Psychoanalysis has a long history of using fictional and non-fictional characters from the movies to illustrate theoretical psychoanalytic concepts and put them into practice. In order to protect the confidentiality of our patients in the clinic, we often turn to the creative fields of film making, novels and sometimes even mythology, to shed some light over what may appear like mystical and hard-to-grasp psychoanalytic jargon. This is exactly what my Bulgarian colleague and psychologist, Mihail Mihaylov, has done in his Psychological Analysis of “Guardians of the Galaxy” Part I.
I wanted to share his thoughts with you and open up an international dialogue about the unconscious in the Practical Psychoanalysis Blog. I am hoping that this will be the first of several such collaborations. Enjoy:
Guardians of the Galaxy and the Topic of Illusion
“The Light-Hearted Hollywood” is a term I use to label movie productions which do not aim at any psychologically complex developments, quite the opposite. These productions of the seventh art form aim at the magic of the dancing images forgetting sometimes that movie theatres are not striptease bars. However, they cannot fully avoid the psychological algorithms. Intentionally or not, they manage to press the right keys to create tunes, which are not merely melodic but indeed impress with their psychological correctness. It is these ‘magic moments’ I am going to look at.
Guardians of the Galaxy and the topic of illusion
The first episode of the series Guardians of the Galaxy tries its luck with the audience in 2014 and – as I understand from the revenue – it did not rely on luck alone. On the whole, the plot can be summarised as follows: a bunch of good-hearted traumatised criminals and a jerk (also a criminal) become a team which saves the Galaxy. The saving of the Galaxy turns out to be their destiny which they are going to follow along with their other business.
The team of the good guys is very well selected and offers something for every taste: there are plants with souls, genetically and cybernetically modified animals, a touch of sex appeal, a bit of muscles, some charm with humour and tones of music.
For those who have not seen the movie, the following account can be useful:
The team of the good (criminals):
- Peter Quill (the Star Lord) – a funny and charming melomaniac who takes the lead in the team of the good. Under his cool appearance, Peter is hiding a problematic childhood marked by the loss of his mother. The loss is immediately followed by his abduction into the open space by Yondu Udonta. All that is left from his mother is a Walkman, an audio cassette and some mystery around his father which will become the core of the second episode of the series.
- Raccoon Rocket – a genetically modified animal which I was referring to a little earlier. Despite the research studies that prove against the existence of a Napoleon complex, Rocket represents its full manifestation: he is short and aggressive. This state of affairs does not prevent him from being a loyal friend. Together with Groot, a tree-like humanoid, they are inseparable and make their living from headhunting.
- Groot – a tree-like humanoid who resembles the Ents from The Lord of the ring. Languages are not his strength. He is extremely loyal to Rocket.
Drax the Destroyer – he is obsessed with the idea of revenge, after Ronan kills his entire family. Insanely brave, punctual and muscular.
Gamora – the only representative of the gentle sex in the team of the good although gentle does not describe her nature. Even if there was something gentle about her, it has been deeply buried and Peter Quill will have to make a lot of effort in order to unearth it. There is of course a logical explanation about it: Gamora has been adopted and turned into a living weapon by the murderer of her parents – Thanos.
The team of the bad:
Nebula – another adopted and turned into a weapon daughter of Thanos (Tahnos is a pervert*). Nebula is the most confused character and as such she can be nominated for the label the truest of humans, although she is half-cybernetic.
Thanos – he is a pervert*.
Ronan – a sheer manifestation of the evil. He has no other interests but to destroy.
We must pay attention to Yondu Udonta who cannot be considered a part of either teams. Yondu Udonta abducts Peter Quill immediately after his mother’s death in order to take him to his real father – a task he never accomplishes. He slowly becomes the step-father of the young Star Lord and teaches him the art of pirate hood.
