Thursday, 22 September 2011

The X Files - the Anima, Subjectivity and the Dark Brother

This essay aims to posit an idea first suggested by Chris Knowles over on and confirmed by my own studies of the seminal television show The X Files.  The idea is that Chris Carter’s television opus is a master-narrative of point-of-view, subjectivity and interpretation, as well as being a philosophical treatise on the suppressed knowledge, themes and potentials of the twentieth century.  Rather than beginning with a breakdown of the show’s central characters and ideas I’ll simply jump in at the deep end – assuming the reader’s familiarity with the show.

Seeking the Anima

Mulder is not simply an obsessive genius haunted by the mysterious childhood abduction of his sister; he is a fractured psyche – an animus seeking to reunite his anima. One of the many themes of the show is the functionality and processes of magical consciousness.  As evidence for this I would highlight that when Mulder first recounts the tale of his sister’s abduction he imagines that he is in bed and Samantha is taken by aliens while he remains paralysed in some awful waking-nightmare state.  It is implied that Mulder and his sister perhaps shared a bedroom.  This adds weight to the idea that they are intimately linked characters even before her abduction, in that they possibly share the same private space.  When the viewer hears this recording of Mulder’s initial recollections, we see him sitting alone and dejected in an empty church.

This idea of Samantha as Mulder’s anima is given further credence when the abduction story evolves into an alternate version.  In flashback we see that Mulder and Samantha are now in the living-room, playing a board game while the television is on in the background.  The game in question is Stratego, a game of strategy.  The show they are watching is The Magician.  So here we see an implied link between strategy and magic concerning Samantha’s abduction.  It is also noteworthy that in this scene Samantha is dressed in a nightgown, almost ready for bed, while young Mulder is still in casual clothes.  This emphasises Mulder’s protector role of his sister and even a surrogate parent capacity while Mom and Dad are out of the house.  This is cemented when the ‘alien’ white light occurs and Samantha is levitated through a window. Young Mulder’s first instinct is quite a mature and forceful one – to get to his father’s gun.

This abduction scene seems to be a touchstone for Mulder’s imagination and interior spiritual life – so much so that it is revisited more than once and with more than one interpretation.  This idea of Samantha as Mulder’s anima or soul is given explicit poigniancy in Paper Hearts when Mulder questions his memory of the abduction narrative and comes to wonder if instead Samantha was actually abducted and murdered by a child-killer.  The emptiness that Mulder feels becomes almost too much to bare when he must question if his symbolic-soul was actually slaughtered many years ago, and he asks himself if he has been labouring under a lie since then. Even this skewed interpretation of Samantha’s abduction is surrounded by Alice In Wonderland imagery, adding credence to the idea that fantasy is somehow strongly connected to her disappearance.

Although within the literal narrative Samantha is obviously a real person, in the symbolic narrative Samantha is so much more than this – she is the absent keeper of all of Mulder’s hopes and fears.  We can find evidence of this in the fact that throughout the show’s duration Mulder comes into contact with various copies and clones of his sister; at various ages.  Some of these copies are still children and some are fully-grown women.  These encounters serve a dual function.  They destabilize Mulder’s sense of the chronology of space-time, as well as reinforcing the concept of Samantha as an absent magical anima who can yet turn up anywhere and in various versions of herself.  This de-literalizes Samantha and converts her into a figure wholly of Mulders point-of-view.  Indeed, the viewer is never even privy to an ‘objective’ flashback of Samantha.  All of the flashbacks are perceived through Mulder’s imagination and usually laden with dream-imagery.

This is the case all the way through to Sein Und Zeit and Closure when the Samantha abduction story is finally resolved.  The resolution to her disappearance isn’t replete with alien abduction imagery as Mulder had previously believed – rather Mulder finds himself surrounded by talk of angelic walk-ins and starlight consciousness.  This further cements Samantha’s status as a denizen of the magical, internal dream-realm.  

In his adult life, on one level, Mulder’s intense and profound relationship with Scully acts as a surrogate anima-soul, someone he can protect in lieu of Samantha’s abduction.  But on another level Scully seems to also act like an extension or fortification of his animus.  We might argue that with the loss of what Mulder perceives as his genuine anima – represented by Samantha – he must overcompensate to hold on to this aspect of his now fractured psyche.  As a result he becomes strangely ‘feminized’, in so much as he becomes receptive, intuitive and almost preternaturally perceptive – all supposed traits of the feminine psyche.  So, although Scully is at first a surrogate anima-sister, Mulder has in some oblique way become his sister through the ferocity and single-mindedness of his quest to retrieve her – and Scully quickly becomes the more traditionally masculine half of their ‘partnership’; representing traits of reason, logic and healthy skepticism.  She is in effect Mulder’s only true tether to the mortal Earth-bound realm. 

So, we can see that the Mulder-Scully relationship is shaded with various nuances of symbolism and meaning.  We might argue that Mulder’s pursuit of his missing sister is both objective and subjective.  It is simultaneously the most literal and the most metaphorical thing in Mulder’s life.  And while Mulder attempts to locate and retrieve Samantha from a myth-laden psychological underworld, we see that he already possesses many of the anima-traits that she represents, though leavened with a large dose of black humour.  In this sense Samantha’s disappearance is both a curse and a terrible gift; it has made Mulder what he is – his genius as well as his self-destructive obsession.

