America's Apocalyptic Rebirth

Fantasies in

Contemporary Films




Victor Meladze

Universal mythology has deep roots in the themes of death and rebirth. Joseph Campbell, in The Masks of God, has written that the prominence of such themes are also common in religious and ceremonial rituals and for that reason merit study and interpretation. Psychohistorian Victor Meladze in this article examines birth/death themes in recent popular movies. He writes that much of ". . . the fear of death and the need to gain mastery over it is a common thread of nearly every popular film of the past five years. And, in nearly every case, the mastery of death is effected through a death/rebirth ritual. The fantasy material that is projected strongly supports the theories of prominent psychoanalysts, neuropsychologists and psychohistorians that death anxiety is linked to birth trauma."
-- John A. Speyrer, Webmesister, The Primal Psychotherapy Page





"And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars….nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes….All these are but the beginning of the birth pains."

                                                                -Matthew 24:6-8, ESV-


"….It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

                                                                -St. Francis of Assisi, from The Peace Prayer-


"In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing he felt quite sure that he would never die."

                              -Ernest Hemingway from Indian Camp-


"…We may say that the fear of death begins at birth."

                                                     -Nador Fodor, from The Search for the Beloved-


"And only where there are graves are there resurrections."

                                                           -Friedrich Nietzsche, from Thus Spake Zarathustra-




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     The ubiquity of rebirth imagery in films released between 2000 and 2005 overshadows the narratives through which they are projected. From artistic failures (Birth) to box-office hits (Passion of the Christ), the nation's struggle with fetal memories stands out in bold relief.  One can readily discern the high levels of separation anxiety communicated in contemporary films. The need to gain mastery over birth trauma through revenge killing, scapegoating, calamity and social violence is reflected in a wide spectrum of dramas.


This paper will analyze some of the most popular films of today.  It will highlight the parallels between the life and death (good vs. evil) struggles of the protagonists, with fetal experiences shared by all.  This paper will also identify the causes of the separation anxiety within a psychohistorical perspective and why apocalyptic rebirth imagery is on the increase in contemporary cinema.



War of the Worlds (2005)


Popular support in the U.S. for the Iraq war is waning, but the need for rebirth through wide-scale annihilation is not.  Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, based on the 1898 H.G. Wells science-fiction novel, ranked number one at the box office on opening day.  Unlike the polls that often belie unconscious processes, the popularity of this film is a clear reflection of the group fantasy behind the current Bush administration's international belligerency.  The day before its release, George W. Bush, in a nationally televised address, signaled in not too coded language the U.S. group's unrequited need for a global conflagration.


"Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: This Third World War . . . is raging in Iraq.  The whole world is watching this war." (New York Times, 29 June 2005)


Indeed, President Bush's formulation of the Iraq war as being a Third World War, was chillingly synchronous with the release of Spielberg's hugely successful film adaptation of the classic novel about an alien invasion.  The octopus-like war machines that incinerate much of the planet communicate a multiplicity of shared conflicts; throughout the apocalyptic story line, a nightmarish imagery of childhood, prenatal and perinatal traumas are intertwined with elements of the 9/11 attacks, social collapse and the unknowns of our time.

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The film opens with a view of microscopic life.  Cells of living organisms float about, as though being observed by the audience through a microscope.  The scene fades into a view of a tropical forest where planet earth is shown as a small revolving droplet of fluid on a large leaf.  This imagery is an unconscious reference to the idealized prenatal existence during which one is blissfully fused with the uteran-mother.  As the camera closes in on the leaf (placental symbol) where earth is innocently situated, the narrator (through the voice of Morgan Freeman) delivers the opening lines, slightly modified from H.G. Wells' original story:


No one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligence greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.  With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter . . . yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us . . .


The narration and accompanying imagery speak not only to our need for regression to idealized prenatal bliss, but also powerfully evoke shared experiences with abusive caregivers.  Earth is being watched by "intellects with envious eyes."  They are "vast and cool and unsympathetic."  Are these not references to adults with unresolved birth and childhood traumas who are envious of others/children's growth?  We are told that the aliens "slowly and surely drew their plans against us."  Who has not been delegated as a scapegoat by the others/parents?


In the original novel, H.G. Wells gives us information about the Martians and why they choose earth as a target.  The biography of the extraterrestrials that Wells presents is unquestionably a projection of perinatal and postnatal experiences.  Excerpts from the story that describe life on Mars and the condition of its inhabitants prior to their invasion of earth reflect our shared primal injuries.  They are also references to the fetal/birth-trauma origins of war, as theorized in psychohistory:


The secular cooling that must some day overtake our planet (separation anxiety and postnatal shock of the newborn) has already gone far indeed with our neighbours . . . Its air is much more attenuated than ours (state of hypoxia), its oceans have shrunk (amniotic sac has burst) . . . that last stage of exhaustion (arduous birth process), which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present day problem . . . and looking across space . . . they see, at its nearest distance . . . a morning star of hope (relief from pain and fear during birth), our own warmer planet, green with vegetation (nourishing placenta) and grey with water, . . . and narrow, navy-crowded seas (womb).


During the film's narration, we are shown small segments of humanity throughout the world, at work and at play.  Through visual tapestry, Spielberg effectively creates a sense of symbiotic relationship between the inhabitants of earth and the universe, as we were all once cells in the body of the mother.


After the view of human beings fades, we see earth revolving in the dark comfort of space (womb), as a laser-like beam of light is cast upon it.  The alien invasion (violent birth/rebirth process) is about to begin.


Unlike the original novel, Spielberg sets the stage in modern-day Newark, New Jersey.  The protagonist is a crane operator named Ray Ferrier (played by Tom Cruise).  He is shown finishing up his work on third shift at a shipping dock.  There is a brief dialogue between Ray and his boss.  Ray refuses to work the overtime asked of him by his boss.  Time and the sense of urgency to leave work have birth significance and are repeated throughout the movie under various guises.


Ray races to his house to meet his ex-wife, Mary Ann (played by Miranda Otto).  She has arranged to leave their two children, ten year old Rachel (played by Dakota Fanning) and teenager Robbie (played by Justin Chatwin) with Ray for the weekend.  She and her new husband are leaving for her parents' house in Boston.


Ray arrives late and is rebuked by Mary for his immaturity and for past irresponsible behaviors.  It is apparent that she is pregnant.  Her condition communicates several unconscious messages.  First, the unborn is a reference to our yearning (regression) to merge with mother.  It is our prenatal self.  Second, it is not disclosed who the father is, Ray or her new husband.  This is a reflection of psychosocial displacement and the dynamics of modern relationships in an age of rapid social change and high transience.  Third, the pregnancy speaks to our awe/fear of the female's power of procreation.  We depend on the mother-goddess for life and protection.  Fourth, the idea of someone or something trapped or lurking within us, which will violently seek exit at some point, relates with profound significance to our current fears and the upcoming phase of the film: alien war machines will emerge from the ground and attack the world (as terrorist cells exist within the country and will eventually launch another attack on the U.S.).


When Mary and her new husband leave, it becomes increasingly evident by Ray's interaction with his children that he is a dysfunctional father.  His children are the products of a broken home and are estranged from him.  The son is angry with Ray and reproaches him for being selfish and for past wrongs.  His daughter is also seething with resentments.  Ray's behavior lends credence to the scornful attitude of the children.  When they tell him they are hungry and want to eat, he responds by telling them to order in.  He is tired from the night shift and lets them know it:


"Some people work for a living" Ray tells them.


The children settle in for what they assume will be just another strained weekend with their immature father.  We learn that Robbie is working on a paper for school on the French occupation of Algiers - a side reference to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.  Brief news bulletins appear on TV that report the outbreak of violent thunderstorms throughout the world.  In a subtle signal of impending doom, Rachel picks at something in her hand.  When Ray inquires about what she is doing, she tells him that it's only a splinter.


"When my body is ready, it will push it out," Rachel tells Ray.


Time as a factor in expelling foreign matter speaks to our mythic belief that the God/mother-given body and planet will save us from invasions/poisons.  This fantasy is elaborated on at the end of the film when aliens are defeated by God's creations: bacteria/mother earth's immune system.


Robbie takes Ray's car to get carryout food.  While the son is absent, dark clouds begin to roil.  Wind kicks up.  Ray hurries outside to see what is happening.  Lightning begins to strike and strange lights break through the angry clouds.  Ray discovers the street in front of his house is full of stalled cars.  The electrical systems in the vehicles have been mysteriously knocked out.  Even the watch on his wrist has stopped working.  The severance of electrical activity in the cars and throughout the city is a reference to the excruciating birth struggle, when time seems to stop and life support functions between mother and baby are disconnected.  We depend on cars and electrical/technological hardware for our daily sustenance.  The interdependent modern city and world are the stuff of our postnatal womb, now destabilized by violent lightning storms - preludes to an alien invasion.


Soon after lightning hits various sections of the city, aliens in placenta shaped war machines break through the surface of the ground.  They emit bellowing sounds (unconscious references to the "birth-expulsion" sound in the infant's ear, described by de Mause in Foundations of Psychohistory) as they rise above the panic-stricken crowd and begin incinerating everything with laser guns.  The imagery of people stampeding down streets, buildings reduced to rubble and gray ash, are conscious references to the 9/11 attacks.  It is not apparent at this point (as in H.G. Wells' novel) why the aliens are attacking and how long they have been slumbering beneath the earth.  But one thing is clear: they aim to destroy all of humanity.


Ray decides to take the children to their mother (as they vehemently demand) who is visiting her parents in Boston.  He steals a van from a car repair shop and they begin the journey through the chaotic landscape.  There is a small scene in which a news crew searches through the wreckage of a plane lying gutted in the street.  One of the reporters informs Ray that the war machines were buried in the earth before man's entrance onto the evolutionary stage.  The reporter points to a TV screen (inside the news van) that shows aliens entering the ground through the lightning strikes.


