Jungian Reflections on South African Cinema: An Exploration of Cinema and Healing

Jungian Reflections on South African Cinema: An Exploration of Cinema and Healing

Chris Broodryk (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9891-8.ch008


This chapter explores how, in the aftermath of apartheid, Oliver Hermanus' film Skoonheid (2011) can serve as a healing fiction by inviting an engagement with present and past political and personal conflicts and resisting a type of cultural amnesia. In particular, this chapter draws on Jungian film studies to explore key scenes in Skoonheid that demonstrate the effects of a frustrated individuation process that nonetheless offers possibilities for the viewer to consider ways of healing. To position Skoonheid as healing fiction, the chapter utilises the work of James Hillman, amongst others, to conceptualise notions of healing. The chapter also locates the film against the historical backdrop of an Afrikaans-language cinema that traditionally privileged an inflexible white male subjectivity. In contrast, Skoonheid shows the Afrikaans-speaking white male as inhabiting a space of perceived disempowerment and loss, where the soul should still strive towards meaningful acts within a collective, within a community.
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In presenting a contribution to Jungian film studies, especially insofar as correlations between psyche and politics are concerned, this chapter provides a Jungian critical reading of Oliver Hermanus’ Afrikaans film Skoonheid (2011) by way of positioning the film as a healing fiction. In this sense, a healing fiction is a film that provokes a psychological reading of and response to the film in its capacity to transform the viewer. Transformation in this context has specific psycho-symbolic dimensions that are facilitated by a healing fiction’s specific presentation of characters grappling with themes of a personal-political and cultural nature.1 In the virtual age, so-called traditional media such as the feature film can be access by a myriad of viewers across the world. The technology is often affordable and in the developed world, ample bandwidth allows for swift downloads. As this chapter is located within a larger conversation about media and the exploration of the unconscious, it demonstrates the capacity of feature films, even from a minority cinema such as Afrikaans-language cinema, to provoke or stimulate the viewer’s psychological reflections on matters of individuation as part of unconscious content becoming conscious on an individual as well as collective level.

The discussion of healing fiction in reference to Skoonheid takes on a dual purpose: to address the frustrated healing for the main character, Francois (played by Deon Lotz), and to illuminate possibilities of healing on a cultural level for viewers still slowly emerging from a history of psychological violence. This chapter demonstrates how, as Beebe (2011) explains it, the film Skoonheid precisely “[depicts] forms of unconsciousness that challenge the more conscious characters with life’s threats, dangers, and complications, as well as their own defenses against moving forward” (p. 311); that is, mechanisms to sustain a psychological status quo by way of a frustrated individuation.

This chapter is located in Jungian film studies, which over the past fifteen years has experienced a clear increase given the rise in publications on Jung and film. Christopher Hauke and Luke Hockley (2011, p. 11), themselves key figures in the promulgation and practice of Jungian interrogations of cinema, cite the work of John Izod (2001; 2006), John Beebe (2008), Terrie Waddell (2006; 2010) and Greg Singh (2009) in this regard. The publications Jung and Film, in two volumes published in 2001 and 2011, offer stimulating critical readings of films to open up numerous provocative possibilities for how the viewer’s affective, intuitive and intellectual responses to a film can be deepened. As Hauke and Ian Alister (2001) state in the introduction of the first volume, cinema offers opportunities “for the psyche to come alive, to be experienced and be commented upon” (p. 2), indicating that there is a level of psychological engagement or interaction between film and viewer: the film provokes or stimulates, and the viewer reflects and comments.

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