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March 2, 2007 9:55 PM   Subscribe

[Man’s-Journey-to-find-himself-Filter]: I am looking for works of film and fiction that employ the imagery of traversing a difficult path/passageway as a metaphor for man’s inner journey toward connection with his unconscious shadow (in the Jungian sense of the term).

The setting/fictional location of the work specifically needs be a narrow and dark passageway through which our character must physically travel.

The most obvious uses (to me) of this motif are employed by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness and, consequently, by Coppola in Apocalypse Now.

What other modern (let’s say work from 1850 onward) examples of this theme in film and literature can you think of?

(I would also appreciate a brief explination of the scene if the work mentioned is particularly obscure.)
posted by numinous to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God comes immediately to mind. Also any modern work based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth such as Black Orpheus.
posted by vacapinta at 10:08 PM on March 2, 2007

The Last Unicorn. I know, I know: grow up. No! The scene would be near the end, as Amalthea (the last unicorn, turned into a human and forgetting her old self) and Lir behind her, venture into the clock and a dark caverny place searching for Haggard's unicorns. It's a great movie. I can't spoil it. The shadow thng works on a unique but arguable level.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:09 PM on March 2, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back: Yoda takes Luke to a dark tunnel in the earth, where Luke confronts his shadow.
posted by SPrintF at 10:19 PM on March 2, 2007

Response by poster: vacapinta: I have not yet seen Aguirre, Wrath of God, but you have piqued my interest! I will try to find a copy of it. And YES! That scene from Black Orpheus is definitely along the same lines.

Ambrosia Voyeur: That's a very interesting and unusual choice, but I am digging the interpretation. I'd always thought that the thematic content of The Last Unicorn was a little dark for children (I'd love to meet the precocious child who is intimately acquainted with the struggle of reconciling the ego and the shadow - I mean, seriously, who was that movie written for?), and I think your point supports that theory. You're totally on the money with this one.
posted by numinous at 10:20 PM on March 2, 2007

Response by poster: SPrintF: Yeah, that works, too. I know that George Lucas drew heavily on Campbell's idea of the monomyth from The Hero with A Thousand Faces (while in it Campbell makes frequent reference to Jung's concept of the shadow, and ego's reconciliation with the shadow necessary for the Self's individuation. Whew, that was a mouthful!). Star Wars follows the cycle of the hero's journey pretty concretely.
posted by numinous at 10:27 PM on March 2, 2007

Not too sure about the narrow passage part, but reconciling with your shadow is pretty much the sum total theme of Ursula K LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea.
posted by Paragon at 11:48 PM on March 2, 2007

Not so much the narrow passage, but Hesse's Demian & Steppenwolf both deal with the process of individuation. There was a film version of Steppenwolf.
posted by juv3nal at 11:55 PM on March 2, 2007

Myth and the Movies should be useful to you.

Personally, I thought first of House of Leaves -- sometimes the labyrinth Navidson travels is vast, sometimes narrow, but always dark and twisted. Clearly he is an utterly changed man for having traversed it.

What Dreams May Come is a horrible movie. Horrendous. The thought that you might watch it is going to weigh heavily on my soul. But it does fit your criteria.

There are so many stories and films with this motif that they're all jostling together in my head to form some monster with Marlon Brando's head, Harrison Ford's stubble, and the terrifying neck of George Lucas -- and I just don't want to see down any further, so forgive me if I stop here.
posted by melissa may at 11:59 PM on March 2, 2007

El Norte, which every one of you should run out and rent -- nay, buy -- right now. The main characters cross the border into the United States by crawling through a long pipe. They come to realize what they lost, in trying to become Americans, and the passage through the pipe itself later has big consequences.