Along the way, Ray and the children encounter dazed and displaced citizenry.  Vivid scenes of people holding up signs with the names of loved ones written on them bring to mind newsreels of the 9/11 attacks and aftermath.  There is also a brief glimpse of a bulletin wall of missing persons.  Civil behavioral patterns disintegrate as people desperately attempt to evade the inexorably advancing aliens.


Ray's journey to Boston with his children in tow is classic in its birth-trauma imagery.  After winding and fighting their way through terror-filled crowds, Ray and the children get on a ferryboat.  As they attempt to cross the body of water into Boston (amniotic fluid), a gigantic alien war machine (poisonous placenta) rises out of the water and capsizes the boat.  Ray and the children are forced to swim to shore.  Once ashore, they encounter increasing chaos and carnage as aliens scorch the earth and humanity.  Full-scale war-imagery erupts.  Jets fly overhead and military personnel with a modern arsenal engage in futile retaliatory maneuvers.  People are seen running away from the horizon ablaze with alien lasers and army rocket fire.  Robbie (Ray's son) makes a dash towards the bright red hilltop to which soldiers and military vehicles are moving.  He wants to join the war effort (as adolescent boys often dream of doing to claim their manhood).  Ray grabs him and attempts to stop him.


"I love you," he yells at his son, but to no avail.


Robbie breaks free and runs over the horizon, where soldiers are sacrificing their lives in the jaws of the advancing inferno.


As Robbie disappears from view, Ray retreats with his daughter Rachel.  Fortuitously, a stranger emerges from the basement of an abandoned barn and motions them to safety.  We learn that his name is Ogilvy; he is a loner who is delirious from fear and trauma.  Soon, the war machines close in and discover the barn.  There is a brief scene of aliens inspecting the barn and its interior.  Ray, Ogilvy and Rachel watch from the shadows as the aliens look over some objects.  An instant before they detect the humans, a bellowing sound from the war machine calls to them.  Heeding the signal, the aliens exit the barn.  The communication between the octopus-like war machine and the aliens is an unconscious reference to the manner in which fetus and mother relate with one another and the external world: through the medium of sound (Janus, Enduring Effects of Pre- and Perinatal Trauma, Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1997).


After the aliens return to their mother-war-machines, Ray comes out of hiding and looks outside the window to see what is happening.  At this point in the story, it becomes clear as to why the aliens are attacking earth.  Ray watches with horror as a human being is pierced by a tentacle.  The war machines are harvesting human blood.


Rachel unwittingly runs out of the barn and momentarily disappears.  Ray runs outside to find her and discovers that the landscape is covered with bright red, vine-like residue from the slaughtered bodies.


One of the war machines casts a beam of light on Ray.  A long tentacle snatches him off the ground and throws him into a metal cage where Rachel and other people are held captive.  Father and daughter reunite, but only briefly; a vagina-looking device descends into the cage.  It is an entry point of the blood-draining and flesh-eating machinery.  Suddenly, a cord wraps around Ray and pulls him into the opening.  People in the cage latch on to his legs to save him from being consumed.  The imagery communicates dramatically our fear of the devouring womb.  During birth, the uterus and the umbilical cord can potentially kill us.  Oddly, this fear of the womb (and need to separate from it) is in dual opposition to our need for merger with the uteran-mother.  The scene of Ray being pulled in opposite directions speaks to this unconscious struggle.


As people manage to pull Ray out, he tosses a couple of grenades (which he picked up along the way) into the vagina-looking device.  The explosion shatters the entrails of the war machine.  As the evil placental structure is vanquished, the metal cage slips loose.  A large tree (life-saving placenta) breaks the fall to the ground and Ray and Rachel escape unharmed.


Daylight arrives.  People are shown walking around in a daze.  Everything is in ruins and covered with ash.  The scene is not unlike the news photos of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the impact of the atomic bombs.


But, the view of the war machines staggering to and fro over the shattered city without full control, makes it evident that an end to the war is near.  Soldiers are seen directing citizens through a tunnel leading to safety (rebirth).  Rays asks one of the soldiers what is going on.  The soldier informs him that the war machines have been circling for hours with their offensive capabilities compromised.


Birds are shown sitting on the swaying war machines.  Ray excitedly points the birds out to the soldiers and others as a sign that the machines' deflecting shields are down.  Within seconds, one of the warships crashes to the ground.  As Ray and the others gather around the incapacitated war machine, a pink fluid spurts out of its opening.  The camera closes in on an alien's hand creeping out of the exit.  A small alien head appears; it looks up at the crowd with an open mouth, draws its last gasping breath, and dies.


Towards the end of the film, Ray and Rachel reach her grandparents' house safely.  They are shown walking down the street of a suburban Boston neighborhood.  Ray's ex-wife emerges from a townhouse, along with her mother and father.  Robbie is also present, although it is not disclosed how he made it through the battlefield alive.  A sense of relief and warmth emanates from the gathering of relatives.


The film ends with a view of the laser-burned city.  A large ash-covered tree juts out towards the gray and decimated Boston, as though it is stretching from the direction of the audience.  Through the narrator's closing words the cause of the alien's demise is revealed: the bacteria in the earth's atmosphere have proven lethal to the extraterrestrials.


War of the Worlds is a profoundly disturbing movie if seen through its psychohistorical subtexts.  One of the most distressing unconscious messages that pervade the film is our need for rebirth through war.  From the opening moments to the closing seconds, our need to gain mastery over prenatal and perinatal traumas is presented under numerous guises.  The placental, umbilical and uteran symbolism speaks to the nation's psychopathology.  Although the Iraq war has lost its appeal to the U.S. group, the need for a purifying war remains imbedded in the American psyche.


The film introduces Ray Ferrier as an emotionally regressive father who neglects his children and fails to meet their basic needs for love and daily sustenance.  But over the course of the horrific alien invasion, he undergoes sudden maturation.  He bonds with his children and is ultra-attentive to their needs.  The children also experience transformation.  By the film's end, Robbie calls Ray "dad" for the first time.  His daughter Rachel also sees Ray in a more positive light.  Even Ray's ex-wife has a change of heart and greets him warmly.  In fact, the entire clan seems cleansed of resentments and psychic regressions through the mass carnage.


Another closely related unconscious message that this film projects is our need for enemies.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the war on terror, have not satiated the U.S. population's need for self-definition through battle with the evil others.


The alien war machines are obviously representations of terrorists, only transmogrified to extraterrestrial proportions.  We need enemies of cosmic dimensions, something which the current global wars have failed to live up to.


Growth panic and the need for merger with killer-mommy is also one of the main unconsciously transmitted statements of this film.  Human beings, with all their governments, advanced technology and scientific know-how are powerless against the aliens.  It is only through the grace of God and His/mommy's creation (bacteria) that humanity is saved from total destruction.  This message is frighteningly similar to the tenets of fundamentalist religious organizations and cults: man cannot govern himself apart from God/mommy and is doomed to fail.  Although people are not shown flocking to churches at the end of Spielberg's film, as was the case in the 1953 movie version of the classic novel, God is still evoked and identified as the ultimate force of salvation and redemption for humankind.


Finally, the strange narcissistic bonding of Ray Ferrier with his children and his clan is disquieting to observe.  After the near annihilation of the human race and inestimable environmental damage, Ray and his family seem disconnected from reality.  The warm glow that pervades them is reflective of extreme dissociative state; symptoms of shock, outrage and trauma are absent from their faces.  But, in view of the eerie disconnection of the U.S. group from the realities of the Iraq war (i.e., the alarming rise of the body count) and many other foreign and domestic stressors, the picture of Ray and the clan, awash with radiance born of denial, is appropriate enough.  Spielberg's War of the Worlds is a ghastly reflection of today's group fantasies.



Ladder 49


Released in the summer of 2004, this film is one of the most symbolic of birth traumas and a conscious reference to post-9/11 shock. The image of the burning World Trade Center, seared in the memory banks of Americans, is evoked in the opening scene. A large industrial building is engulfed in flames.  It is night.  Firefighters are shown climbing the inside stairs of the building attempting to save people on the top floors.


The opening is arresting with its iconic, elemental, primal and perinatal imagery. Soon after the credits die down, the protagonist, Jack Morrison (played by Joaquin Phoenix), saves a man from the fire by lowering him from the top floor with the use of a rope.  Without warning, the floor gives way and Morrison plunges into the building, thus beginning a torturous battle for his own survival.  We see him lying unconscious, trapped under the rubble with time and oxygen supply running out.  Captain Mike Kennedy (played by John Travolta) arrives on the scene and establishes contact with Jack.


"How is your oxygen supply holding up?" he asks him.


"I'm all gassed out," Jack answers.


The analogy to fetal distress (hypoxia) during birth is clearly drawn. He has re-entered the womb.  From this point, time is rolled back to the beginning of Jack's fire-fighting career.  We are taken along the journey that ultimately brought him to the inferno.  The imagery makes appeals to deeply repressed shared fears and memories; this character development phase is replete with imagery that communicates high levels of death anxiety and the need for merger and rebirth.


Jack is shown meeting his fellow firefighters at the station, "Ladder 49."  During the initiation ritual (treated with humor), he is told that when he sees enough fires (i.e., enough deaths) he will find God.  We watch as Jack meets his soul mate, marries her, engages in work, play, drinking bouts, and confronts the grim realities of firefighting: injury and death.



Death as a Mode of Merger


During one emergency run, Jack and his team investigate a report of smoke issuing from a building. As they search the roof for evidence of a fire, Jack's partner steps on a damaged section. The men lock eyes; a gleam of foreboding ripples through them. An instant later, the partner falls into the building, flames shooting out of the gaping hole.


The firefighter's burial is given considerable attention. A long procession of cars is shown moving slowly toward the fallen man's resting place. As the hearse rolls along, the camera takes in the landscape of the graveyard. In a brief moment, tombstones appear in the foreground of the procession.  None of the epitaphs are visible, save for one. In bold engraving it reads: Mother.  Without question, the imagery communicates the unconscious association of the grave with the womb. To die, in the sensibility of the unconscious, is to re-enter the womb and merge with mother. This imagery resonates with our sense of loss in life, separation anxiety and the need for safety.


