A Broken Personality Repairs Itself
“Laugh, my friends. Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams.”
-Georges Méliès (1861-1938)
The film Hugo presents a compelling metaphor for the process of individuation through the interplay of an adolescent boy with others in his environment during the 1930s. The movie as a whole represents a personality characterized by superior introverted thinking with auxiliary extraverted intuition (INTP), which first differentiates then integrates its eight functions. For this reason, the movie Hugo is a useful illustration of John Beebe’s eight-function model, as well as Jung’s concept of individuation.
Beebe’s eight-function eight-archetype model acknowledges Jung’s hypothesis of there being superior, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions, but adds an additional four levels for the functions that are resident in the unconscious. Beebe (2007a) justified this approach by pointing out that “we each actually make use of all the function-attitudes, those eight options of consciousness that Jung originally described” (p. 8). Beebe’s work with this model and his clinical observations led him to “postulate archetypal qualities adhering to each of the positions” (p. 8).
Beebe (2001) is also well known for analyzing motion pictures using an approach that assigns a single Jungian cognitive process to each of the major characters represented on screen. He has described his method as follows: “A way to understand a film psychologically is to take its various characters as signifying complexes, parts of a single personality whose internal object relations are undergoing change” (p. 212). In this fashion, the movie as a whole takes on a complete personality with each character representing a function and archetype. The movie Hugo can be correlated to Beebe’s eight-level model by mapping the functions and archetypes as shown in the table.
Coincidentally, this film (which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar®) is also a fictionalized biography of film pioneer Georges Méliès, who capitalized on the film medium to unleash his mythopoetic imagination. As Beebe noted, “Cinema has grown up concurrently with psychoanalysis, and as close siblings nurtured on a common zeitgeist, the two share a drive to explore and realize the psyche” (Apperson & Beebe, 2009, p. 17). Thus it seems befitting to analyze a film about Méliès psychologically.
The Introverted Thinking Hero: Hugo
Hugo, a twelve-year-old orphan, is on a heroic mission to unlock the mystery of a curious metal automaton he was helping his father repair before his tragic death. Robert Penn Warren (1972) suggested that “the archetypal hero represents the ego’s search for identity and wholeness” (p. xiv), and by the end of the film, Hugo achieves these goals both for himself and for others. He epitomizes the process of introverted thinking, of which Jung (1921/1976) wrote: “It formulates questions and creates theories; it opens up prospects and yields insight” (p. 380). Hugo exemplifies this in a touching monologue to his friend Isabelle during which he explains:
Everything has a purpose, clocks tell you the time, trains take you to places. I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too. (Scorsese, 2011)
In this speech, Hugo demonstrates that he sees the world as a total system, with everything interlocking and working together. He seems to have “an archetypal sense of the things’ unconscious resonance” (Beebe, 2007, p. 10) and his introverted thinking is an area of strength and pride with him.
He goes on to say, “Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do. Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken” (Scorsese, 2011). With these words, Hugo continues to demonstrate his introverted thinking (Ti) concern with the integrity of systems, and is also foreshadowing the effect he will eventually have on the other characters in the movie, most notably Papa Georges, who has indeed lost his purpose and is a “broken” man.
Hugo’s determination is unwavering; as Jung (1921/1976) puts it, “In the pursuit of his ideas he is generally stubborn, headstrong, and quite unamenable to influence” (p. 385). Jung also wrote that introverted thinking can be considered “mystical thinking” (p. 382), reflecting on “visions of numerous possibilities” (p. 382), as represented by Hugo’s assertion that the mystery of the automaton is “like a puzzle. When you put it together, something’s going to happen” (Scorsese, 2011).
Throughout the movie, Hugo behaves heroically with introverted thinking in that he provides the framework or structure bringing all the other characters into a synchronized whole. Capitalizing on his precise analysis of the automaton’s mechanisms, he eventually gets everything working again. As Beebe (2007a) said of the Hero archetype, “This is a part of the psyche that welcomes facing challenges” (p. 9), and Hugo faces many challenges, particularly around his urge to fix the automaton. By completing that task, he also “fixes” the shadowy, less-conscious characters in the film—Georges, Jeanne, and Gustave.
