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26th Annual Conference in Psychology and Literature (Viterbo, Italy, July 1-5, 2009) Conferee: César A.

Ramírez García

The Persona’s archetype dilemma in Samuel Beckett´s Film (1964)

The present paper does not employ any of Jung´s ideas of the analytical psychology applied to literature and arts, however it discusses under his light what the film-director Alan Schneider perceives as “the personality essential frailty” (1969) dilemma which Samuel Beckett has attempted to establish in this cinematic venture originally entitled The Eye (the later named simply as Film).


Being briefly, let me begin telling you the 17 minutes story before to set thematically the movie by asking how Jung´s understanding of the Persona might help us to comprehend what for all such Buster Keaton´s “unenthusiastic” performance. Film opens upon the scene of an eye which blinks. Then, the sequences are all about the fretful movements of a man (namely “O”, or “Object”, featured, as said, by Buster Keaton) who seems nervously walking from a desolated street towards his small hardly furnished room (all furniture there: a mirror, a single bed, a rocking-chair and a curiously picture of God the Father, a cat and a dog resting on the floor, a parrot in a cage and a fish in a bowl on a table…). O, the man, curiously is from the beginning rambling blindly along the sidewalk, hugging the wall on his left because he had covered his face with a handkerchief. His hat is also pulled down over his eyes so, in his hurry, incidentally jostles a couple of people standing on the street; having recovered from the collision, they both look at each other, staring at the camera “an expression –according to Beckett- only to be described as corresponding to an agony of perceivedness” (p.16).


Technical cinematic resources help Beckett´s propose of not to show to the public O´s face. The successions of images come to end when a terrifying expression springs Keaton´s gestures when looking at the dual perception of himself. until this last scene at an angle not exceeding 45º degrees). Turning back to chair. He closes his eyes. She shows the same terrifying expression as that of the couple when she looks full at E. *** 2 . the camera (“E”. by now out of sight. so he takes off his coat to cover cage and bowl at the same time. He had disappeared through an open housedoor. Afterwards. takes off the handkerchief and approaches the window carefully to draw curtains. by E. will start to encircle the man from his left hand side (it must be pointed out that. then. Seated again. He removes the picture from wall. or “Eye”. the camera. main character as well) turns back towards to O. The camera. O stands near door. sets down the case. O inspects seven photos in total and. He takes up the rug and covers the mirror with it while the cat and the dog start to stare at him so he puts them out of the room. He picks up a case on floor and goes to sit down in the curiously carved headrest of the chair when suddenly he feels disturbed by a printed picture of Jesus Christ looking at him severely. now he is disturbed by the parrot´s and the fish´s eyes. the camera. tears them all apart (it is important to check out and describe what the photos are showing. covers his face with his hands as the rocking dies down. the camera is always staring at the man from behind. as you can see. hanging off the paper in four pieces. the scene is transferred to the room.Meanwhile. keeping hidden what he called an “angle of immunity” which is exceeded completely until the expected end: O´s face is captured. when he has finished. It continues a two minutes scene of destruction of a packet of photographs. finally. Immediately E accelerates and comes up with him in the stairs where an old lady was descending. but I will do that later).

at times. its value is magnified by the fact that this material can be appreciated of being an “intellectual type” (p. In spite of this. in this case. of Film. It was just that. like film-theorist Gilles Deleuze has called it.11).5). Beckett. as Keaton suggested behind scenes.. so far psychological. was indeed trying to establish into visual an abstract principle. what is interesting to perceive in it. 1965 p. G. 1 3 . when its viewing has failed to infuse me with any degree of enthusiasm and.. the need of watch it again became a hard experience -no matter that. to be read in conjunction with the film. a philosophical reflection which. however.4) 2 Most critics has seen here an amount of interpretations and “meanings” that are supposed to be present in Beckett´s film. The more accepted idea sustains that Beckett is staging George Berkeley´s theory of perceivedness: esse est percipi (to be is to be perceived) (Berkeley. we can only say that it fails to excite and fails to communicate at any real level…” (p. Beckett´s literary fame could not maintain in save place this type from hard critics of both contemporary film-makers and cinemagoers whose has been measured it as a failure unsuccessful assemblage1. quoted by Waugh. F.How I have finally taken this rare. as he had done in many of his plays and novels. quite confusing material to write about in order to enhance the understanding of the psychological process going on in it. Elsey. as the Irish critics Katherine Waugh and Fergus Daly (1995) affirmed. also Ted Sludds (1995) when commented that “at the end. (2002). one has to be more than the simple viewer of common sense and gut reactions I consider my self to criticize and condemn out of hand this project which much I would really wish to call “the greatest Irish film” ever made. A. it could play itself no more than 4 minutes? I would not want. K. S. is that rather than the productions aimed towards the pure entertainment. What is this beckettian reasoning behind about? It was only after reading the script when I realized that Mr. to involve in this presentation any personal critic. a problem which can be resumed in the following phrase: “search of nonbeing in flight from extraneous perception breaking down in inescapability of self perception” 2 (Beckett. E. 1995 p. Kelly. unsurprisingly.. Daly. is explicit thanks to some explanatory notes and supplements which appear on the script-play.12): the filmic form which is attempting to express a thought.