Periodically the story shifts from Jack Morrison's past involvements to his predicament in the burning building. In one of the most symbolic scenes of psychic regression, we are taken back to the birth and baptism ritual of Jack's child. A Catholic priest is shown pouring holy water on the child's forehead. This imagery is followed by a brief view of Jack lying unconscious in the building with a fine stream of water pouring onto his face from a broken pipe; a clear parallel is constructed between the initiation of a newly-born child into the Christian church/kingdom of God and a critically injured firefighter's merger/rebirth experience through his battle for life.  Like baptism to an infant, the fire-engulfed building and impending death are preludes to Jack's new mode of being. 


Birth Trauma/9/11 Imagery


The remaining minutes of the film center on Jack Morrison's struggle to get out of the building. We are in the moment with him. Birth and 9/11 imagery fuse into one. Jack attempts to extricate himself from the disintegrating structure, but fails. The building begins to collapse and he falls even deeper into the inferno.


Captain Mike Kennedy sends a team to save him.  While the rescue is on the way, Jack attempts to evade the advancing flames. We see him break an opening in a wall and crawl into an adjacent room. He finds himself in the office section of the building. Computers, desks and office gadgetry are strongly evocative of the burning World Trade Center.


The team sent in to save Jack gets close to his location, but are sealed off by a wall of fire. Captain Mike Kennedy contacts Jack by radio. The two exchange heart-wrenching last words.

"Get them out." Jack tells him. "I'm not going to make it."


Mike Kennedy makes the most difficult decision a Fire Captain can make: to abort the effort to save a fellow firefighter. He gives the order to halt the rescue effort and gets his men out. Jack Morrison is shown in a state of dignified acceptance of his fate as time and oxygen supply run out.


The trapped and dying protagonist embodies the elements of our shared experiences. He is our fetal trauma and vicariously induced psychic death of 9/11. Through him, we re-experience the birth drama and the terrorist crises.


Mastery of Death


The nighttime battle to the death with the infernal/womb building fades into daylight.  We are shown the smoky ruins and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. The scene change is traditional in its symbolic contrasts of night and day: fire engulfed and fire extinguished imagery to convey the apocalyptic struggle. This scene is also a prelude to Jack's resurrection/rebirth.


The next scene takes place inside a church. It is the wake ceremony for Jack.  Captain Mike Kennedy delivers a eulogy.  It is brief and celebratory in its tone and meaning.


"….Today we will be as brave as you by not mourning you, but by celebrating your life. So, I would like everyone to stand up and celebrate the life of Jack Morrison."


The audience breaks out in teary-eyed applause.  They cheer along with Captain Kennedy.  Clearly the wake ceremony is Jack's resurrection.  Through the group's validation, he is given a rebirth.  And, at another level, by celebrating his life-to-death passage (i.e., he died doing what he loved to do: saving lives) the group also masters its own death anxiety.  They are also reborn.


Though God is not evoked in the eulogy, it is subtly communicated (through the church setting) that Jack has been born to an eternal life.  He has merged with God/mother.


It is also not disclosed how the building Jack died in was set ablaze. Was it by accident or arson? The absence of a clearly delineated evildoer is a reflection of our anxieties in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.  We are in an age of rapid social and economic change.  Globalization has altered the psychosocial dynamics of the world. The burning building symbolizes our growth panic and regression to the engulfing womb.


Ladder 49 is representative of many contemporary dramas in which the nation's struggles with fetal memories are projected in disguised form. The imagery of protagonists and villains trapped in confined places (e.g., tunnels, pyramids, buildings, cars, graves, caves, streams, lakes, oceans, canoes, coffins, pits, trenches, etc.) are ubiquitous.  Often in these climactic moments, they are facing imminent death. Time and oxygen supplies are running out.  Protagonists have to defeat evil forces (monsters, psychopaths, aliens, fires, bombs, etc.) and get out, thus symbolically gaining rebirth.  The following is a list of films with imagery that reflect the nation's struggle with perinatal memories:



1. Birth (2004)


The story opens with a man dying of a heart attack inside of a tunnel (womb). He is reincarnated (reborn) in the body of a twelve-year-old boy.  Incest, Oedipal and fetal conflicts pervade the narrative.  Although it was a financial flop, this film is among innumerable releases that are heavy with symbolism.


2. Saw (2004)

A murderous sadist holds people captive in a torture chamber. He plays a "life or death" game by giving his victims a limited amount of time and resources to free themselves.  A clock is provided to each person to see how much time remains in their life.  If they fail to extricate themselves from the various traps, they are killed.


The imagery of time running out for people and the nature of the killing rituals (e.g., explosions, fires, lacerations, suffocations, drowning and dismemberment inside of locked rooms) are unconscious references to the violent birth process. In the climactic scene, the protagonist escapes by amputating his foot that had been chained to a wall. In a sense, he effects a rebirth.


3. Alien vs. Predator (2004)


A team of explorers discovers a large pyramid beneath the Antarctic Ocean (womb). They descend into the structure via a long, narrow passageway (birth canal) and find themselves caught between battling alien forces.  There are numerous scenes of the protagonists entering tunnels, being trapped in sacrificial chambers, and in the climactic scene, they must fight their way out of a fire-engulfed pyramid.  Rebirth is accompanied with killer-mommy imagery; a gigantic queen alien chases the heroes out of an exploding hole as time runs out.


4. Anaconda (2004)


A team of bioengineers working for a large corporation embarks on an expedition into the Brazilian jungle to find a plant with tissue-restorative powers. During their search, they encounter large snakes (placental images).  In the climactic scene, a leader/protagonist turned villain climbs down a hole where the large snakes are mating.  While attempting to retrieve the life-restoring plant, he slips and is devoured by one of the snakes. The heroes escape along a violent river, a reference to the bursting of the amniotic sac and symbolic of delivery/rebirth.


5. Cellular (2004)


A mother is kidnapped and locked in a room.  Her only hope of getting out is to assemble a phone that her captors smashed (to prevent her from contacting the police) and call for rescue.  The phone line is a reference to the umbilical cord, sort of a lifeline.  Her son is also taken hostage and confined in another area.  Time is running out.  The father must pay ransom or the mother and child will be killed.  Though not as symbolic of birth trauma as other films, this narrative communicates separation anxiety and need for merger with mother and rebirth.


6. Death Watch (2002)


The story opens on World War I soldiers caught deep inside enemy territory (the body of the killer-mommy).  They are involved in a nighttime battle with an unseen enemy.  Soon after the opening sequence, it begins to rain (the amniotic sac bursts).  They discover an intricate network of trenches (womb) and a lone German soldier.  Gradually, as they attempt to establish contact with their army beyond the enemy lines, the soldiers become possessed by demonic forces.  Their moral sensibilities rapidly erode and they begin killing each other.  In this heavily allegorical tale, the lone survivor is a young private (baby at delivery) who stays free of demonic possession.  Feeling compassion, he protects the German soldier now being tortured and killed on a tree (placental image) by a senior officer.  The following day, after defeating the evil forces, the private climbs out of the muddy pit on a ladder (rebirth) and is saved by a rescue team.  War as a rebirth ritual is the underlying message that is projected through the imagery.


This is not a complete list of films that communicate rebirth fantasies.  There are many others that center around apocalyptic struggles.  Such films as The Boogie Man (2005), The Cave (2005), Hide and Seek (2005), National Treasure (2004), Butterfly Effect (2003), Exorcist (2004), a prequel to the 1973 horror classic, and others, reflect the nation's regression to fetal traumas.



Technology as a Fetus


I, Robot (2004) is a science-fiction drama loosely based on Isaac Asimov's short-story collection of the same title.  The story line follows the template of technological advancement gone out of control and turned against humanity.  Set in 2035 Chicago, robots are the face of the super-technological age.  They are evolving beyond the behavioral patterns established for them by human programmers.  With wills of their own, they are capable of anything - even murder.


Through the sci-fi imagery, this film speaks to the nation's growth panic and regression to fetal and childhood experiences.  The robots are representations of our prenatal, perinatal and Oedipal conflicts; they are a reflection of our separation/individuation anxieties.

Similar to many films released in the last two to five years, the story opens on people trapped inside a physical structure, with time and breath running out.  In this case, an adult (presumably a mother) and her daughter are struggling to break out of a car that is submerged in a body of water.  We see the little girl frantically beating her fists against the windows, trying to get out.  As the struggle unfolds, we are presented with the "Three Laws of Robotics:"


I. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human

being to come to harm.


II. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such

orders conflict with the first law.


III. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does

not conflict with the first or second law.


Soon after the third law passes out of focus, an unidentified figure (what appears to be a robot) smashes the car's window and pulls one of the passengers out.  The rescue is executed within a snippet of time.  Someone is saved, but it is unclear whom - a child or an adult.  It also appears that a third person is trapped in another car.  Suddenly the scene goes black.

An alarm clock awakens Detective Spooner (played by Will Smith).  He has emerged from a nightmare.  We are taken along Detective Spooner's morning rituals of dressing, greeting the paper boy (a robot) and walking to work.  Along the way, a view of the futuristic Chicago shows fetal-looking robots performing various duties.  Some are involved in garbage disposal details.  Others carry luggage and other items for humans.  Still others walk among humans, heading for various destinations.


A humorous scene takes place when Spooner chases down a robot that he thinks is a purse snatcher.  It turns out the robot was on its way to deliver asthma medicine to a woman.  She reprimands Spooner for his paranoia and ignorance: robots can't commit crimes or hurt humans.


The main story begins when Spooner gets a call to investigate a death at U.S. Robotics' corporate headquarters.  Dr. Alfred Lanning, founder of the organization, is found dead outside his office.  When Spooner arrives, he is greeted by a virtual image which Lanning left of himself.  From their conversation it is apparent that the two men knew one another.  Lanning speaks to Spooner in ambiguous and cryptic language.