The Extraverted Intuiting Good Parent: Isabelle
According to Kast (1992), the Good Mother archetype represents “our primordial and unfulfilled longings and needs for the maternal” (p. 140) which Hugo, as an orphan, finds in the character of Isabelle. She is likewise an orphan, living with her godparents, “Mama Jeanne” and “Papa Georges” (who we later learn is Georges Méliès). We see Isabelle demonstrating maternal concern for Hugo in several scenes, playing out her archetypal role in this film.
When Hugo asks her help after throwing stones at her window, she oddly agrees to help this young stranger, perhaps recognizing “the hidden possibilities in the background, since these too belong to the complete picture of a given situation,” as Jung described intuition (1921/1976, p. 518). Typologically, she represents extraverted intuiting (Ne), which Jung defined as “constantly seeking outlets and fresh possibilities” (p. 463), which fits with Isabelle’s love for newness and questioning. She demonstrates a willingness to see what emerges in the moment, and improvises to save Hugo’s skin when they are challenged threateningly by Gustave in the train station. Her motivation for helping Hugo is that “This might be an adventure!” (Scorsese, 2011). As Jung (1921/1976) said, extraverted intuition “seeks to discover possibilities” as evidenced by Isabelle asking curious questions, such as, “I wonder what my purpose is?”, “What do you do for money?”, “Is that where you live?”, and “Why would my key fit into your father’s machine?” (Scorsese, 2011).
As Jung (1921/1976) wrote, those who favor extraverted intuiting have “a keen nose for anything new” (p. 368) and Isabelle demonstrates this by supporting Hugo in his quest with “extraordinary enthusiasm” (p. 368). She acts as the “natural champion of all minorities with a future” (pg. 369), and her extraverted intuiting represents an area of fostering and protecting.
The Introverted Sensing Eternal Child: Tabard, the Movie Historian
Tabard is a movie historian and author who meets the children in the Film Academy library. Although he is an adult, he represents the Eternal Child archetype in this context through his attitude and mannerisms. Increasing the correspondence with the archetype, Tabard explains how, as a child, he once met Méliès and his sense of wonderment and amazement is expressed when he recalls his first visit to Méliès’ studio, of which he says, “It was like something out of a dream” (Scorsese, 2011). With his big eyes exuding an aura of hero worship, he embodies the Divine Child.
Tabard says that Méliès “is a great passion of mine” (Scorsese, 2011), showing the “enthusiastic perspective” (Hillman, 2005, p. 89) of the Puer Aeternus (Eternal Child). His introverted sensing (Si) represents an area of immaturity and play for him as we see him proudly showing the children his collection of movie artifacts with child-like delight.
His introverted sensing is further evident in his role as a historian, immersed in “the reality of the subjective” (Jung, 1976/1921, p. 395). He is the author of a book that catalogues the history of cinema in exquisite detail, bringing the reality of that period into printed form. He demonstrates a passion for wanting to preserve both the memory and the physical artifacts of early film-making in order to “maintain the quality of the future” (Beebe, 2007a, p. 10).
Tabard’s book on the history of film-making contains a serious error in that he mistakenly believes Méliès to have died during the war. Learning the truth from Hugo and Isabelle leads to a visit to the Méliès house. Tabard’s devotion and glowing childlike admiration for Méliès brings about a major shift in Papa Georges’ character, perhaps because he feels himself “mirrored” respectfully by Tabard’s appreciative gaze.
