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Lesson #5 Movies by Archetypal Genre

#archetypes #films #genres

For the purpose of further discovering My archetypal wheel, as a four-act structure system in particular, (and I will call it Intuitive Screenwriting Wheel from now on) let’s analyze a couple of movies and see if oppositions really work from the perspective of the protagonist.

Fårö, Sweden


THE BIRDS (1963), Alfred Hitchcock

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) who “seeks true love, intimacy, commitment” starts like a Shadow Lover who is “seductive and uses love to manipulate” – She takes lovebirds to Bodega Bay. Hitchcock is suggesting that in order to win the heart of her lover, she has to replace his mother. So, when birds start attacking, she is the one who is protecting school kids and the whole family at the end. She proves herself to be a strong Caregiver (nurturing mother), opposing archetype. This is how she finally wins the relationship she seeks.

I just saw THE DESTROYER (2018), Karyn Kusama,

with Nicole Kidman, that I thought might be the true representation of the Destroyer archetype, and it is. The Destroyer embodies “repressed rage about structures that no longer serve life even when these structures still are supported by society or by our conscious choices. Their quest is to change and their shadow side includes all self-destructive behaviors – addictions, compulsions, and murder.” (see here all archetypes!)

All of this couldn’t be more true than for the character Erin Bell, LAPD detective who is trying to solve reoccurring crimes from the past – this archetype is her past story. The Opposing archetype on The Intuitive Screenwriting Wheel and her present self is the Sage who analyzes (what and how everything happened) so that she can separate truth from her own deception. Her fear is that once fooled, she is going to be fooled again. Her Shadow side is being judgmental and self-righteous.

CHINATOWN (1974) Roman Polanski, is on the same axis as above.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), Jonathan Demme

A friend of mine said to me the other day: I know what Hannibal Lecter is - he is a “Destroyer – Sage”! And he is. Let's see who FBI cadet Clarice is, a woman who wants to prove herself in the man’s world: she is actually a Ruler (remember the elevator scene full of men – and she is the only woman). She seeks safety in the outside world, and she wants to become part of the structure and to be seen and recognized as strong. Why? What is she protecting? The Innocent side of herself – “the trusting child within us, who seeks to remain in safety.” The Shadow side of the Innocent is fear of abandonment.

She tells Lecter that she was raised in a small town in West Virginia with her father, a town marshal. When she was ten, her father was shot when responding to a robbery; he died a month later. After that, Clarice’s world becomes a dangerous place. Crying lambs from her past represent exactly that lost innocence.

THE SEARCHERS (1950), John Ford

is on the same axis, “Ruler – Innocent.” Ethan Edwards (John Waine) is not someone who would like to serve or submit to any side. So, during the war, he was probably sitting on both chairs. The conclusion is, he is not innocent by any means. The only piece of innocence preserved for him is his brother’s family. So, when the Indians take both of his nieces and kill the rest of the family, and literally take their innocence, he goes on a crusade, fighting The Indian Ruler chief Cicatriz (Scar). This is the beginning of the new white America.

In FISH TANK (2009), Andrea Arnold,

Mia is on the axis of “Lover – Caregiver,” although maybe not in an obvious way. It looks like she is seeking both a lover and a father, but what she really needs is to solve her problem. At the beginning of the film when her mother asks her what her problem is, she replies: “You are.” So, she doesn’t know any better than to play the Shadow Lover archetype with Conor (Michael Fassbender), in order to conquer

Shadow side of herself, which is her uncaring mother. The other side of the coin is: She has to be a positive Caregiver for herself (fight Conor) in order to be able to have any kind of healthy relationship (with the young guy).

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001), David Lynch

is “Creator – Orphan.” In order to succeed in Hollywood, both actresses struggle with their shadow sides, which are represented by the Hollywood ego-driven entertainment machine (black box) that first uses and later destroys their dreams to feed itself. The only way to protect the Creator is to enter into a relationship with one another. In fact,for Diane, it’s important for her to have a love relationship with the version of herself from the parallel/imagined world. This is the same woman; Betty was just the key for the box (I am in love with you – I am you). The Shadow side of the Orphan is abandonment, and here the break up is the lowest point of the film.

Neo from THE MATRIX (2000)

is the embodiment of the “Explorer (The Seeker)- Magician axis.” The Seeker “leaves the known to discover and explore the unknown.” Strangers can often be their family and they can find treasure anywhere. But, usually, they are not aware that treasure exists inside of them, as well. Their fear is to commit to “ordinary love, ordinary world.” The Magician “searches out the fundamental laws of science and/or metaphysics to understand how to transform situations, influence people, and make visions into realities.” The Magician can reach other plains of existence, as he/she understands that the cosmos is big and he/she is ready to explore it. He can bring instantaneous resolutions of irresolvable opposites. His addiction is a disconnection from reality, using literal or figurative drugs. Remember the pills?

DIE HARD (1988)

(which is probably the best Christmas movie ever, (screenplay by amazing Jeb Stuart, directed by John McTiernan who I always loved and just discovered that he was born on the same day as I am)

- is on the Warrior/Hero – Fool axis. The Hero often has to prove himself but at the same time he fights for all of us in order to preserve this playfulness we all desperately need. The Shadow side of the Hero is arrogance while the Shadow side of a Fool is being irresponsible but also irresistible, making cruel jokes, pretending that nothing really matters,” and that is probably exactly the reason why his ex-wife is an ex-wife, but also why she is still in love with him.


So, you see where I am going with this. I am certain no one ever worked with this wheel, but somehow it gives us the insight into the collective unconscious and by comparing characters (who are becoming stories) on the same axis, it can help us recognize some patterns as well.

This leads me to the conclusion that when we align both archetypes on the axis we suddenly have a certain story type, a category or a family of the story with predominant theme - actually a specific genre. Logical but still amazing?

This is enormously interesting and helpful since actually from the character arc you can already see genre and from there story elements are much easier to find.

Also, this wheel helped me to define the precise direction of psychological development inside every Archetypal Axis Alignment or genre. And if you know anything about storytelling, you know what this means – you can figure out with precision where to find and how to build your subtext. HUGE!

This is the way to use this technique step by step:

Archetype ---> Archetypal Axis/Arc (change) ---> Archetypal Cross/Structure ---> Archetypal Axis Alignment = Genre ---> Psychological Axis Alignment ---> Story Elements