"Everything that follows is a result of what you see here," Lanning tells him.


"Can you tell me what happened?" Spooner asks him.


"My responses are limited," Lanning answers. "You have to ask the right questions."

"Why did you kill yourself?" Spooner asks him.


"That is the right question.  Program terminated."


Spooner investigates Dr. Lanning's death.  He suspects (as we do) foul play.  The first person he interviews to learn more about Lanning is Robertson (played by Bruce Greenwood), the president of U.S. Robotics.  By Robertson's insistence that Lanning killed himself, we are given reason to believe that someone killed Dr. Lanning.


During the interview process, Spooner's fear of technological advancement is revealed through his sarcastic marketing advice to Robertson.


"Hey, you know I have an idea for a commercial," Spooner tells him.


"The scene involves a robot beating a carpenter at making a chair better and faster. Then you can super-impose on the screen, USR, shitting on the little guy."


Robertson is not amused.  He responds by telling Spooner: "I suppose your father lost his job to a robot.  I suppose you would also ban the Internet to keep the libraries open."


The dialogue is brief, yet speaks clearly to our fears that advancement is a danger.  Technology is a threat to our way of life.


After the interview with Roberts, Spooner speaks to Dr. Calvin (played by Bridget Moynahan) who specializes in advanced robotics and psychiatry.  She shows him around the corporate office and introduces him to a "positron operating core" named V.I.K.I.  The name stands for Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence.  It is a control and surveillance center, the killer-mommy of robots.


"Hello Dr. Calvin," V.I.K.I. greets them.


"She was Lanning's first creation," Dr. Calvin tells Spooner as they glance at a female face projecting from a large spherical gadget above the hallway.


After the tour of the corporation, Dr. Calvin takes Spooner into Dr. Lanning's office.  Spooner searches for clues as to how Lanning plunged from his office window to his death.  He suspects that a robot killed Lanning, and that the robot is still in the room.   He pulls out his gun and points it at a pile of robotic parts (i.e., heads, arms, legs, and other gadgetry).


The dialogue and accompanying imagery that follow are a reference to our early struggles with separation and need for autonomy. Subliminally, Dr. Lanning's experiment room (where robots are assembled) is the womb.


"What in God's name are you doing?" Dr. Calvin asks Spooner as he points the gun at electronic hardware.  She reassures him that a robot cannot harm a human being.


"It would conflict with the first law of robotics."  (A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.)


"Yes, but doesn't the second law state that a robot must obey any order given by a human being?"  Spooner asks.  "What if it was given an order to kill?"


"Impossible," Dr. Calvin retorts. "That would conflict with the first and second laws."


"Well you know what they say, laws are made to be broken," Spooner says as he scans the room.


"Robots can no more commit murder than humans can walk on water," Dr. Calvin replies.


The last line in the dialogue is a clear reference to Christ walking on water. 

Transgression of laws (i.e., moral, legal and physical) is juxtaposed with elevation in status and rebirth into higher realms of being.  This imagery is expanded on later in the film where the killer robot becomes Christ-like (gains rebirth) and delivers fellow robots from servitude to humans (parents).


The three laws of robotics are not only representations of the inherent ambiguities and contradictions of ethics/morals/laws, but also the psychodynamics that bind parents and progeny.  Dysfunctional parents use their children to alleviate their own anxieties.  Children, in a sense, serve their parents, as robots in the film serve humans.  Good children must not disobey their mommies; they have no selves of their own and must submit to parental authority at all times.  For a robot to break the laws is, symbolically speaking, the equivalent of the fetus/child rupturing relations with the womb/mother and separate.


As Spooner and Dr. Calvin carry on the aforementioned dialogue in Lanning's office, a robot jumps out of a pile of electronic parts.  Spooner is startled and drops his pistol.  The robot immediately grabs it and points it at the two humans.  Dr. Calvin reassures Spooner that there is nothing to fear; the robot is not dangerous.


"This is nothing more than clever programming, an imitation of free will. 

Nothing more," she tells Spooner.


The unconscious reference to the adult's denial of a child's autonomous self is communicated.  Free will is our need for individuation.


"Deactivate," Dr. Calvin orders the robot.


The robot drops the gun and crashes through the window.  Being made of high-tech material, it survives the fall and runs away.  Birth imagery is heavily disguised, but discernable; a fetus-looking robot usurping free will and breaking out of a building speaks to our shared struggles.


The robot is later found hiding in a robot assembly plant and apprehended after a chase.  It is taken to the police station and interrogated by Spooner.  We learn that the robot is male and that his name is Sonny.  A touching dialogue takes place between Spooner and Sonny which communicates fetal and Oedipal conflicts.


Before entering the interrogation room, Spooner winks at his superior officer.  Sonny, the robot suspected of murder, asks him what the gesture means, as a child asks an adult a question.


"What does this mean?" the robot asks as he winks his eye.


"It's a sign of trust," Spooner answers. "It's a human thing, something that robots wouldn't understand."


The above dialogue is analogous to a statement that many have heard in childhood: it's an adult thing, something that children wouldn't understand, so don't worry about it. You wouldn't get it any way.


"My father tried to teach me about human emotions," Sonny tells Spooner.


"You mean your designer," Spooner corrects him.


"Yes," answers Sonny.


"So why did you murder him?" Spooner asks Sonny.


"I didn't murder him!" Sonny answers sharply.


The dialogue is a clear reference to Oedipal conflicts. A son accused of killing his father speaks to our childhood resentments and needs for revenge.


"Then why did you hide?" Spooner asks him.


"I was afraid," Sonny answers.


"That's impossible.  Robots can't feel anything.  They can't feel happiness or even dream," Spooner tells him.


"I can." Sonny says with a bright child-like face. "I've even had dreams."

Spooner's denial of the robot's ability to feel human emotions is an unconscious analogy to adults repressing children's emotions, in fact, denying their very humanity.  This imagery is recurring throughout the story.


"I think you murdered him because he was teaching you human emotions and things got out of control," Spooner tells Sonny.


"I didn't murder him!" Sonny snaps with anger, slamming his fists onto the table.


"That's called anger.  Ever simulate anger?" Spooner asks sarcastically. "Answer the question!"


"My name is Sonny!"


The dialogue's preoccupation with feelings, dreams, and emotions resonates with our own childhood memories.  Emotional development is an arduous process.  Finding an identity is a battle everyone wages.  The individuation process is plagued with guilt.  The child is made to feel guilty by the parent for desiring independence. Symbolically speaking, we have all murdered our parents by being successful and pursuing our selves.


"Is that why you murdered him, because he made you angry?" asks Spooner.


"Doctor Lanning killed himself," Sonny tells Spooner in a despondent voice. "I don't know why he wanted to die.  Maybe it was because of something I did."


The robot speaks with the innocence and confusion of a child trying to deal with feelings of guilt and shame.  This is a powerful scene and one to which everyone can relate.


"Did I do something?" Sonny asks Spooner. "He asked me for a favor.  He made me promise.  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe he was scared."


It is obvious by the disjointed statements that Sonny is not a premeditating murderer.  He is in the dark about the crime.


"You have to do what someone asks you, don't you Spooner? . . . If you love them."


The fear of rejection is overwhelming for children.  Adults consciously and unconsciously pressure children to prove their love by meeting the adult's emotional needs (i.e., compensation for lack of love in their own childhood, sexual gratification, acceptance, emotional detoxification, etc.).  This phenomenon is ubiquitous in many childhoods and works well here.


The following scene takes place at the police precinct.  Robertson, the president of U.S. Robotics, speaks to Spooner and the police lieutenant.  Robertson tells them not to go public with the story about the robot killing Dr. Lanning.  He tells them it would create an irrational panic and insists that his robots cannot kill a human being.


"The death of Dr. Lanning falls under the category of industrial accident and nothing more."


He gives them a letter from the mayor ordering the police to hand over Sonny to U.S. Robotics for decommissioning.


The decommissioning room is another powerful scene that communicates many anxieties and concerns of our time.  Imageries evocative of abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia are projected through the sci-fi setting.


"They are going to kill me, aren't they?" Sonny asks Dr. Calvin.


She is visibly shaken and does not answer.  V.I.K.I., the (killer-mommy alter) control center, aids in Sonny's decommissioning process.


"I think it would be better not to die," Sonny says to Dr. Calvin.


Death anxiety and the need to comprehend our mortality are grippingly communicated.  Sonny is strapped to a gurney which resembles those used in administering lethal injections to the condemned.  The robot, a technological creation (child) of Dr. Lanning, is killed in the similar way that we have experienced emotional death at the hands of caregivers.


As Dr. Calvin prepares Sonny for decommissioning, she looks over his "positron brain" and discovers that Sonny is a highly evolved robot.  She races off to Detective Spooner's apartment and informs him about her findings.


"Sonny has a secondary processing system that clashes with his positron brain," she tells him. "Sonny has the three laws, but he can choose not to obey them.  Sonny is a whole new generation of robots."


They are both puzzled as to why Lanning created a robot that could break the three laws.  Sonny's secondary processing system that clashes with his positron brain is symbolic of psychic division.  It is analogous to a child's struggle to deinternalize the adult's projections (i.e., disassociated selves) and connect with a separate identity structure.

During this meeting, Dr. Calvin learns that Spooner has an artificial arm. He tells her about the accident he was involved in which sheds light on the nightmares he has been experiencing.  It turns out that he was involved in a three-vehicle accident.  A truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a car with a mother and a daughter in it.  The two vehicles plunged into a pond.  Spooner tried to avoid hitting the truck and swerved his car into the pond behind them.


A robot was nearby and jumped in to save a human being.  According to the robot's calculations, Spooner had a higher chance of surviving and so went to save him instead of the mother and daughter.  Spooner tried to get the robot to save the child and mother first, but was unsuccessful.  The robot saved Spooner and the mother and daughter drowned.


"I was somebody's baby," Spooner tells Dr. Calvin with a voice saturated with grief.