The Extraverted Feeling Anima/Animus: Labisse, the Bookseller
Here I deviate somewhat from conventional Jungian thought by suggesting that the Anima figure balancing Hugo’s Hero archetype is represented by a male character. Since the character of Labisse is presented with a certain feminine energy and has a caring softness about him, I believe he qualifies as the Anima for the purposes of this analysis. Moreover, Hugo is only twelve years old and therefore at an age where it would not be appropriate to have a female love interest. Jung (1976/1921) states that, “In every case where the individuality is unconscious, and therefore associated with the soul, the soul-image has the character of the same sex” (p. 470), and I would argue that Hugo’s individuality is in the process of “becoming” during most of this film; therefore it is appropriate for Labisse to be male.
In the film, the Labisse character only appears in two small scenes plus one voice-over, and seems to be a minor character. This perhaps indicates how the overall psyche of the movie has a diminished Anima, which Beebe (2007a) claimed “is usually so poorly developed, especially in a young person, [that] to be forced to use it can be an agony” (p. 10). Despite these limited appearances, Labisse plays a crucial role in that he directs the children to the Film Academy library where they discover Papa Georges’ true identity and meet Tabard. In this way he demonstrates Beebe’s observation that the Anima/Animus archetype “opens you up to what you don’t know and haven’t thought of” (July 2008, personal workshop notes).
When Labisse discovers that Hugo has fond memories of his father reading Robin Hood, he makes a gift of the book to Hugo, saying, “It was intended for my godson, but now I think it is intended for you” (Scorsese, 2011). As Beebe (2001) wrote, the Anima in film “exerts a protective and often therapeutic effect on someone else” (p. 211). This impulsive act demonstrates the immediacy of extraverted feeling (Fe), for which “it is of the highest importance to establish an intense feeling of rapport with the environment” (Jung, 1976/1921, p. 358). Even though Labisse had earmarked the book as a gift for another, the dictates of circumstances in that moment with Hugo overrode his original intention. In keeping with this archetype, the book could be seen as symbolic, since Hugo, like Robin Hood, must survive as an outlaw in the train station.
The Extraverted Thinking Opposing Personality: Gustave, the Station Inspector
As we move into the shadow realm of the movie, we encounter the extraverted thinking (Te) Opposing Personality represented by Gustave, the Station Inspector. Throughout the film, Hugo is dodging Gustave, who has a penchant for capturing unattended children and shipping them off to an orphanage. Beebe (2004) said the archetype of the Opposing Personality “may be described in the language of character pathology: oppositional, paranoid, passive-aggressive, and avoidant” (p. 107). We see Gustave opposing Hugo and the other orphans he traps, and generally laying down the law with occupants of the station.
Gustave epitomizes extraverted thinking in his adherence to “an objectively oriented intellectual formula” (Jung, 1976/1921, p. 347), such as when he asserts, “You don’t have any parents therefore you must go to the orphanage” (Scorsese, 2011). According to Jung (1976/1921), “‘Oughts’ and ‘musts’ bulk large in this programme” (p. 347), meaning extraverted thinking has strong opinions about how things should be.
We see Gustave bullying another orphan, shouting at him, entangling his leg with a wire snare, and allowing his dog to terrify the small boy. He is a “cruel tyrant … sharp in tone, acrimonious, aggressive” (Jung, 1976/1921, p. 350), demonstrating the negative characteristics of extraverted thinking. Jung (1976/1921) also wrote that “each type of thinking [extraverted and introverted] senses the other as an encroachment on its own province, and … thus the two orientations are incessantly at war” (p. 345). Since Hugo is the film’s Ti hero, Gustave is Hugo’s Te adversary, and embodies an area of frustration and challenge for Hugo.
The Introverted Intuiting Critical Parent: Mama Jeanne
Mama Jeanne is Georges Méliès’ protective wife. She seems like a lovely woman, but when she first meets Hugo, she immediately becomes “icy cold, freezing all action” (Harris, 1995, p. 47). In this way, she embodies the archetype of the Witch. She criticizes Hugo with comments like, “There are things you are too young to understand” (Scorsese, 2011).