The Shadow and Dark Brother

A central aspect to the show’s exploration of identity, subjectivity and interpretation is the way that various characters represent various facets of each other’s psyches.  With this in mind let’s explore the character of Alex Krycek.  

To my mind, Krycek represents a darker version of Mulder himself.  He is Mulder’s shadow, his Dark Brother.  Krycek is first introduced as an FBI Agent and Mulder’s new ‘partner’.  His introduction comes during the episode Sleepless in which ex-soldiers who have no need for sleep are killed by guilty waking-nightmares.  This is interesting in that it supports this idea of Krycek as a dark twin, or ‘partner’ of Mulder; appearing in a context of literalized nightmares.  Krycek is then later revealed as an almost completely amoral assassin working for the Cigarette Smoking Man.  But Krycek evolves, soon becoming a wild-card renegade serving no-one but himself.  

There are other details that support this ‘Dark Brother’ interpretation of Alex Krycek.  Physically he is attractive and dark-haired like Mulder, but it goes further than this.  The viewer often finds Mulder and Krycek paired in uneasy alliances that take them into dangerous territory, as in the Piper Maru / Apocrypha two-parter where they hunt the Black Oil entity unleashed from a sunken warplane – and Krycek becomes infected and possessed by the entity.  They are forced into another uneasy alliance in the Tunguska / Terma two-parter where they travel to the Siberian forest together to investigate a mysterious meteor crater, and the Black Oil reappears; this time infecting Mulder when Krycek betrays him.  The point of these examples is to highlight the almost brotherly alliances and hostilities that are traded between them. Like Mulder, Krycek seemingly returns from the dead, after being locked in an underground bunker with an alien godship. 

At this point I’d like to point out that the Jungian concept of the Shadow is not an entirely malevolent force.  Instead the Shadow is often a twisted form of things denied and suppressed, be they fears or desires. Acknowledging and honouring the shadow is considered by many Jungian analysts to be a crucial step towards insight, self-governance and personal growth.  In this sense, under the right circumstances, the Shadow can be seen as a dark guide through dark internal realms. So, if Krycek is not just a brutal renegade assassin, and is indeed symbolic of Mulder’s Shadow, we should be able to find evidence in the narrative that at some point Krycek will attempt to genuinely help or guide Mulder in some way.  This comes to bare in Patient X and The Red and the Black, in which Krycek informs Mulder that he is caught in the middle of a war “for Heaven and Earth”. Although Krycek has a gun trained on Mulder in the scene, he kisses Mulder on the cheek and gives him the weapon, leaving himself open to a revenge-killing.  He even wishes Mulder good luck in Russian, and appears to mean it.  

Much has been made of the possible homosexual undertones of the Krychek-Mulder dynamic on slash fan-sites, and the kiss that Krycek gives him adds a little spice to such ideas.  Indeed, Mulder and Krycek have a strangely physical dynamic.  But I think it is more than a simple covert same-sex attraction.  The kiss I have just referenced cements their status as brothers, and Krycek’s dual function as Mulder’s shadow-antagonist and shadow-guide.  Although in the literal narrative Krycek is quite possibly an amoral psychopath, we are shown genuine glimpses of his respect and occasional compassion for Mulder that reinforce his symbolic role as Mulder’s Dark Brother.  In the Essence / Existence two-parter he tells Mulder, again while pointing a gun at him, that he could have killed him so many times, but he was hoping that Mulder would win and somehow defeat the conspiracy.  This contradictory function as threat and helper eventually results in Krycek’s death.  And yet, in the show’s finale, an apparition of Krycek appears to act unequivocally as Mulder’s spirit guide and helper – even giving him a vital piece of life-saving information.  

So, we can argue that in death Krycek is able to transcend the antagonist aspect of his dark twin relationship to Mulder and express his symbolic brotherly love in a way that genuinely helps Mulder’s evolution.  On close inspection, this odd relationship with a brutal assassin who murdered Mulder’s father might be seen as straining credulity – but as the weave and turn of a symbolic narrative about identity, point-of-view and interpretation this odd relationship makes perfect sense.

 And this is why I feel that The X Files is primarily about the power of human consciousness, and to be more specific – the power of magical/symbolic human consciousness.  For me, magical consciousness is about perceiving the world not as we would hope it to be; as a manifestation of our own personal symbols, but as it actually is – an enchanted metaphor composed of symbols.  But the enchantment is often not what we expect, and can contain many darker shades that lead us towards danger, growth, or both.  As The X Files so exhaustively and expertly shows us, even this shaded enchantment is subjective.  The real world is primarily the psychic-space where our most holy collective dreams and darkest nightmares overlap.  This chaos of many minds and many souls is the realm we perceive as ‘real’, because it contains voices other than our own.  The world is not magical because it conforms to our symbols, as Mulder discovers, it is magical because it is itself symbolic. For evolution to be possible, some version of this idea must be true. The Truth is Out There only because We are Out There, learning and growing and facing our own darkness.   

1 comment:

  1. Hi Raj, congratulations on this blog, some wonderful insights. I wanted to comment on the Jungian view of the shadow. I don't think it's as much that one has to embrace the shadow self, but to accept and be self-aware that it's a part of our nature.

    Anyway, I remember when I started The X-Files Lexicon blog, Frank Spotnitz offered some words of encouragement, I'm no Frank, but I wanted to offer you the very best, and look forward to seeing more. I'll be linking this.