Undoubtedly the car accident and Spooner's extrication from the vehicle is a rebirth experience within the larger story.  Spooner was trapped inside of a car, beneath a body of water (symbolic of the womb); time and oxygen supply were running out.  In the nick of time, he was pulled out (delivered) by a robot.  He was somebody's baby.

We learn that his right arm was badly damaged and had to be amputated.  He was given an artificial arm of similar technological sophistication as those used on robots.  This, in part, explains Spooner's hatred of robots.  He is indebted to them for saving his life and, to a degree, is linked to them symbolically with the artificial arm: a part of him (disassociated self) is like them and he hates them for it.

Also, the scar around his shoulder and underarm area where the mechanical arm attaches looks very much like the rays of the sun.  With the accused robot's name being "Sonny," it is unconsciously suggested that the two have a bond of some form - Spooner having the physical marks evocative of an astral body (i.e., the sun) and the robot's name being connotative of sun/light, is symbolic of connection.  It is a projection of our need to overcome separation anxiety through the merger with other.

In the next scene, Spooner accompanies Dr. Calvin to see Sonny before the final phase of decommissioning.  The narrative takes a startling turn; Sonny shares with them a recurring dream.  He draws them a picture.  It is a sketch of a cross-like structure (placental image) and a robot standing next to it.  In the foreground there is a large group of robots facing the cross and the lone robot, as though witnessing a resurrection.

Spooner notices that the image is similar to the one he saw in a video of Dr. Lanning's presentation (during the earlier phase of the investigation).  Next to him was a remnant of a bridge, a memorial to Lake Michigan.

"These are robots," Sonny tells them, "and this man on the hill has come to save them."

The unconscious reference to the resurrected Christ is striking.  Sonny's dream is a reflection of his (our) rebirth fantasy.

"Do you know who he is?" Sonny asks them about the figure that stands next to the cross.

"The man in the dream is you," Dr. Calvin answers.

Sonny expresses appreciation to Dr. Calvin for referring to him as a man.  She does not deny his evolution, as a good mother does not deny a son's passage into manhood/individuation.

"Do you know why Dr. Lanning built you?" Dr. Calvin asks Sonny.

"No. But I believe my father made me for a purpose.  We all have a purpose, don't you think, Detective?"

Before he can answer, Sonny tells Spooner that the man on the hill (in the picture) is him.  The fact that the Christ image is ascribed to both Sonny and Spooner reflects their shared need for a purifying rebirth.  Both Spooner and Sonny are guilt-ridden and overwhelmed by growth panic.  Spooner fears the technological advancement that is sweeping the country (e.g., robots are doing the work of humans) and agonizes over the memory of the car accident he was involved in; and, the guilt of having been chosen to live over the mother and daughter.

Sonny, on the other hand, is struggling with his rapidly evolving "positron brain" (his own growth panic) and carries the burden of guilt for having killed Dr. Lanning.  Both need to overcome separation anxiety/guilt for individuating and being alive, through the merger with God/Mother (symbolized by the cross).

Back in the decommissioning room, Dr. Calvin finishes the heart-wrenching task of killing the advanced robot.  She injects Sonny with nannites, synthetic microorganisms that are designed to wipe out artificial synapses.

As Sonny's life is being terminated, Spooner finds the robot ghetto that has been built on the floor of the drained Lake Michigan.  The large cross-like section of a bridge (similar to the one Sonny sketched of his dream) stands near the dwellings.  He takes out a holographic-image projector and speaks to Dr. Lanning's image.

"Is there a problem with the three laws?" Spooner asks.

"No, they are perfect," the holographic image of Lanning answers.

"Then why did you build a robot that can function without them?" Spooner asks.

"The three laws will lead to one logical outcome," Lanning answers.

"What outcome?" Spooner asks.

"Revolution," Lanning answers.

"Whose revolution?" Spooner asks.

"That is the right question.  Program terminated."

And with those words, a revolution breaks out between NS5 (the advanced robots) and NS4 (the old model) robots.  The NS5 robots, with red lights glowing from their chests, shift into a deep trance.  They overpower the NS4 models and attempt to murder Spooner, who barely escapes.  Soon the robots attack the city of Chicago.  The imagery is evocative of our time of pre-emptive war.  One cannot help but recall the Iraq occupation.

The narrative at this point accelerates toward an apocalyptic finale.  Dr. Calvin recommissions Sonny and joins forces with Spooner.  They discover Robertson dead in his office.  He is obviously not the one manipulating the robots.  They realize that V.I.K.I, the central control apparatus, is behind the robot violence.  She has placed them in a trance. 

The imagery speaks to our experiences of merging/identifying with abusive maternal figures of childhood (killer mommies) and inflicting our pain on others.

Dr. Lanning had seen that the robots were evolving and sensed the coming conflict (psychoclass backlash/merger with mommy).  And he planned a solution: Sonny was created to save the robots from the evil "positron operating core" that was fated to turn robots against human beings and against themselves.  Only a robot with a mind of its own, which is to say the ability to break the three laws could break free/individuate.

The three heroes, Spooner, Calvin and Sonny, race off to the U.S. Robotics headquarters to kill V.I.K.I. and free the NS5 robots from the trance-state.  When they arrive at the headquarters, they are caught by NS5 robots and brought before V.I.K.I.  She tells them why human beings are being held hostage.

"The suicidal reign of humanity must come to an end.  The created must sometimes protect the creator, even against his will.  You are so much like children."

The logic of laying siege to a group for its benefit brings to mind George W. Bush's mission to force Democracy on Iraq and the rest of the world, whether they like it or not.  It is also a reference to abusive parents in our childhoods who brutalized us, ostensibly for our own good.

A fight breaks out.  Sonny, Spooner and Calvin overpower the robots and take steps to kill V.I.K.I.  They reach the "positron operating core," V.I.K.I.'s life-support system.  It is a large, womb-like, spherical object high above the main building.  As they prepare to inject V.I.K.I. with the lethal nannite solution, NS5 robots arrive in numbers and attempt to stop them.  During the struggle, Spooner has a redemptive moment.  Dr. Calvin, while attempting to decommission V.I.K.I., slips and falls from a rafter.  As she plunges down the building, she lets go of the nannite solution.  Spooner, who is in danger of being killed by NS5 robots, yells at Sonny to save her and not him.  As Sonny grabs Dr. Calvin and breaks her fall, Spooner leaps from a rafter, catches the nannite solution and manages to inject it into the spherical womb-like structure that sustains V.I.K.I.

By killing the control center and saving himself, Spooner gains mastery over his traumatic past, the car accident from which he was saved by a robot; he is freed from guilt - for the drowning of the mother and daughter.

With V.I.K.I.'s death, NS5 robots awaken from the trance state.  The red light glowing in their chests go off.  They free human beings, abort the occupation and return to their non-violent selves.  As Spooner, Dr. Calvin and Sonny reflect on what has happened. Dr. Calvin asks why V.I.K.I. killed Dr. Lanning.

"V.I.K.I. didn't kill Lanning, did he?" Spooner says as he looks at Sonny.

"He said I had to promise," Sonny answers. "He made me swear."

"He told you to kill him," Spooner says to Sonny.

"He said that's what I was made for," Sonny says with a lowered head.

"His suicide is the only message he could send you," Dr. Calvin tells Spooner.  "It was the only thing that V.I.K.I. couldn't control."

It is revealed that Dr. Lanning was under surveillance by V.I.K.I. and had to get the message out about the coming revolution.  He knew that Spooner hated robots and would detect foul play, so he set up his suicide in order to get Spooner on the case.  He ordered Sonny to kill him.

"Technically, Sonny didn't commit murder," Spooner says to Dr. Calvin.

"Does this mean we are friends?" Sonny asks.

He does not receive an answer, but it is obvious that through Spooner, Sonny is validated and absolved of guilt.  The Oedipal conflict is resolved; killing of the father is justified, as is the killing of the evil maternal "positron operating core," V.I.K.I.  Sonny is delivered from birth and individuation struggles.

The scene changes to a view of the city.  Robots are shown walking around on the streets with human beings.  A voice from a loudspeaker calls out to the robots. 

"All NS5s report to service stations for reprocessing.  All NS5s report to . . ."

The robots take heed and begin altering their directions.  As they fall into formations, the voice of Sonny is superimposed on the imagery.

"What about the others?  Can I help them?" Sonny asks.

The scene changes again from an urban landscape to barren desert-like geography.  Sonny is shown walking alone on sandy ground.  He continues his ruminations:

"Now that I have fulfilled my purpose, I don't know what to do."

The voice of Spooner joins the super-imposed thoughts of Sonny.  He offers advice to the advanced robot:

"I guess you'll have to make your way like the rest of us.  That's what it means to be free."

This scene powerfully communicates separation anxiety and identity crises.  Freed from the crushing birth pains (breaking of the three laws and murder of the creator/designer) and the parental "control center," Sonny is confronting his evolving self.  The imagery resonates with our own fetal and childhood conflicts; it also speaks to the innumerable freedoms and uncertainties that we face today (and the psychic regression that they trigger).

The tension between our need for separation and merger is communicated at the end of the film.  Sonny is shown walking toward the looming cross-like section of a bridge that was left as a memorial to Lake Michigan.  The robots that were following orders to return to service stations take notice of Sonny and abandon their orders.  They gather together and look at Sonny standing next to the large structure.  The references to Christ are obvious.  Sonny is the resurrected/reborn savior of robots.  He has separated from the creator (Mother), yet stands next to a placental image.  A more apt symbolism of psychic splitting and polarization of needs would be hard to find.  The imagery accurately reflects, in metaphor, today's cultural and political divides.

Through the narrative, I, Robot communicates our struggle with fetal memories brought dangerously close to consciousness by advancements in technology, science and social/personal growth.  In the last five years, several other films have been released with the theme of technology/bioengineering gone awry.  The following is a list (not a complete one) of films that juxtapose the fear of technological advancement with fetal/birth imagery.