Beebe (2007b) says of the Witch archetype, “When we are confronted, for example, with a person or plan whose direction strikes us as fundamentally destructive and dangerous to the things we value, one effective option can be for us to pull rank and set limits” (p. 25). Her introverted intuition (Ni) “just knows” Hugo is problematic—she recognizes the archetype of danger in him and divines how disruptive his presence could be to her husband. Her introverted intuition represents an area of limit-setting and control. Later-on we learn that she is also aware of the archetype of the artist that is lying dormant in her husband and has made herself the guardian of his masterful imagery—she rescued several of his old drawings from the fire and secretly stored them in a hidden box that unexpectedly spills its secrets out at a climactic moment. Perhaps she had an “inner knowing” that someday these artworks would be important, and even become vital in the future. They symbolize the best in Méliès.
The Extraverted Sensing Trickster: The Automaton
The repair of the inscrutable clockwork automaton was a labor of love that had been undertaken by Hugo’s father before his death. Hugo doggedly pursues that effort, haunted by a belief that the automaton “has a message” for him from his father. However, it will not function without being activated by a missing heart-shaped key. According to Joseph Henderson (1978), “Hermes is Trickster in a different role as messenger, a god of the cross-roads” (p. 155), so it seems fitting to ascribe this role to the automaton. Although the automaton is not human, it has sufficient human-like qualities to be considered a character in the movie. The automaton literally has a message for Hugo, which Hugo sees as vital to his individuation. Everything in the film revolves around getting the mysterious automaton to function—it represents an area of manipulation and paradox for Hugo. Eventually, the automaton becomes the pivotal point in the plot, guiding Hugo along a path to greater realization.
Following Beebe’s eight-level model, this position is represented by the extraverted sensing (Se) function, which has a “sense for objective facts” (Jung, 1976/1921, p. 363). It could be said that the automaton is single-minded in its need to present a fact in the form of a physical drawing, further supporting Jung’s assertion that Se “cannot be anything except concrete and real” (p. 364).
In order to fix the automaton, Hugo steals items to be used as spare parts from Méliès—this behavior leading him astray and putting him in the double bind of risking his freedom for the sake of completing this task. The image of the automaton in a notebook that Papa Georges confiscates exacerbates the rift between Hugo and Méliès; as Beebe (1981) wrote, “It is typical of the trickster, in art and in life, to split people into warring camps” (p. 33). However, Beebe (2007b) also suggested that “it is an enormous step in type development when we are able to make the trickster conscious” (pp. 25-26). When Hugo eventually gets the automaton working, thereby making it “conscious,” it stimulates the development of Méliès and the other shadow characters in the film. This is particularly notable as the film largely revolves around the mystery of this curious silver figure, which makes it fitting to view it as the “archetype of the unconscious” (Jung, cited in Hillman, 1992, p. 256). Through engagement with the automaton, and Hugo’s relentless effort to get it working, every other character in the film likewise begins “working” properly again. This mirrors the view of Kast (1992), who declared, “It is Mercury who moves everything from potentiality to actuality, and it is he who effects transformation” (p. 116).
The Introverted Feeling Demon/Daimon: Papa Georges Méliès
According to Jung (1976/1921), introverted feeling (Fi) is a function that “manifests itself for the most part negatively” (p. 387), which is certainly true of Papa Georges when we first encounter him. Bitter and hostile, he expresses anger and distrust toward Hugo, and we hear Isabelle relating how upset he was by the contents of the notebook he confiscated. This negativity is compounded by the archetypal position occupied by this character, the Demon, which Beebe (2007a) said represents the “most unyielding and unconscious flaws of character: when we act beastly” (p. 11). Georges demonstrates both physical and psychological cruelty toward Hugo by restraining him forcibly when they first meet, and later lying and pretending to heartlessly burn his precious notebook. Georges seems to have no morals when it comes to interacting with Hugo, and he behaves contemptuously and inhumanely toward him, undermining Hugo’s aspirations.
In another scene, Papa Georges demonstrates the pathological narcissism of the Demon, when he self-pityingly laments, “Who am I? A broken wind-up toy!” (Scorsese, 2011). These complaints invite comparison to the automaton and foreshadow the way Hugo “fixes” Méliès later on in the movie.
