Exploring the Ghostly Lover: “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (Part II)
In Part I we left off with Pandora regarding the portrait that Hendrick painted of her. The way she is portrayed in the painting is not as she has ever been, but as she would like to be. She says, “It’s not me as I am at all. Why am I not like that?”
This is tricky territory and requires psychological discernment. It’s helpful to start understanding the difference between wanting only the “good” or ideal parts of ourselves to be seen, perhaps getting confused with a grandiose compensatory façade. On the other hand, sometimes it is true that the Other brings out “the best in us,” qualities hidden even to ourselves, as in the case of Pandora.
To the question “Why am I not like that?” Hendrick responds that perhaps she is unfulfilled, hasn’t found what she wants, doesn’t know what she wants, that she is discontented. And discontent he says, “appeases itself by fury and destruction.”
Hearing this truth about herself, though compassionately and gently expressed by Hendrick, infuriates her. She acts out by destroying the painting and proceeds to wipe out the face of hers that she so admired, a symbolic self-attack. He has dared to trespass into the defended part of her and she can’t tolerate it. When we are so heavily defended and invested in our persona, any kind of probe might be felt as an invasion.
She replies, “You’ve made me feel ashamed. It’s a new sensation. I’m not sure I like it.” Non-productive shame is toxic; productive shame can turn into self-reflection and remorse, allowing transformation. She has a chance to truly feel the shame beneath her destructiveness. By admitting her feelings to Hendrick, she is becoming more vulnerable and authentic.
In a later scene, Pandora says, “There’s something beyond my understanding, something mystical in the feeling I have for you. I feel like I’ve loved you always, not only in this life but in lives I’ve lived before and don’t remember.” The state of being “in love” is often like this. There can be a feeling of finding our soul-mates, of destiny playing its hand, feeding into the fantasy of other-worldly forces at work, of something meant to be. Some might experience this as numinous (defined as “spiritual or supernatural; surpassing comprehension or understanding; mysterious”). Further, for some, the cult of romance may have unconsciously replaced spirituality or religion as a belief in something bigger than oneself which supplies meaning to one’s life.
Little by little, Pandora softens and deepens. She seems happier, although the faraway look in her eyes tells us she is not grounded, not “down to earth.”
Pandora says, “It’s as if everything that happened before I met you happened to someone else and in a way, that’s true. I’ve changed so…I’m not cruel and hateful like I used to be, hurting people because I was so unhappy myself. I know now that destructiveness comes from lack of love, simple as that.” There can be a redemptive power of love; relationships can transform us. But without internalizing the good feelings about self, we will continue to need of the presence of the Other for our happiness.
She goes on, “No one else exists for me and no one ever will.” This is another tenet of the myth of romantic love: that we all have our one-and-only. As we question some of these beliefs, we can ask ourselves if they are true or if these ideas are in fact the specter of the Ghostly Lover, making it impossible for us to live our life here on earth fully.
She sees that Hendrik had restored her face in the painting and she can finally take in her own beauty; she sees herself as she had wanted to be, and in fact has transformed through her relationship with the Flying Dutchman. She finds more depth and wholeness through her encounter with Hendrik. But the fact that she dies for this love is not life-enhancing. Although we can interpret it as a symbolic death and rebirth, all too often people for whom this archetype is active don’t come back to life; they stay stuck in a netherworld where they are living more a dream-world with the Other than in a sustainable life grounded in reality.
Hendrik asks Pandora, “Would you give up your life?” She replies, “I’d die for you without the least hesitation.” Is the sacrifice for love more meaningful or important than the lived experience of the love itself? Is this kind of romantic love a desirable one? Perhaps not when we consider the question intellectually. But individually and collectively, do we experience the story of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman as beautiful? Would we like to have these feelings? Would we like to feel as if we could die for love? This film gives us the opportunity to question some of our most cherished notions about romantic love.
Estes, M. (2011). Exploring the Ghostly Lover: “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (Part II). Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/movies/2011/06/exploring-the-ghostly-lover-pandora-and-the-flying-dutchman-part-ii/