Men under the influence, wolves on the couch

Although I probably would have skipped The Wolfman if I didn’t have a son who’s a big horror fan, I have to admit that it was an old-school good time… albeit one that got my psychology brain thinking about darkness, aggression and male development in the context of post-modern life.

Spoiler alert:  read no further if you intend to see this film (and care about not knowing what any grown-up would figure out five minutes into the movie anyway).

Okay, it’s 1891 and Benicio Del Toro’s character, Lawrence, is the son of an English Noble (Anthony Hopkins as post-Hannibal with intermittent big hair and nails) and a dark-haired exotic, long dead, wife whose portrait hangs, Rebecca-style, in the grand foyer that lays littered with dirt and cobweb a la Miss Havisham.

Brother’s been killed by a beast and grieving Gwen (a ringer, of course, for missing mommy) soon has unrequited feelings for Lawrence who has been a star of stage as Hamlet, Richard III, etc.

Hunting the beast under a full moon, and amidst gypsy carnage complete with entrails worthy of the ending of Faust, Lawrence is mauled by the beast in the midst of a druidic ruin.  The moon monster gets him in the crumbling sun temple.  I like it.

The psychology is Freud’s Oedipus complex meets The Doors’ The End (“I walk on down the hall.  Father I want to kill you.  Mother I want to… Ahhhhhh!”) rolled up with a nice portion of Joseph Campbell/Jungian archetypes:  Gwen is anima; Shadow Father is the secret beast; Scotland Yard Dick is a Shadow rationalist; psychiatrist is a Shadow Medical rationalist; Good Mother has been killed by Shadow Father and now exerts her potentially healing and justice seeking power as the Moon itself, awaking her Puer Aeternus, or Eternal Child to his role of a lifetime (Lawrence as “actor,” as many a Peter Pan, had not grown up or settled down).  In this counterpoint to the dying and resurrected sun god and his mom relationship, The Wolfman is all about moon-mom and her dark son, and little Larry must step up and get hairy to avenge her death and return her to her rightful place in the temple of the Moon.

In the end, the Puer (Lawrence, a nod to Olivier?) becomes more than a mere man, he becomes a wild and original man, who must be killed by the anima so that he can join his mother in the moonlit underworld, forever wandering the heath-cliffs.

One take on werewolves is that “man,” who has been gold-obsessed and “rational” since the ascendancy of the sun gods (Apollo, Mithras, Jesus et. al.) falls under the influence of the feminine principle (moon goddess, silver, occult, thirteen {the number of times the moon circles the earth in the course of a solar year and the calendar previous to the 12 month one we live by now}, passion and irrational wisdom) and hence he goes necessarily “wild” with animal (a.k.a. feminine) wisdom, powerfully trumping patriarchal knowledge.

While lycanthropy is an ancient trope, it really hits full stride with the industrial revolution… or at least in our romanticized gloss on the time of fog.  The “message” is that the aristocratic lord of the land is being usurped by the mercantile bourgeoisie, lord of the stuff and with him an ascending industrialized and repressed London, and that only a “silver bullet” (a moon goddess penetration) can quell the blood lust.

Deeper still than the moon vs. the sun, however, the roots of this myth are really to be found in Dionysus—the ancient god born of Zeus’s’ thigh (twice born, once of the womb, once of the primordial “man-bag?” a tailored man-vag sewn into Zeus’s groin).  This also relates to Adonis who is gored by a boar (a mother goddess image) in his thigh… relating down the line to the Fisher King (who can neither sit nor stand nor lie down because of a grievous wound to his groin that will not heal without the grail).

Dionysus rules the wine dark sea, he evokes crazy and irresistible lust but he also drives women to go mad and kill their children.  Dionysus is the darkest of dark gods, symbolized in pre-history in the mask and the pillar.  But like Beast in Beauty and the Beast and like the Werewolf there is something undeniably sexy about the wild within.  Because ecstasy is literally about being “out of body,” Dionysus rules sex and death… and art, which is not about making pretty things, but about communing with the great mystery on the other side of the veil of our rational consciousness, beyond the bound of space and time.

What should Dionysus care about death?  He exists in a realm beyond life, but when he shows up into life, extreme situations ensue.  Yet when “he” (a “womanly man” it is sometimes said), is blocked from expression in the self-important halls of science, banking and even academia, he’s going to crash the party and the limbs will fly akimbo.

There is a certain pornography of gore, a strangely erotic undercurrent in the viscera and limb ripping.  After all, what could be more intimate than the very insides of our ripped open bodies?  The TV series “House” underscores this point with sudden crash zooms into livers and brains, and with prime-time TV’s version of the “money shot” being sliced-open bodies ready for their close ups.  One may resist this idea as disgusting, but if people didn’t want to see this stuff, there would be no money in it and it wouldn’t be so central to TV, film and video games.  I suppose it’s a step up from the medieval crowd gathered outside the Tower of London to watch the executioner pull some poor soul’s intestines out, but have we really gotten past all that?  I think not.  It is consciousness that allows the acting-out, on stages and battlefields alike, to have delivered their message and harken a sunrise where we can still see the moon plain as day.

Finally, The Wolfman turns out to be about the son classically confronting the father, lupo-a-lupo, as Lawrence’s own sudden-onset-hairy-back-syndrome finally becomes a match for daddy’s Albert Brooksian need for electrolysis.  If our hair is a symbol of the thoughts that come spontaneously from our heads, the werewolf could be a symbol of intense full body feeling.  The violence may be a response to repression more than anything else.

There are some great moments in The Wolfman, especially when the rational psychiatrist foolishly attempts to demonstrate the lunacy of Lawrence’s so-called delusion, only to become entrails mixed-grill himself.  We delight in the beast wreaking havoc on the cruel rationalists, but how are we to come to better terms within our own selves when the beast and the rationalist fight it out under the setting sun of Newtonian physics within our very own psyches?

The Usher-like English manor house (or is it a house of false manners?) ends up aflame, a symbol of the ego-self with all its contents crumbling and sacrificed to the moon.  The anima shows up astride a white horse (a symbol of the deeper Self); the son throws dad into the fireplace (not unlike the three little pigs do with their big bad wolf, and like Hansel and Gretel do with that Bad Mommy Witch; the monster must be cooked because the unconscious must eat and metabolize the Shadow… this is the essence of “you complete me.”)

Finally Del Toro (a bull in wolf’s clothing), makes intimate eye contact with Gwen and for a moment seems like he just might transform via love, but the baying of the hounds, domesticated wolves, reminds him of his truer nature and the fair lass must, alas, run him through with her silver-packed bullet-shooter.  The gothic trope substitutes full death for le petite mort, death instead of sex; violent carnage, it suggests, brings release, while the beast with two backs only continues the cycle.

So, let’s dedicate today to putting on the wolf suit in our own ways, honoring the trickster and boundary crosser within, which, if we are conscious of it, may allow us to release the pressure-cooker of denial that otherwise leads to carnage (psychological and emotional as well as physical).  But remember, run amok and run wild responsibly—in the service of all our collective children, from the feral and ferocious to the prim, proper and pretty.

Namaste, Bruce

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One Response to “Men under the influence, wolves on the couch”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Fascinating exploration here. I am a believer in the moon, though in far less gory gear, while always in my “wolf’s clothing.”

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