When sharing his history in flashback, Méliès reveals that, “One night, in bitter despair, I burned all my old sets and costumes” (Scorsese, 2011). In that scene, the silver papier mâché moon prop used in his most famous movie, A Trip to the Moon (Méliès, 1902), is shown prominently on the bonfire, consumed by flames. We thus see the Demon archetype in its destructive mode, effectively eliminating the feminine Anima energy that was previously present in Papa Georges’ life. We subsequently see him sitting in his toy store with a lifeless expression on his face, having lost his vitality, his soul. His identity is likewise lost; until the automaton delivers its message, we have no idea that Papa Georges really is Méliès.
Though initially harshly destructive, his introverted feeling ultimately achieves grace and we see how the “beastly side within all of us … also offers the possibility of extraordinary redemption” (Beebe, June 2010, personal workshop notes). At a climactic moment in the film, Méliès declares of Hugo, “This child belongs to me!” (Scorsese, 2011). This represents a reconnection of the Hero with his least conscious process, which then takes on the beneficent role of the Daimon. Through that exclamation, the introverted feeling represented by Georges redeems his bitterness and restores his dignity. It is as if Méliès ascends from his private hell into heaven.
Méliès makes the greatest transformation during this film, demonstrating Beebe’s admonition that “it’s the devil’s own work to hold [the Demon] to integrity [but he] comes through when held to account” (Beebe, November 2011, personal workshop notes). As Beebe (2007a) explained, this archetype “can deliver insights that are of the highest value” (p. 11).
Images of Individuation
A striking image in this film is the caricature of the Moon’s face which appears in various forms—first as a verbal retelling of Hugo’s father’s first movie experience; as a photographic plate in the movie book; as a clip from Méliès’ movie that appears from that plate; as the drawing produced by the automaton; as a prop in Méliès’ studio during the filming of the movie; the same prop being burnt; and finally on screen at the Film Academy for the black tie retrospective gala. The Moon is a symbol of the feminine, which is the element that seems glaringly absent from the environment of the film—Hugo and Isabelle both have no mother and other minor male characters face various obstacles to their attempts to court their love interests.
There is another aspect of the Moon to be considered. As Beebe explained, “Luna [Moon] is associated with the metal silver … which Jung has described as the … feminine principle of consciousness” (Apperson & Beebe, 2009, p. 23, italics extant). The automaton is clad in silver metal, representing the feminine, but is initially cold and unresponsive, needing the heart-shaped key to give it life. Once the feminine principle, Eros, is engaged, it magically permeates the various characters represented by shadow archetypes and they collectively stumble toward the light. This represents a healthy integration of the movie’s psyche into an individuated whole, thereby demonstrating the benefit of confronting the shadow and embracing it. As James Hollis (2009) wrote:
Eros is the life force—desire that wishes most to connect, to build, to combine, to fuse, to generate with the other. Eros is an archetypal power whose necessary twin is Logos, the dividing, separating, differentiating energy. In our bodies, minds, souls, both energies are continuously manifest. The one wishes merging, connection; the other splits, divides, and diversifies. One energy without the other balancing it becomes not only one-sided but even demonic. (p. 45)
Hugo is a boy Hero, albeit not a typical one, and the film is the story of his individuation experience. Through mighty feats, he claims all the disowned parts of himself and triumphs against terrible odds. At the film’s end, he stands as a united whole. His journey is far from over, but he has succeeded for the time being. By virtue of his courageous actions in the film, Hugo becomes a whole, individual person. It is just as Jung (1977) wrote of the Hero:
He alone has a genuine claim to self-confidence, for he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby has gained himself. This experience gives him faith and trust, the pistis in the ability of the self to sustain him, for everything that menaced him from inside he has made his own. (p. 146)
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Header Image: Giorgio de Chirico, “Il Trovatore” (1960)