Jungian, I don't know, but man. It is an unbelievably beautiful movie.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:25 AM on March 3, 2007

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Paths of the Dead. Aragorn enters a narrow cave into a moutain to find an army of dead, cursed warriors. Like him, they're warriors, unlike him, they've betrayed their cause and have therefore been cursed, and he gets them to follow him by showing them his sword (his true identity). I'm specifically thinking of the (extended) movie version, but it's in the book as well.
posted by rjs at 12:38 AM on March 3, 2007

I would expand on rjs's post and say that being forced to choose the dark, deep, smelly path instead of the brightly-lit, high, clean path is a repeated theme of the LOTR books. It starts with "over the mountains" vs "through Moria" and happens about four or five more times, including the Paths Of The Dead. Tolkien, I would say, had issues...

And as for the shadow part, Gollum is clearly a shadow-hobbit.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:17 AM on March 3, 2007

You'll probably find this interesting: Predator - A shaman's view
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:51 AM on March 3, 2007

The Matrix is one of the more literal interpretations of Campbell's Journey on film that I can think of. Neo awakes in the shadow world (ironically, the real world in this story), confronts a threshold guardian in the form of a big, scary robot, and then is flushed through a tight, birth canal-ish tube into a pool where Morpheus' ship picks him up.
posted by EarBucket at 2:56 AM on March 3, 2007

I'm asking - does Altered States fall into this category? I'm always deeply moved by the ending - the journey William Hurt and Blair Brown make toward each other down that dark hallway. He's confronted by everything he's done and the life he has rejected.
posted by loosemouth at 3:53 AM on March 3, 2007

Would have to agree with juv3nal on the Hesse, esp. Demian. I'd think that to some degree that you're looking at a sub-genre in total, say the bildungsroman or the coming of age novel, hell, Catcher in the Rye fits here to a large degree. Are you looking for more of the metaphysical, more impressionist?
posted by rhymesinister at 4:12 AM on March 3, 2007

Almost too literal (and woman's journey instead of "man's"): The Descent.
posted by nicwolff at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2007

Fitzcarraldo is the epitome of this genre for me. And for the meta take on it, you can view "the making of" film The Burden of Dreams which is as traumatic, if not more so, than the resulting film.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2007

The main character of Neil Gaiman's American Gods is called Shadow. I can't remember if there's a scene where he traveled through a narrow passage but he was definitely on a difficult path to understand some rather unusual circumstances and, by extension, both himself and his place within them.
posted by Tuwa at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2007

Eddie Murphy's The Golden Child shows him having to traverse a difficult passage across platforms over an infinitely deep pit to prove his purity. Yes I'm serious.

Time Bandits has a similar setup--platforms across a pit. But I'm not sure it fits the shadow metaphor as well.
posted by underwater at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2007

Pan's Labryinth. Another dark fairy tale. She has two different and very involved tasks that involve traversing a tunnel and then confronting some sort of horror.
posted by santojulieta at 8:19 AM on March 3, 2007

How about The Shadow?!? :]
posted by gaiamark at 9:29 AM on March 3, 2007

And, on a more light-hearted note, Alice in Wonderland.
posted by rjs at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2007

The Manticore by Robertson Davies has an amazing tunnel scene and is full of Jungian philosophy. If you can handle 800 pages, I'd read the whole Deptford Trilogy. The Manticore, though good, is my least favorite, and the same characters recur, so you'd understand The Manticore better if you'd already read the first in the series. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a guy spends 30 days in a well, is rewarded by breaking through to a tunnel, and there confronts a beast. And (commenting on two above), Pan's Labyrinth is spot on. American Gods -- I was originally going to vote against it -- but it actually does work, kinda. There's a journey, but not in a tunnel (one part of the journey is very inward, though). The recurring theme is about surrendering to death and being reborn as a hero, which is similar to going down a tunnel, confronting your shadow, and emerging into the world with new peace.
posted by beatrice at 10:07 AM on March 3, 2007

Perhaps not exactly what you're looking for, but the caves in A Passage to India come to mind.
posted by lindsey.nicole at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2007

"The Shining"
posted by grumblebee at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2007

Songs of Earth and Power by Greg Bear is partway there. Michael, the protagonist, finds his way into the Sidhe realm through a narrow passageway (with some pretty darn spooky things), but the encounter with his own shadows (and sacrifice of one them) is a while in coming.

