Updated: Nov 7, 2019
‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”. Terence
Key words to unlock the Destroyer archetype:
Dark, Hidden, Aggressive, Evil
Villains, Seducers, Detectives
Power, Passion, Protection
Money, Sex, Fame
Magnetic, Possessions, Deep connections
Death, Fear, Underworld
Boundaries, Walls, Lines, Separation, Trust
Alchemy, Metamorphoses, Transformation
Facing the truth, Telling the Truth, Being the truth
Joker, yes. I can hardly think of a better example than the film Joker (2019) to explain the Destroyer archetype. Why?
Because he is the creation of the destructive system around him. He was not born evil, we can hardly say that he becomes evil, but he faces evil and transforms it, that’s for sure. First of all, his destructiveness is the force that is projected inwards and only later on outwards.
He is brave enough to face the truth, to say it, to reveal it. He saw inequality, he knows pain, he was ridiculed, he met people who are highly corrupted and high on power or lost in fear, on every corner. He was close to death many times, and he demystified fear by crossing the line. Nothing can hurt him anymore; in the end, there is no fear that can control him or power over him.
When I say that ‘he crosses the line,’ I think we, as human beings, know very well what the ultimate line is: the line between life and death. The line between good and evil, light and dark. No harm should be done on purpose to a living being. Ever.
But once that line is crossed, then all other lines can be also crossed. Systems collapse because of that, people are being killed, ridiculed, lives are being destroyed, and the Destroyer here serves our need to clean up this mess. Someone has to go deep down and see with his or her own eyes how this is even possible, feel on his or her own skin what it looks like to kill someone. What part of the human psyche is capable of causing harm? What can causing harm do to a living being that was created to love? In a way it is the ultimate sacrifice, going into the darkness with a clean soul, putting your hands into dirt, facing the horror and admitting: Nothing human is alien to me.
Because those are my boundaries and ultimately those boundaries are the ones of humanity itself.
What is the ultimate line between being a human being and not being a human being anymore?
This is what’s being explored in the Destroyer’s stage: the evil inside each of us and our capacity to enact and embody it. It would be naïve to believe that evil is solely an outside force.
But knowing that we are capable of evil, especially if it can bring us prosperity, and then doing it or not, well, this is the ultimate choice that faces every human being, and that faces the Destroyer part of the psyche within us as well. It is also the ultimate power, true power that is not measured by money, fame or sex, but by the willingness to see through evil, demystify it and do good.
“Who are you then?" "I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, First Part
The dark world Joker lives in is also the dark side of his own psyche. It is not only an outside force but an inner force as well – darkness from the inside and outside work together in synergy and this is the lesson to be learned. Once Joker reaches the bottom of his own soul, we see the illness we are actually all a part of.
Only by looking at the truth without fear, by looking at the whole spectrum of life from our ugliest secrets to our most compassionate truths, does everything become suddenly illuminated with light.
Only then can we say that the time has come for transformation. And transformation is only possible under the highest amount of pressure, no reason for fear anymore, as it will happen anyway. The Destroyer knows that cycles are natural and necessary. Decay makes room for new sprouts to come. We must never forget that darkness helps us to see and define lightness.
The finale in your story does exactly this. Killing whatever no longer serves a higher order and purpose is necessary, in order for transformation to occur. The Destroyer is not sentimental, he knows what needs to be done and he will do it. If he is going down, someone is going down with him.
“Whatever is the lot of humankind I want to taste within my deepest self. I want to seize the highest and the lowest, to load its woe and bliss upon my breast, and thus expand my single self titanically and in the end go down with all the rest.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, First Part
In the finale, the hero lets go of everything that is not aligned with pure truth, either metaphorically or literally. There is no higher truth of the story than when it is shown at this point in the film. And yes, sometimes the truth is fear and sometimes is love. There is no choice left after this point. Truth is the only thing that can really set us free.
After the death experience in the Magician and Caregiver phases, this point can be the second death experience. In some films, it is the first and final death, like in Sunset Boulevard. Norma kills Joe Gillis because she can’t live without him, she had her last chance with him, but he also can’t live without Betty. Ironically speaking he finally gets what he always wanted: (he ends up dead in) the pool.
In The Birds, Melanie is fighting her last fight with the birds, or metaphorically with Mitch's mother. She is all alone in the attic and, at first, she is almost destroyed, but later she becomes the destroyer herself. That’s how she claims her role as the new mother/caregiver of the family.
In Fish Tank, in the Destroyer stage of the story, Mia is leaving her old life. When she realizes at the audition that they are looking for pole dancers, she finally knows that this isn’t for her. Her old “self” is officially dead, and she emotionally reveals that to us in the next scene, when she is crying because a young guy’s horse has died at the age of 16 – the same age she is now. The good news is she is going to get a second chance.
In Conan the Barbarian, Conan kills Thulsa Doom at this point. It is the final showdown of the story. Conan avenges his parents and proves that along the way he has also matured – he is able to reject evil when its magnetic power is asking him to sell his soul.
