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American Beauty is a film which stirs up a range of different reactions. When I first saw the film I was gripped by its description of a husband and father disintegrating and re-forming himself, alongside the changes and transformations of others - his wife, daughter, neighbours - around him; I found it exciting as well as disturbing…
In the 1920s Jung wrote a paper on 'The spiritual problem of modern man' addressing what he saw as an inevitable psychological/cultural response to an over-emphasis on the spirit or psyche as opposed to the body during that time. Feeling that the young profession of the cinema was very much a part of this response - a symptom of the imbalance, in a way - he wrote:
The cinema, like the detective story, enables us to experience without danger to ourselves all the excitements, passions, and fantasies which have to be repressed in a humanistic age. It is not difficult to see how these symptoms link up with our psychological situation. The fascination of our psyche brings about a new self-appraisal, a reassessment of our fundamental human nature. We can hardly be surprised if this leads to a rediscovery of the body after its long subjection to the spirit - we are even tempted to say that the flesh is getting its own back. (Jung 1928, para. 195) Jung thought that all psychological life expressed itself in binary oppositions, and that a process of something turning into its opposite was common - and indeed was to be expected when it had gone too far one way, as his quote indicates. ...
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