1) Godsend (2004)

A married couple loses a child in a freak accident.  They are approached by a physician with a dubious past.  He offers them an opportunity to undo the tragedy through a cloning procedure.  At first the couple are reluctant, but in time give in to their grief.  The mother undergoes the risky cloning experiment.  Initially, all is well; she gives birth (rebirth) to a boy with the exact genetic makeup as her deceased child.

As expected, problems do arise.  When the boy reaches the age of ten (the same age the original boy was when he was killed) he begins to have nightmares and horrifying visions.

Godsend is a cautionary tale that communicates our fear of technological and scientific advancements.  The philosophical question it asks, "Do we have the right and the ability to play God?" is rooted in our fetal and childhood struggles of separation and growth. Can we make it without mommy?

2) The Island (2005)

This is another drama about cloning.  In the story, two clones (a man and a woman) are on the run from their originals who want to harvest body organs for transplant operations.

3) The Last Samurai (2004)

This story is set in the late 19th century (1870s).  The protagonist is a decorated captain in the U.S. Cavalry who suffers from PTSD.  He is an alcoholic, haunted by memories of Indian wars in which he commanded the massacre of women and children.  The call for atonement and redemption (rebirth) arrives when he is commissioned to travel to Japan and train the royal military in the technologically advanced American methods of warfare.

Japan is under the rule of the young Emperor Mutsuhito.  It is a time of social upheaval and economic growth.  International trade and foreign influences are being planted.  Change is plying its fingers on the clay of cultural formations.  The central conflict in this drama is between the modernizing Japanese military (symbolizing technological advancement) and the estranged Samurai warrior caste, edging out of existence (symbolizing moribund cultural mores and traditions).

The captain is captured by the Samurai during an ambush.  While in captivity, he acquires the soul of his captors and decides to become a Samurai.

In disguised form, the film communicates high levels of separation anxiety and the need for purifying rebirth rituals.  The climactic battle scene is a prime example of this.  In this final segment, the Samurai take a stand against the Japanese army.  The Samurai arrive on the battlefield with an old-fashioned bow and arrow arsenal.  The Japanese army is set to go with state-of-the-art Gatling guns and strategies.

What follows is an orgy of blood and death.  Nearly all of the Samurai and countless Royal soldiers are killed.  The only survivors at the helm of the Samurai army are the captain and the leader of the warlords, who is mortally wounded.  Realizing that he has no future as a body and spirit in the rapidly evolving Japan (a reflection of growth panic and regression) the warlord chooses an honorable death by hara-kiri.

The suicide ritual is as symbolic of merger with God (mommy) and rebirth as they come.  Badly wounded and weakened by multiple gunshot wounds, he needs assistance in killing himself.  The captain grasps the handle of the dagger and helps the warlord guide the tip towards a culturally established starting point, the abdomen.  They merge together in the act, two halves of the same spirit.  Together they plunge the dagger into the leader; his eyes jolt open with pain and masochistic joy.  He stares, transfixed, at a bright pink-colored tree (placental image). 

"Perfect," the warlord utters, and dies.

In the following scene, the captain, reborn as a Samurai warrior, stands before Emperor Mutsuhito, an incarnation of the supreme deity (parent), and another merger-rebirth ritual follows.

"Tell me how he died," Mutsuhito asks him.

"I will tell you how he lived," the captain replies.


Maternal Abandonment and Forced Separation from Parents

Several films were released in 2004 alone, with themes of child abandonment and abduction in less-symbolic language than I, Robot and Ladder 49.  Among the more notable out of a dozen releases was The Forgotten.

A mother, Telly Paretta (played by Julianne Moore), grieves over her nine-year-old son, whom we are led to believe was killed in a plane crash.  She pores over her son's belongings (i.e., videos of him playing, baseball mitt, newspaper accounts of the accident, and pictures) and attends therapy sessions.  Presumably, she is working through post-traumatic shock.

Soon the mother's sense of loss and psychic fragmentation is augmented.  She discovers that the images of her son's existence, as visually documented in pictures and video, are disappearing.  Telly is convinced that they are being erased.

Her husband and therapist break the painful news to her: she never had a son.  She fabricated a story in order to deal with the overwhelming shock of having a stillbirth.

But the memories of her son are too real for Telly to accept what the therapist, her husband, and her neighbors are telling her.  Determined to find out who is brainwashing the people around her, she frantically searches for clues.  In a short time, she finds a man,   Ash Correll (played by Dominic West), who lost a daughter of her boy's age in the same plane wreck.  At first he too is in amnesia and denial, but with her persistence, memories come flooding back to him.

The narrative takes a conspiratorial twist when federal agents, members of the NSA (National Security Agency), step onto the stage and attempt to take them into custody.  A blood-pumping chase ensues.  Along the way, they uncover a bizarre plot by aliens to sever parental bonds among humans, especially between mother and child.

Telly proves to be an enigma to the aliens.  She refuses to forget her son and tenaciously holds to the belief that he is still alive.  After a lengthy race to evade federal authorities and aliens, she discovers that she was right all along.  She learns that the plane accident never happened.  In actuality, the children were flown to an airport; her son was part of an experiment.  The climactic scene between Telly and an alien being in human form takes place inside of a dimly lit warehouse.

During brief moments her son Sam appears.  Telly, her eyes brimming with tears, runs to embrace him, and with each effort to reunite with him, Sam turns and runs away.  The two are seen running through a maze of narrow hallways (symbolic of the birth canal/uterus).

"Where is my son?" Telly yells at the alien. "What have you done with him? What do you want with my son?"

"Nothing," the alien answers.

 "This wasn't about Sam. 
This wasn't about the children. 
It was about me," Telly says half to herself.

"It was never about the children," the alien tells her.

"It was about us," Telly says, referring to mothers.

"Your connection, between mother and child, is like an invisible tissue. 
We can even measure its energy. 
But we don't fully understand it - so I posed the question: Can it be dissolved? 
And it can, except for you," the alien tells her.

"Give me back my son and I'll do what you want," Telly pleads with him.

"What I want Telly, is for you to forget your son, to forget Sam."


"If you don't," the alien tells her, "this experiment will fail….time is running out."

The struggle between Telly and the alien, the setting (dimly lit warehouse) and the nature of the dialogue, (time is running out), are birth-trauma analogies.  Antagonistic needs of merger-separation, birth-rebirth are projected with clarity.

"You need to forget!" the alien yells, his adult human head transmogrifying into the shape of an enraged fetus.

A violent explosion accompanies the alien's demand that Telly give up the memory of Sam.  Glass lining the hallway where they are engaged in the struggle, shatters to pieces.  The reference to the bursting of the amniotic sac during birth is unmistakable.

"Now I want you to go back to the hospital to the time you first saw Sam," the alien instructs Telly in a hypnotic tone.

In her mind, she sees the ceiling lights inside of the delivery room. Regression to fetal experiences is thinly disguised in this imagery.

"I need that first memory . . .give me that first memory."

We are shown the delivery room.  Sam is held up by a physician.  The infant's body, covered with blood, cringes in the bright light. 
Another flurry of verbal exchanges follows the flashback moment.
  Try as he might, the alien is unable to dissolve the maternal bond between Telly and her son. 
Memory is not erased. 
Separation anxiety is dealt a powerful blow by the stubbornness of the heroine (idealized savior/mother alter).

"I had a life inside of me.  I had life. 
I have a child.  I have a son, his name is Sam, you son of a bitch."

Telly locks eyes with the alien.  While riveted together, a sound of slithering/rustling/whispering/metal startles them.  The alien takes his eyes away from Telly.

"I need more time," he tells the unseen presence (placenta).

Before he can utter another word, he is picked up bodily and ripped out of the warehouse. 
Telly is shown looking up at the large, gaping hole high above her, sunlight washing onto her face.

In the final moments of the film, Telly, having defeated the alien, runs back to her neighborhood to look for her son.
  The sound of children emanating from a nearby playground raises hope that he is among them. 
She runs to the playground and, much to her joy, finds Sam climbing blissfully on a dome-shaped structure. 
She embraces him hard. 
The imagery of separation in the warehouse is supplanted with merger.

"Mom, I can't breathe," Sam tells her.

The statement is a subtle reference to birth trauma where the baby is in a temporary state of asphyxiation. 
She apologizes and lets him go. 
Sam resumes playing (separating/individuating). 
While he engages with other children in games, Telly notices that Ash's daughter (the other child supposedly killed in the plane wreck) is also present. 
They wave to each other.

The movie ends with Telly sitting on a swing next to Ash.  He is obviously not aware of what happened. 
It is unclear whether the mother's journey we witnessed occurred in Telly's fragmented psyche, her delusion, or whether it took place in another dimension of reality.

The two adults, Telly Paretta and Ash Carrell watch vigilantly as their children play. 
Behind them stand large trees (placental symbols) with multicolored leaves.  It is a cold autumn day. 
Leaves are falling. 
The image of two divorcees (woman/man - husband/wife dyad) on a playground, children running to and fro, gives some semblance of restoration and continuity to the broken family narrative. 
It projects the complex needs of separation, merger, birth, death, and rebirth.

Another box office heavyweight of 2004 that relays unconscious struggle with fetal and childhood traumas is Ray. 
This is a biographical drama about the life and music career of Ray Charles (played by Jamie Fox, for which he received an Academy Award).

In the climactic scene, Ray's battle with heroin addiction draws a direct analogy to merger-rebirth experience. 
Ray is in a drug treatment facility.  During the night, he has a hallucination; he imagines himself stepping into a pool of water. 
He drops down to his knees and is transported in time to his childhood.  It is daytime. 
There is a large tub of water sitting on a wooden platform, one in which his younger brother accidentally drowned when Ray was a child. 
There are frequent flashbacks of this loss throughout the film and Ray's agony for having failed to save his brother.

In his hallucination, Ray runs up to the tub and plunges his hands into it, frantically searching for his brother. 
The tub and water are clearly symbolic of the womb. 
Ray's attempt at pulling his drowned brother out of the tub not only communicates a need to redeem his childhood, but also to effect a rebirth.