In Chinatown, one of the best films about the evil we have ever had, evil wins at this point in the story. Noah Cross stays on the throne of the evil world, and it is his daughter Evelyn, who he had sex with, who is killed in the end. We can imagine he is going to continue to do the same to his granddaughter now because he has power. He is power incarnate, no one can harm him. The main character, Jake Gittes, is defeated once again. Without a doubt one of the most terrifying endings in film history. (The previous stage, the Caregiver in Chinatown is the famous ‘I am her mother, I am her sister’ scene, which is archetypally about the twisted circumstances Evelyn was part of and her troubled motherhood.)
As mentioned in the previous post, the Destroyer stage is about the peak of the ‘wish storyline.’ It tells us the following:
The Destroyer stage is about the hero winning the main battle against the antagonist.
The Destroyer stage is about the death of the hero’s ego.
The Destroyer stage is simply about the death of the hero’s wish, which is just another name for the hero’s ego.
The Destroyer stage is sometimes also about the antagonist’s triumph.
So, while the Destroyer is usually about hero reclaiming his power and accessing his will power, in the end, the plot can also happen to hero (the examples are precisely those when the hero is killed or someone close to the hero is killed).
So, what about comedy? What is the finale in a comedy from the structural perspective?
On the other side of the Destroyer’s fear that generates evil, there is an intimacy that generates creation. The Destroyer, as the king of boundaries, also rules the line that can let someone in or push someone out from the hero’s intimate space.
Who can the hero merge his energy with, who can he trust, who can he invest his time in and ultimately who can he have sex with and create a new family with? These are the questions that are on the other side of the Destroyer’s coin.
In Symbols of Transformation, C.G. Jung writes about the sexual power that can both destroy and transform:
“This passionate longing has two sides: it is the power which beautifies everything, but, in a different set of circumstances, is quite as likely to destroy everything. Hence a violent desire is either accompanied by anxiety at the start, or is remorselessly pursued by it. All passion is a challenge to fate, and what it does cannot be undone. Fear of fate is a very understandable phenomenon, for it is incalculable, immeasurable, full of unknown dangers. The perpetual hesitation of the neurotic to launch out into life is readily explained by his desire to stand aside so as not to get involved in the dangerous struggle for existence. But anyone who refuses to experience life must stifle his desire to live—in other words, he must commit partial suicide. This explains the death-fantasies that usually accompany the renunciation of desire.”
I have already spoken about the death drive and the book Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being by Sabina Spielrein, which can help us understand the psychological fear behind merging our energy with someone else’s.
What’s destroyed at this position of the Destroyer archetype is precisely the fear of coming together. What is born as a result is unity. This is the archetypal ending that can be used in romantic films and comedies. Apart from unity, the psychological background is the same as in tragedies: the death of an ego.
To conclude, let’s also not forget that at the opposite side of the Destroyer is the Sage,
that is obsessed with being pure and being aligned with truth. Pure intentions start with self-love and self-love always brings healing, and ultimately integrity. To know our darkest spots, and still be able to accept them and love them, that is a self-mastery. This is actually a responsible behavior of an individual in society.
Whether our boundaries are appropriate or not should be measured by our integrity. What is inside should be the same as what is outside. It is the end of the inner conflict and therefore the outside one and this is exactly our aim and the reason why it is the end of the story.
The formula for the finale of feature film structure from the archetypal point of view is:
Destroyer--> Sage: Death of an old ego can finally create space for the new self. Resurration. The hero is in tune with his deepest inner truths (in other words, needs) now. A union is formed.
Joseph Campbell calls this stage RESURRECTION.
For a better understanding of the Destroyer from a structural point of view, let’s go one stage back for a moment. In films where the hero loses in the end, the Caregiver stage (even though it is the lowest point) can bring the hero together with someone (like in Chinatown) and we can have a feeling that the hero is winning. In films where the hero wins in the end, the Caregiver can play out as the ultimate illusion of separation (like in Fish Tank) and we can have the feeling that the hero is losing. Depending on what occurs during the Caregiver stage, the hero either regains his power (Fish Tank) or loses it finally (Chinatown) during the Destroyer stage.
Structurally, keep in mind that the more space (in terms of energy) your script has between these two points, Caregiver and Destroyer, the bigger the emotional impact the story will have on an audience. It is literally like a roller coaster, one moment the audience is down and the next they are up.
If the story is well structured, it is impossible not to feel the energy in your body, and this is probably the most important thing to know if you are a writer. Insights and truths never come from intellect, they are always emotional, they are felt in the body, in the stomach – and structure is the way to rhythmically play this well for the audience.
The result is catharsis, the purifying emotional effect that the finale in a tragedy has on us.
Breaking down the structure of the final act in Joker (spoiler alert!)
Magician stage: Joker learns the “truth” about his mother adopting him.
Caregiver: Joker kills his mother (you remember what is the previous post about, exactly about killing the mother. Here read the whole explanation.)
Destroyer: Joker is not killing himself, but instead he kills the TV host he once loved and respected. The death of an illusion, truth is being said. At this point, he is being transformed: from looser to a hero. He is resurrected. The power is finally at his side.
Innocent: After the resurrection, he is recognized by others in society as a hero. He is now known to be the first one to ignite the transformation. He is accepted - he is the part of people – humanity. No more separation.
And this is what the Innocent archetype is about. Next time we will explore this last and final stage on the wheel.
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