the mask of an actor. F.156) and takes an interesting example: this is how. It indicates overall the role we all play in society: “the outward form in which the personality is presented” (Pye. that the problematic to be thematized is that of Carl Gustav Jung when says: “whoever goes to himself risk a confrontation with himself” –or. in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology regards persona as a segment of the collective. *** How does it come that people acquire Persona? It is well known that the word comes from Greek tragedy and originally signified the mask worn by actors.29) If so. The figure of the medicineman or chief leads the way: both make themselves conspicuous by the singularity of their ornaments an their mode of life. it faithfully shows whatever looks into it. Jung´s reflections of the Persona are the key ideas to be in line with Film´s centre theme.May one sustain. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face"? (p.41). namely the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona. the position which illuminates by contrast what Persona does mean: a hazard position which I will call its antithesis. quite naively. “a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be” (p. Why Persona? In seeking theoretical arguments to sustain this lecture. The singularity of his outward toke marks the individual off from the rest. which might be called a persona (mask)” (p. 4 . the acquirement of the persona comes off: “development of the person is a question of magical prestige. The mirror doesn’t flatter.147). 1983 p. and the segregation is still further enhanced by the possession of special ritual secrets. let me develop. Jung´s formulations of this concept -or much better. By these and similar means the primitive creates around him a shell. putting these words in psychological terms. expressive of their social roles. Jung. among tribal societies. to quote Jung in his more detailed formulation: "Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself.

thus. F. to achieve and to maintain that vital union. p. because the possibility of regressive dissolution in collective psyque is a very real danger (…) This possibility is most likely to occur when the goal of prestige –universal recognition.180): its function is.Hence. to represent a label or a political party. the building up of the persona is product of “public compromises” (which means that not only must there be one who want it. 1983 p. the argumentation comes to a problem which is liable to cause confusion and I cannot go through the whole of Jung´s theory of the individuation process to explain this in more detail.has been reached. In this sense. at least.148) 5 . there must also be a community seeking it). serving as a sort of medium between the ego and the human environment (Jung. a university or office. is that external changes can operate transformations (or displacements) on the persona. So what happens when separateness. when that important bridge between the collective and the personal is affected whether by external or internal circumstances? Is this O´s dilemma when is disturbed by “extraneous perceptions”? Let´s go back to Jung´s concern: “For an individual to find the proper place of Persona in his relation to an ordered society is one thing. and that is always the beginning of the end” (Jung. or pertaining exclusively to personal particularities: to take a name. Here. The person then becomes a collective truth. to be this or that. one can affirm that persona in general consists in a sum of social attributes that are felt to be individual. but what happens if society disintegrates around him. to earn a title. Persona. 1917 p. is as important for ego development as to group belonging. it is important to remark that the greatest danger for the development of the persona is precisely the possibility of its dissolution: “The importance of the persona can hardly be overestimated. or if the rate of change is so rapid that it is felt as desintegration? Persona then loses touch with traditional values and becomes means of protection and belonging at all costs: in this sense we are all ´displaced persons´” (Pye.46) What this is suggesting. thus.

Pye (1982) has called the antithesis of Persona: the situation in which the boundaries of separateness may be broken so the person easily could fail or reject it when he/she longs to communicate his essential being to one another. his performance. his mother holding him in her arms. it is not strict necessary to follow once again sequence by sequence the story. his present appearance: an old man of crim expression… In order. on 6 . as Jung prevents. most relevant but hopelessly. in the much better case. from the eye of pets. *** This “essential frailty” is the problem I finally would like to point out in Film: one may call a process which is the antithesis of the acquirement of the Persona what this short is serving to express. he inspects 7 photographs which are showing every single chapter in his whole process of individuation (Shakespeare´s seven ages of man!). This is a position which F. just putting the emphasis in the scene when the man is tearing off the photographs. to. indeed. from being perceived by himself. We can discuss how furious is this process of dissolution of O’s persona but. passing by his adult period when he got married and had children. the gaze of the few people who appear in there (the couple and the old lady). the old man. was trying to avoid the gaze of everything which may reminds or symbolizes his persona: the cameraman (as said.It does mean that the price we all have to paid for the acquirement of persona is high: once it has been gained. pictures. his search is not to be in with any segment of the collective. become merely an evanescence apparition. to the young man wearing school blazer and receiving a diploma of graduation. Its positive value can be thus lost or. Having already looked at the film. objects and. sundered into “E” or the Eye of the public. a real danger. it will be easier to grasp the idea because he is tearing off the remembrances of all his past and current life…: since he was an infant. What seems to be true enough is that main character. the question for its maintenance became. finally. our eye).

Collected Works Vol. Routledge & K. p. (1917). Transformation of the persona. art.G. (1972). Collected Works Vol 7. REFERENCES Beckett. Ego and archetype. C. Paul (1975) Katherine Waugh and Fergus Daly (1995). and literature. (1965). 20 Pye. Jung. Faber and Faber Ltd. Paul (1975) Jung. Ed. Film by Samuel Beckett. 9 Ed.the contrary. the objective is quite extreme: to search non-being. S. F. the mask…) should be sometimes so terrifying. Edinger. The Spirit in man. Collected Works Vol. In the wake of Jung. The archetypes and the collective unconscious. so lets talk about that in another opportunity. Routledge & K. to suppress that “protective covering for the secret life” (Pye. 15 Ed. and others (1983). brings us indeed to the problem of our Shadow side. the face. complete scenario/illustrations/productions shots.43) Also. E. Film. C. and this task deserves to be treated carefully. Surely I am running out of time.G. Harvest 7 . Film West magazine No. Ed. (1934). F. C.G. Paul (1975) Jung. Routledge & K. This notion leads us to this understanding of why ego-perception (everything which may symbolizes the outward. we may discuss if the final scene -when the dual perception happens-. The persona as a segment of the collective psyque. Pinguin Books Inc. and also the scenes when the people stars at the camera the expression of “agony”.