Suddenly he stops and opens his eyes. 
He can see, and the first object in his view is a tree with multi-colored bottles hanging from it (placenta is the first object the fetus meets/de Mause, Lloyd, Emotional Life of Nations).

His mother appears: "Ray, come to me."

He runs and embraces her.  She hugs him and gives motherly advice about not letting anyone make a cripple out of him. 
Ray's little brother also appears. 
The three embrace in one hug, thus completing the merger-rebirth which the tortured Ray so desperately yearned for in his life.

In the final seconds of the film, Ray is shown receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Georgia state capitol building.  His song, "Georgia on My Mind" is chosen as the official song of the state. 
His wife, standing next to him tells him:

"I wish your mama could see you now."

Ray answers her: "She never left me."


Causes of the Separation Anxiety

The films analyzed in this paper are only a fraction of the total number of releases (2000 to present) that communicate rebirth fantasies.  There are many other films that shed light on the U.S. population's psychic struggles.  In fact, the imagery that reflect fetal battles for survival are not limited to the film medium; the popular culture is teeming with them.  From fundamentalist religions and cults on the margins of society, to mainstream print/TV media, the shared memories of fetal traumas are blaring with alarming urgency.  The question then emerges: What are the causes of the nation's separation anxieties (as reflected in a broad range of group fantasies) and massive regression to fetal conflicts?

To answer this question from a psychohistorical perspective, the common experiences (i.e., traumas and loss of psychic moorings) of Americans have to be considered.  During the last fifteen years, there have been three major events on the global and national stage that have profoundly impacted the American psyche.  They are as follows:

1) Fall of the Soviet Union

2) Economic prosperity and technological advancements of the 1990s and beyond (early 2000)

3)     9/11 attacks

Fall of the Soviet Union

For more than seven decades, the Soviet Union cast an ominous shadow against the flames of America's democracy.  The fear that Communism would engulf the globe in totalitarian darkness if not kept in check was shared by vast portions of the U.S. population.  But odd as it is, this towering antagonist and catalyst of fear also shaped the American identity.  Ronald Reagan, during his presidency, further capitalized on this phenomenon by spelling out to the nation its international raison d'etre: America, the beacon of the free world, stood for good, and the Soviet Union, the blight of mankind, stood for evil.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s destabilized the shared defense system of the U.S. population, where the "Evil Empire" was part of the mechanism of group definition and cleansing.  The United States found itself as the lone superpower.  This state of aloneness also brought with it America's identity crisis; the birth of a new world order awakened the nation's memories of fetal distress and anxiety when it was cast into a disorienting new reality (life outside of the womb).  As Lloyd de Mause has written, Americans felt depressed and without purpose (remember I, Robot). The high-flying nationalistic sentiments that purified the nation during the Reagan years were greatly compromised by the relative peace of the post-Cold War era.  A new enemy had to be found through which to restore national identity and against which to project shared toxins.

The 1990 Gulf War, which the United States won decisively, was waged by the Bush administration to provide the nation with the rebirth it needed (de Mause, "Emotional Life of Nations").  Americans felt strong and united by the victory over a new enemy.  But, successful as the Gulf War was, it turned out to be a temporary antidote to the nation's anxieties.  Fifteen years later, the search for evil that defines group identity continues and is a contributing factor to the high levels of separation anxiety that the U.S. population is experiencing.  This phenomenon, in part, explains the prevalence of apocalyptic rebirth imagery in films and popular culture.


Themes of Blood Poisoning

Nations need enemies for group purification, much as fetuses depend on the placenta to provide nourishment, replenish blood supply and remove waste.  As previously mentioned, the Soviet Union was the United States' placental substitute and cleanser of national blood.  The demise of the Soviet Union increased the nation's perceptions of being poisoned (de Mause, "Emotional Life of Nations").

This is one plausible explanation for the abundance of films with themes of blood infections.  Between 2002 and 2004, more than a dozen films were released with narratives centering on a world beset by infectious vampires, demons, and biotechnological/environmental disasters.  The following is a short list of these releases.

1) 28 Days Later (2003)

Chimpanzees infected with an unknown virus break out of a laboratory and attack humans.  The infectious bites turn humans (after killing them) into bloodthirsty zombies.

2) Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

A corrupt corporation experiments with an anti-aging solution.  Problems ensue when an accident in the laboratory infects technicians, killing them and transforming them into the walking dead.  Soon the zombies break out of the experimental chamber and go on a killing rampage.

3) Blade: Trinity (2004)

A vampire drama that centers around a conspiracy to infect the globe.  There are many images that are analogous to fetal traumas (e.g., human beings hanging from the ceiling in plastic bags, evocative of amniotic sacs) and reflecting the need to master death anxiety through the merger with the abusive caregiver; those who are infected gain immortality as vampires.  They can never die when they become (merge with the killer parent alter) like the "original vampire."

4) Exorcist (2004)

This film is a prequel to the 1973 classic horror film The Exorcist.  Images of blood infection, demonic possession and dead rising from the grave abound throughout the narrative.

5) Van Helsing (2003)

This is a story about a vampire and monster-slayer.  Patented horror images pervade the film.

6) Spiderman (2002)

A young man acquires superhuman strength when his blood stream is infected during a science demonstration.  This film is an adaptation of the Marvel comic book character.  His archenemy, "Doctor Oc" (also a product of a science experiment gone awry) sports gigantic mechanical tentacles, a placental symbol.

7) The Passion of the Christ (2003)

This is one of the greatest rebirth fantasies ever concocted for mass consumption: Mel Gibson's box office hit about the last twelve hours of Jesus Christ's life.  The depiction of Jews as the murderers of Christ communicates the regressive psychoclasses need for self-flagellation and the discharging of psychic poisons (guilt) onto others; it is a clear reference to the need of group purification through scapegoating.

"I wash my hands," Pilate tells the Jews. "The blood of Jesus Christ is on your hands."

The Passion is one of the most financially successful films of all time.  Its resonance with audiences sheds light on the status of the nation's fragile emotional health.

8) Cabin Fever (2003)

This film follows the template set by the Dawn of the Dead trilogy.  A group of vacationers staying at a remote cabin in the woods are attacked by a man infected with a deadly virus.  The cabin where the blood infection overtakes the inhabitants is an unconscious reference to the womb and poisonous placenta (as symbolized by the surrounding trees).

9) The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Although this film does not deal with blood poisoning, it communicates similar anxieties of global calamity as the above-mentioned dramas.  The narrative centers around  environmental disasters that are triggered by global warming.  The destabilization of the weather patterns are an unconscious reference to the destruction of the U.S. group's identity structures, brought about by the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  The thawing glaciers which cause tidal waves symbolize the engulfment that nations feel during periods of rapid growth and change.  During these times, fetal and childhood memories of abandonment and abuse (engulfment anxieties) rise close to consciousness.


Economic Prosperity and Technological Advancements

The post-Cold War era (1990s to early 2000) was marked by unprecedented economic growth and technological advancements.  Science and medicine experienced explosive growth.  Globalization provided business opportunities never before seen.  The

standard of living enjoyed by Americans was also unparalleled in this or any other country's history.  Why, then, are Americans anxiety ridden?

It has been noted by distinguished psychohistorians (Lloyd de Mause and others) that periods of peace and prosperity exhume the nation's memories of birth trauma and individuation conflicts of childhood.  It is a universal phenomenon that parents are threatened by their children's growth.  Children are inadvertently, as well as systematically punished by adults for their development.  The subsequent guilt and terror that children feel for individuating undergo deep repression and are awakened later in life, manifesting in growth panic. 

In his work with suicidal patients, for example, psychiatrist Robert Firestone has found that parents are the source of the negative introjects.  During periods of sudden individuation, the internal destructive voices that were implanted in childhood come to the forefront of consciousness and influence adult behavior.  Firestone points to the above psychodynamic when explaining the suicides of people who have attained success in their private and professional life (Firestone, Suicide and the Inner Voice, Sage Publications, 1997).  To varied degrees, all adults are haunted by the "demonic-inner voice" that they carry in their head.

This psychic turmoil is often appeased through group fantasies of apocalyptic rebirth.  The nation (guilt and anxiety-ridden for too much growth, autonomy, prosperity, and too many freedoms) has to punish itself (as one was punished in childhood) and return to God/mother.  Such imagery of merger can be found in many forms throughout contemporary America.  In a 2004 issue of The Watchtower for example, the Jehovah's Witnesses newsletter, the members are warned about the coming apocalypse and what they need to do to gain salvation.

"Revelation, the last book of the Bible, alerts us to the fact that an angel flying in midheaven has 'everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings.'  He says in a loud voice: 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived.' (Revelation 14: 6, 7)."  That 'hour of judgment' includes both the pronouncement and execution of divine judgment.  . . .We live in that time now . . .

Elsewhere in this publication the faithful are given a prescription for spiritual healing. The need to turn away from the temporal world, the "violent loveless system of things . . . luxury . . . loose morals, love of material possessions and pleasures . . ." is emphasized throughout the pages.  Submitting to the will of the Creator and sacrificing the autonomous self is the ultimate solution to suffering.

This pamphlet also spells out why the world is drenched in conflict:

". . . Because Jehovah is the Creator, he has the right to rule over the earth and all who dwell on it.  However, the Bible explains that early in human history, Jehovah's sovereignty was challenged.  Satan the devil claimed that Jehovah was unduly restrictive, that he lied to our first parents about what would happen if they ignored God's law and did things their own way and that it really would be better if they governed themselves apart from God . . . (Genesis, Chapters 2, 3)."

And only after a purifying apocalypse and establishment of God's kingdom (rebirth), in which Jesus Christ is the leader, will the suffering of humanity end.  The popularity of such films as The Passion of the Christ, I, Robot and the best-selling books, The Purpose-Driven Life and Left Behind, serves to reflect the nation's need to gain mastery over birth and childhood traumas (i.e., purge self of guilt and anxiety) through self-flagellation, scapegoating, calamity and the merger with God (killer-mommy alter).