(You can also find this book as two volumes The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage.)
posted by weston at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2007

"The Power of Nothingness" by Alexandra David Neel and Lama Yongden
posted by ljshapiro at 12:02 PM on March 3, 2007

I second Earbucket's matrix suggestion, but the hero journey for neo doesnt end with him being picked up in the real world. the entire first movie is the hero myth...
posted by stratastar at 12:52 PM on March 3, 2007

Monsieur Klein
posted by dondiego87 at 2:13 PM on March 3, 2007

How about 2001 (the film, I haven't read the book). The whole scene from when HAL goes nuts, to crawling inside the guts of the beast, should fit your requirements rather well. I suspect you could find many interesting words written about Kubrick films from a Jungian kinda perspective; here is an interesting start.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:28 PM on March 3, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, these are all such fantastic examples. I am so pleased to discover such a wealth of works that employ this particular trope.

loosemouth: Yes, I think Altered States falls well into this category. If I recall correctly, the movie commences with Jessup in an isolation chamber into which he must climb down...also, his eventual freakout/trip in the hallways of his home.

juv3nal: I've read both those books - but years ago - and in retrospect Demian remains one of my favorites. Thank you for reminding me of them. On a related note (though slightly OT), have you (or any other mefites) read Hesse's The Glass Bead Game? I have not, but I suspect that it follows a similar model.

rhymesinister: Though I think the 'coming of age' model does often fit the bill (particularly in the case of the progress toward individuation), I find that it is merely incidental here. I would say I am looking for something more metaphysical than, say, 13 Going on 30 (sorry, that's just the lamest "coming of age" story that I could pick off the top of my mind). Catcher in the Rye certainly fulfills the entire ego/shadow reconciliaiton issue - as do many of Salinger's short stories (I could gush and gush about them, but I won't), but I'm particularly interested in the imagery employed to symbolize the descent of the ego toward the discovery of the shadow (followed by the realization of the Self).

grumblebee: Ooooh, that's a macabre example, but I really like it! Jack certainly does come into contact with his "shadow," but obviously has trouble reconciling with it (to the point that he destroys his very life as he knows it). Awesome, thanks.

Thank you to all who have offered examples. I'm not familiar with a number of these works, but I am excited to check them out. Please keep 'em coming!
posted by numinous at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2007

Fight Club's a good bet, too. The house on Paper Street and the dank basements where most of the action takes place--and you can't ask for a better example of the unconscious shadow self than Tyler Durden.
posted by EarBucket at 3:20 PM on March 3, 2007

Haruki Murakami does this with a few of his books. He definitely uses the image of being trapped at the bottom of a well in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and then there are dark hallways in Dance Dance Dance. Hard-Boiled Wonderland has a kind of dark cavern that has to be crossed.
posted by eggplantia5 at 3:24 PM on March 3, 2007

Seconding Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Melissa May mentions What Dreams May Come— you might want to check out a couple of other Vincent Ward movies: The Navigator^ and Map of the Human Heart^, which also use the motif.

A more mainstream cinematic example— Zemeckis' Contact.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:42 PM on March 3, 2007

I want to say Jacob's Ladder. It is steeped in Christian mythology but it is clearly Jacob against himself as he fights to find peace in death and traverse up the stair case to heaven with his dead son (purity lost).
posted by dobie at 7:50 PM on March 3, 2007

i would recommend "dead man" by jim jarmusch and "children of men" by alfonso cuaron.
posted by fac21 at 2:22 AM on March 4, 2007

Taking it into a slightly different direction: labyrinths. A modern example is Roger Zelazny's Amber series, where the hero has to negotiate a labyrinth in order to recover his memories and his supernatural powers. There's a subterranean labyrinth in The Tombs of Atuan, which is part of Ursula le Guin's Earthsea series that was mentioned earlier in this thread. There are also the classic examples, the Minotaur and the labyrinths in Western-European cathedrals.
posted by rjs at 2:37 AM on March 4, 2007

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