What Hollywood movies “Beauty and the Beast”, “Logan” and “Kong: Skull Island” might be telling us about our Id.
March 2017, three movies in the cinemas this month are about beasts. There is “Beauty and the Beast”, Disney’s re-adaptation of the classic fairytale; “Logan”, the newest installment in the X-men series with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and “Kong: Skull Island” the latest version of the King Kong epic, where a group of explorers go on a dangerous adventure seeking out a mythical giant gorilla.
This got me wondering why it is that we are so universally enthralled by the wild beast archetype.
Id, Ego and Superego
In Freud’s tripartite theory of the human personality, he writes about the Id, Superego and Ego. The Id deals with our primitive and instinctual drives like biological urges for food, water, warmth, sex, affection, physical and psychological safety, and pleasure. The Superego functions as our moral conscience, while and the Ego mediates between the desires of the two, helping us to construct our beliefs, values and personal realities.
These days, the word Ego is too often used in the wrong context to describe the aspect of the self that is willful, antagonistic or anti-social. This isn’t the case at all. The Ego is actually the conscious, rational, thinking part of our psyches, and also the part that does the most judging and criticising. It is in fact the unconscious, volatile Id that is responsible for the types of thoughts and behaviours often considered aggressive, dangerous, or beastly.
So much of life requires the taming of our instincts, but these three movies remind us of the importance of our allowing them free reign from time to time. Perhaps the message is that we need to reconnect with our Ids (or inner beasts) in order to lead more satisfyingly lives.
Beauty and The Beast – Romancing the Id
Learning to dance with your inner beast can help you find the courage to chase your dreams.
The world Id is derived from the Greek word “that”, which aptly describes the type of relationship most of us have with our Ids, or “inner beasts”. Because we fear that our instincts might drive us violate social mores or the ethical codes our Superego has laid down, we see our Ids as threatening or uncivilised “other” and keep it at bay.
“The Id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented. This form of process thinking has no comprehension of objective reality, and is selfish and wishful in nature,” writes McLeod S.A. in an article for “Simply Psychology”.
Like an animal, the Id’s focus is on ensuring that all its basic desires are immediately met, regardless of consequences. When the Id is fed, we experience pleasure and relaxation. When it is denied, we experience tension or frustration, we begin to growl and prepare for attack.
Naturally, this poses some challenge to the individual who has to maintain a certain level of decorum and appropriateness to function in the world. Thus, the process of socialisation keeps the “naughty” Id safely locked away.
The trouble with this is that it dulls the senses and clouds the vision, turning us all into agreeable, stultified robots. If we did not have the desire for nookie, or to eat our competitors for breakfast, we might all just end up sitting around watching TV and drinking tea all day. There would be no impetus to compose great symphonies (to woo women of course), or build an architectural wonder (to show the last guy you do it better).
“The starting point of all achievement is desire,” wrote Napoleon Hill. As the generator of desire, our Ids should not be the enemy, but an alley in manifesting the things we most want for ourselves. So stop denying or trying to tame your beast and start taking it to bed.
Tip: Do one small thing a day that you think you shouldn’t. Have a big Mac for breakfast, switch off your phone, or leave the bed unmade. Try not to choose something that would be too harmful. The aim of this exercise is to revolt against your policeman Ego, and signal to your Id that it is safe to come out and play.
Logan – Id As Reluctant Hero
In “Logan”, the wolverine is hiding out on the Mexican border caring for his ailing mentor. But his attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are thwarted when he is called upon to rescue a young girl.
Like Logan, the Id is not just some greedy and belligerent troublemaker. Underneath all the wild, pleasure-seeking (Logan’s been known to love his booze) and noisy grunting lives a wise, noble and uncorrupted creature that can help us find the strength we need to face misfortune and battle the tyrants in our lives.
Likened to the very bottom of an iceberg, unseen and submerged in a sea of unconscious primitive drives and hidden memories, the Id was with us when we were newborns, and is actually a lot older and wiser than our practical Ego and our philosophical Superego, which both developed later in our lives.
“The Id remains infantile in its function throughout a persons life, and does not change with time or experience, as it is not in touch with the external world. The Id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind,” writes McLeod S.A. in an article in “Simply Psychology”.
As the “goodie-two-shoes” the Superego always aims to do what it believes is right. The Ego is the judge and arbitrator that considers both the “I wants” of the Id and the “I shoulds” of the Superego. If the Superego is in charge, our world is ruled by a restrictive parent or other authority figure. If the Ego is always running the show, we suffer from “paralysis by analysis”, which has us naval gazing, assessing our lives, and watching ourselves from a distance rather than jumping in heroically and living in the moment.
A hero is a man of vigorous and forceful action, not a one who sits and thinks his way out of problems. When the going gets tough, the Id is not concerned with self-pity, blame, or justification. All it wants to do is carry you from that place that feels bad to that place that feels good. So take your Id off the leash and he might just save your life.
Tip: When you are stuck on a problem, feeling indecisive or in an existential funk, take action. Take a walk. Get a book from the library. Call someone. Make a mind map or a pros and cons list. Plan a holiday or go for a run. Inertia never helps, but if you move (mentally or physically), you give your inner beast the chance to charge in with a solution.
Kong: Return to Skull Island – The Beast As Mythical Force
Without the Id, creative work will not flourish. Our inner beast is King in the land of the subconscious. Like a wild boar digging for truffles, it is the Id that helps us to unearth and manifest some of our most original and delightful ideas.
Two powerful forces exist within the Id. Thanatos – death force, aggression or destructiveness, and Eros – life force, libido or sex drive. If either of these forces is obstructed, then art and invention becomes impossible. According to Freud, creativity is the alternative to neurosis and through a process known as sublimation, the artists learns to turn the dark or absurd fantasies generated by his Id into artistic creations rather than neurotic symptoms.
The rage of Thanatos (King Kong) needs to be balanced out by the passion and tenderness of Eros (Ann Darrow). Only in this way can we overcome our self-defeating habits and begin authentic creation. When neither “the killer” nor “the pervert” within us is held captive, but given a place in court, then they rise to help us become leaders, artists and visionaries, better versions of ourselves.
In her seminal book “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, author and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life.”
According to Estés, it is only by accepting our own wild beauty, not forsaking or disclaiming it, and by putting it into perspective, that we cease to be cowered by it.
“Does a wolf know how beautiful she is when she sleeps? Does a feline know what beautiful shapes she makes when she sits? Is a bird awed by the sound it hears when it snaps open its wings? Learning from them, we just act in our own true way and do not draw back from or hide our natural beauty. Like the creatures, we just are, and it is right,” writes Estés.
Tip: Draw, paint, make something out of clay, sit at the piano and play a tune without a score, or cook without a recipe. Commit to a creative activity for your own pleasure. By creative, I mean an activity where no one is giving you instructions, directions or a brief. Do this consistently for at least 30 minutes each day for 90 days and there’s a good chance that your creative gorilla will come out of his cage.
If you want to find out exactly capable your inner beast can be, look out for “War for the Planet of the Apes”, which will be out in cinemas in July this year.