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Exploring the Shadow: Hero and Villain in “Collateral” (Part III)

autographe de TOM CRUISE[Part 3 of a 4-part series]

In Part I and Part II, we looked at shadow aspects in our unlived life and repressed instincts, respectively. In this post, we’re going to look at the archetypes of Hero and Villain in the film “Collateral.” (Archetypes are iconic examples of typical and recognizable patterns in human behavior).

Through these archetypes of Hero and Villain, we split people and qualities into “good” and “bad,” what we deem as bad typically, for most of us, being repressed and put into our Shadow. In looking at this movie, we will see an arc of transformation, as our “hero” reclaims some of the “bad” characteristics of the “villain” to become a more integrated and fully developed person.

Max (played by Jamie Foxx), a cab driver, unwittingly picks up a hit man, Vincent (Tom Cruise), as a fare. As Vincent forces Max to drive him to the five assassinations that he has been contracted to commit that night, Max watches and learns. He takes in the dark intelligence, cunning, strength and power of the “bad” villain, and ultimately is able to integrate and channel it into his own heroic acts. The shadow stores untapped energies that, once conscious, re-owned, and integrated, can have tremendous impact and power in our lives.

From the beginning the film sets us up to see Max as the Good Guy (another archetype). His cab is spotlessly clean. He’s accommodating. He’s polite. He goes to visit his sick mother every night. And Max has plans. One day soon, he’s going to start his own limo company which he has been “planning” to do for 12 years. He daydreams while gazing at brochures of luxury cars that will be a part of his fleet. Vincent tells Max “to look in the mirror,” forcing him to face the depth of his self-delusion. Vincent recognizes, just as we do, that staying on the trajectory he is on, Max will never carry out these plans. What he needs is some of what Vincent’s got.

Vincent is instinctual, unhesitating, bold and resolute. He can focus on the goal, improvise and think quickly on his feet. Max, for all his goodness, exercises none of these qualities. He is, in fact, too nice, which is ultimately disempowering. In the end, Max takes all that he’s witnessed in Vincent and uses it for heroic purposes; he eventually saves the day (and the girl!), and we sense that he now has what it takes to start his limo company, if that is what he still desires.

Instincts and anger are a part of personal empowerment, but for many of us who aspire to ideals of goodness and being nice, these parts of us don’t have a place. Max’s frustration and desperation, instead of leading him to resignation and powerlessness, help him to find his strength and courage, pushing him beyond his prior limitations, fears and anxiety. He is able to access his anger and instincts and use them skillfully.

As we saw in the film “Wolf” (Part II), with awareness we can turn aggressive energy into assertiveness, instead of either acting it out in destructive ways or putting it into the “long bag we drag behind us.”

In watching this film, we can ask ourselves where in our lives we need more “Villain” energy. Which qualities have we deemed as “bad” that could actually empower us in our everyday lives?

[In Part IV, we will be looking at the movie “Fight Club” and a further look at splitting and integration.]

photo credit: startinghere71

Exploring the Shadow: Hero and Villain in “Collateral” (Part III)

Marla Estes, MA

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APA Reference
Estes, M. (2011). Exploring the Shadow: Hero and Villain in “Collateral” (Part III). Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 May 2011
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