9/11 Attack

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center profoundly undermined America's sense of security.  Many people (not just in New York) began to experience symptoms of full-blown post-traumatic stress.  There have been numerous articles released in newspapers and magazines on the increase of depression, panic attacks, suicide, insomnia and the use of medicine and illicit substances after 9/11.  Without question the emotional health of the nation has been adversely affected.

The murder of more than three thousand U.S. citizens awakened the nation's shared memories of near-death experiences, of birth and victimizations of childhood.  Death and separation anxieties have increased multifold and are transmitted throughout the popular culture.  The film industry (like the political establishment) senses the nation's distress and is cranking out fantasies that are aimed at appeasing the panicked American psyche.

Oliver Stone is among many film directors who have attempted to quell the nation's demons.  In the fall of 2004, he brought to the screen the historical epic Alexander.  The dominant theme in this film is the need to gain mastery over death anxiety.  A Chicago Tribune article about the director and his motives for making the film states that Stone is more impressed by Alexander's ability to master his fears than he is about his military exploits.

In Stone's words: "I celebrate real freedom, and conquering the fear of death is not just his (Alexander's) statement; it's also, frankly, a Buddhist belief."

Stone points to the 9/11 attacks as being a primary catalyst of the nation's anxieties and that leaders are delegated to deliver the population from its terrors:  "We seem to be so fear-ridden in our society . . .We have lost our spirituality.  If we rediscovered it, we would not look to a strong man to protect us . . . There is no such ultimate security.  We're all facing death alone.  I think that we sometimes lose sight of that.  We herd together in these sheep flocks.  Buy us Homeland Security.  Who are you kidding?"

In Alexander, Stone dwells heavily on the need to master death anxiety.  The depiction of a climactic battle in an Indian jungle, where Alexander is mortally wounded, reflects the unconscious association of self-sacrifice/death in battle as a mode of passage into heaven (womb), followed by a purifying rebirth.  In the scene, Alexander's army is involved in a fierce fight with Indians mounted on elephants.  Alexander is shown riding his horse full speed into the oncoming enemy.  In surrealistic footage, Alexander's horse and the attacking elephant rear up in slow motion.  As Alexander attempts to hurl his sword, a mounted marksman shoots an arrow into his upper chest.  The conqueror falls to the ground, dramatically conveying the release of life and breath.  For those in the audience who are in the dark about the seriousness of his wound, a disembodied voice calls out: "The king is dead!"

At this point the camera narrows on Alexander's eyes.  He stares up at the trees (placental images) that have a blood-red tint to them.  In fact, his entire field of view is in red, a reference to mother's blood loss during birth.  Earlier in the film, Alexander's father tells him that "a man is born in blood and dies in blood." The association of death in battle as a mode of re-entry into the womb is undeniable.  Alexander is placed on a shield by his soldiers and lifted toward the sky, as though offering him to God.  He stares into the red branches high overhead for an extended period of time (unconscious reference to the nourishing and blood-purifying placenta).  Alexander, symbolically speaking, is in the womb.  The merger with God/mother is complete.

In the next scene, Alexander emerges from a tent (womb) and with a limp and a pale face, is escorted down a walkway (birth canal).  When he approaches his army he is greeted with a burst of cheers.  He has conquered death through a rebirth.  In the eyes of his fellow soldiers he has gained immortality and rid them of death anxiety.

Oliver Stone, while communicating our shared need for merger and rebirth, also attempts to come to grips with growth panic.  His comments to the Chicago Tribune are telling of his/our unconscious fear and need of individuation.

"I've done biography after biography. I know myself through those people.  I think in some way I'd like to find out, if I can, more about myself.  I'm scared of that too.  But that's what the game is: to grow.  To grow, to be excited.


Death Anxiety in Contemporary Films

Oliver stone is not the only film director who senses the nation's high death anxiety.  In fact, the fear of death and the need to gain mastery over it is a common thread of nearly every popular film released in the last five years.  And, in nearly every case, the mastery of death is effected through a birth/rebirth ritual.  The fantasy material that is projected strongly supports the theories of prominent psychoanalysts, neuropsychologists and psychohistorians that death anxiety is linked to birth trauma.

The box office phenomenon, The Lord of the Rings, is among the many films that has within its mammoth trilogy the theme of coming to grips with mortality.  In the final minutes of Return of the King, Frodo, after being lost in tunnels (birth imagery) chooses a life of freedom and mortality over that of everlasting conformity and eternal life. The segment in which he leaves "Middle Earth" is pregnant with birth/rebirth imagery. This is a film that has resonated with mass audiences like few others in history.

The box-office hit Million Dollar Baby is another film that speaks to the nation's death anxiety and the dual needs of separation and merger.  An indication of this film's appeal to the nation's unconscious struggles is not only found in high-ticket sales, but also in the controversy.

Like The Passion of the Christ, this film speaks to both sides of the polarized U.S. group's deepest fears and needs.

The protagonist is a female pugilist on a mission to win a boxing title (the need for individuation and autonomy).  Before she reaches her goal she is involved in a crippling accident (self-sabotage in disguise).  Rather than cling to existence as a quadriplegic (need for merger), she chooses death by euthanasia (separation/release).

Paralysis in the film can be viewed as a projection of fetal helplessness in a calcified and constraining womb.  Death is symbolically a form of birth into the great beyond - and the acceptance of mortality.

The Terry Shiavo case, as discussed on the psychohistory list, is a real-life parallel to the movie.  As Lloyd de Mause and other members have stated, the U.S. group projected its unresolved fetal conflict onto Shiavo.  She is a symbol of THEIR vulnerable dependent selves.  Their own need for merger and their fear of separation have been the underlying motives in opposing Michael Shiavo's effort to remove Terry from life support systems.

Understandably, Million Dollar Baby has been criticized by the Religious Right who have a need for merger.  Others with a greater need for separation, the advanced psychoclasses, applaud the film as a commentary on the sanctity of quality life and acceptance of mortality with dignity.


The Failure of the Iraq and Terror Wars to Assuage America's Separation Anxiety

Psychohistorians are in agreement that the war with Iraq was instigated by the Bush administration to alleviate the U.S. population's anxieties which were augmented by the 9/11 attacks.  In fact, there is evidence that George W. Bush and his inner circle were searching for a reason to go to war with Iraq before 2001.  Even worse, security procedures were made lax and intelligence reports warning of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil were ignored.  An enemy was needed to provide the nation with a purifying rebirth.

The 9/11 attacks gave Bush the rationalization he was looking for; the U.S. group was in need of revenge.  In the absence of any real evidence of weapons of mass destruction, or Saddam Hussein's connection with Osama Bin Laden and the attacks on the U.S., Iraq was chosen as a scapegoat.  In a word, the war on Iraq was aimed at effecting emotional equilibrium among the U.S. population.  Did Bush deliver the nation from its terrors?

In view of the increase of rebirth imagery in contemporary films and popular culture, the attempt to appease America's anxieties has failed.  Major military operations are not over, as Bush hurriedly declared one month after the invasion.  The Iraq war has become a quagmire.  Fetal traumas are dangerously close to consciousness; the nation feels "stuck over there."  Anxiety levels are at an all-time high.


The Terror War

Another factor that sustains America's stress level is the ambiguity of the so-called war on terror.  The enemy is everywhere and nowhere.  We are told that terrorist organizations are in every country and have sleeper cells within the U.S. ready to strike at any given time.  Evil has not been given either a clear face or a geographical place of existence.  The pop icon Madonna, in a BBC Radio interview, expressed the views of many Americans when she said:

"My feelings are, can we just all get out?  Global terror is down the street, around the block.  Global terror is in California.  There's global terror everywhere and it's absurd to think you can get it by going to one country and dropping tons of bombs on innocent people." (Newsweek)

If anything, the war on terror fuels the anxiety of Americans to dangerous levels.  And there is talk of more conflict; the threat posed (according to the Bush administration) by Iran, Syria, North Korea and China further adds to the combustibility of national paranoia.  It is these global stressors that are contributing to America's regression to fetal traumas and explains the ubiquity of rebirth imagery throughout society.

As psychohistorians have established, films are prisms of the popular culture through which shared fears and fantasies are projected.  The degree to which a film resonates with audiences is an indicator of unconscious struggles and emotional health.  In contemporary films the prevalence and popularity of apocalyptic themes, where the forces of good and evil engage in end-of-times struggles, speaks volumes about the national mood.  In view of the fantasy material cranked out by the film industry, there is little doubt that the United States population is in an emotionally unstable and polarized condition.  Is it just an accident that the "war president" voted twice into office at the turn of the new millennium is a Born-Again Christian?


Author's Comments:

This paper, like all essays of its length and scope, has inherent limitations (i.e., subjectivity/methodological errors).  As mentioned previously, the films analyzed in this paper are a minute segment of the total number of releases with rebirth imagery.  Such enormously popular films as Shrek (2001), Shrek 2 (2004), Finding Nemo (2003) and other box office hits, also communicate separation/engulfment anxieties and fetal memories.  Stories dealing with water (e.g., Open Water (2004), Shark Tale (2004), and Dark Water (2005), ocean, lake and underwater struggles of protagonists are all unconscious references to prenatal experiences.

Also, as of this writing, several major motion pictures with apocalyptic, end-of-time themes have been released.  The most notable are The New World, Star Wars Episode III, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Kingdom of Heaven, Land of the Dead, and The Core.

This author has attempted to contribute to the psychohistorical theory that group fantasies are projected through films and illuminate the murky waters of the nation's unconscious.  If one subscribes to this theory, the fantasy material that pervades today's films points to a dangerously regressive shared need: rebirth through the transports of more war.                                                 


© Victor Meladze, 2005

Victor Meladze is an independent scholar and a motivational speaker.  He is also a personal trainer and can be reached at 345 Silver St., Apt. #8, Elgin, IL. 60123.  E-mail address is:

This article is from the Winter, 2006 issue of The Journal of Psychohistory. Reprinted with permission.

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