely jealous and tries to squash any desires she may have for independence. If she’s susceptible to substance abuse, he may help her get hooked. If they run short of cash, he may turn her into a prostitute and even become her pimp. This is Leonardo DiCaprio inDjango Unleashed, Count Varonsky in Anna Karenina, and the sleazy slave masters in 12 Years a Slave. This is also Julia Robert’s husband in Sleeping With The Enemy, and all the male characters in Thelma and Louise except Brad Pitt.

And what is all this telling us about ourselves? Ultimately, nothing less than everything we need to know about the predicament of the masculine and feminine sides of our nature, both psychologically and in the real world. And, if you take into account the incredible amount of information revealed on this subject by The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the great Hindu classic, The Ramayana, you will see that the masculine and feminine sides of our natures have become seriously alienated from each other and are very much in need of repair; you will also see how we can reconcile these two sides of our nature and be guided back to a full realization of ourselves – although this is not easily accomplished. It takes Menelaus, Odysseus, and Rama many years, and many horrendous ordeals, before they are reunited with Helen, Penelope, and Sita.

And why is this important to writers and filmmakers? Because if you can successfully embody the truth about these important psychic dimensions into your heroes, antiheroes and love interests, they will make a powerful psychological connection and have enormous, emotional appeal.

And how can you embody revelations about the anima and animus in your love interest characters? By collaborating with your creative unconscious self, which is an expression of, and has access to, all of the wisdom hidden in your DNA. So, if you ask yourself direct questions about the characters you are creating, and listen to your feelings, your creative unconscious self will give you intuitive yes and no answers which will confirm or deny the truth about the ideas you are considering. (See The Creative Storymaking Processand Six Creative Storymaking Techniques.

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In the next story course article, we will talk about the positive and negative tricksters, who goad the heroes and the antiheroes forward when they get stuck, and the positive and negative threshold guardians who stand in their way in order to test their preparedness and resolve.

About James Bonnet

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