In the first episode of the series Guardians of the Galaxy, we encounter the characteristic of such series clear-cut topics of omnipotence, immortality, low morale, mercantilism, the opposition between good vs evil, creation and destruction. In a caricature manner, these topics lurk behind the lavish garnish of audio and visual effects. My encounter with these did not impress me since I am used to their mandatory presence. Yet, I was impressed by another two topics: the first being the already banal ancient Greek myth of King Oedipus. This time I shall not disturb the poor character by analysing the already analysed myriad of times, but will only point out that the topic of the Oedipal complex is not only quietly sneaking along with other topics, but is bravely marching from the beginning to the end of the movie.
In the beginning, it is implied by the song “I am not in love” (1975) by 10CC. This is a song which suggests exactly the opposite of what is being sung. The character is not only in love but he is awkwardly denying this fact. It is this song, which Peter Quill is listening to while waiting to be called in order to say good-bye to his mother. At the end, the topic of the Oedipal complex is not hidden any more and does not rely on the audience’s cleverness. The short moment in which Peter Quill sees his mother in the object of his love – Gamora, shows us everything. Honestly, in reality, this can lead to very unpleasant sexual dysfunctions.
What impressed me the most though was the little Walkman of Peter Quill. Peter Quill and his mother share a common passion for music. Through music, they obviously manage to cut off from reality, thus creating a world for two. It is this passion of Peter that brings the Walkman as a gift from his mother. The Walkman together with the cassette, which his mother gives him in her last hour, are the only mnemonic objects left from her. Do not think though that this is an ordinary Walkman and Peter Quill risks his life for it for nothing. Nope! The Walkman has magic strengths. Once music is played on it, the Star Lord enters a different dimension in which we can assume his mother is still alive and his relationship with her is recovered. In this world for two, Gamora is invited. Which place will she take? We must admit that in the life of the heterosexual man women take the place that once belonged to the mother. In this line of thought, something from the Oedipal complex of the heterosexual man stays unchanged – the gender of his love objects coincides with the gender of the forbidden primary object (the mother).
Transitional objects and Transitional Phenomena
But let’s go back to the function of music and the Walkman of Peter Quill. Their meaning is locked in two concepts, coined on the psychoanalytic market in 1951 by Donald Winnicott: transitional objects and transitional phenomena and illusion. Transitional objects and phenomena are substitutes of something related to the mother care which is lost or is going to be lost. As Winnicott writes, they are like always working sedatives (tranquilizers) against anxiety. The adjective “transitional” suggests that they ensure a transition, which modifies the drive towards the mother into a drive towards other objects. Transitional objects and phenomena can also be all sorts of baby bottles, toys, blankets, words, songs and behavioral patterns. In our case, the transitional object of the Walkman of Peter Quill and the transitional phenomenon – the listening to particular music.
These transitional objects and phenomena ensure the illusion that something which has given gratification is not completely lost but has its place – a place where the mother of Peter Quill is still alive. And since these are transitional objects and phenomena, Gamora is being invited to this magic place in order to become the object of Peter’s feelings. Yes, Gamora, you – just like all of us – becomes someone’s substitute at some point. And yes, each of us, if lucky to become kind of normal, can escape into the world of fantasy, just like Peter Quill.
These are the interesting questions the “Light-Hearted Hollywood” is sometimes shedding light upon. There is one question we pay little attention to although it constantly bothers us like a Hamlet ghost throughout the entire movie: the question of the father. Known to some, unknown to others, a step-father or a guardian, the father will become the central topic of the second episode of the series the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Author: Mihail Mihaylov
Translation from Bulgarian: Kalina Yordanova
Edited by Mihaela Bernard
* Note from the editor: The term “pervert” here is used in a very clinical sense as one of the three psychic structures (neurosis, psychosis and perversion) coined by the French psychoanalyst and philosopher Jacques Lacan.
About the author:
Mihail Mihaylov is a psychologist in Sofia, Bulgaria since 2007 and completed his degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology at Sofia University. His research interests lie in the field of psychoanalysis and between 2006 and 2012 he was a co-therapist in two groups for psychoanalytic psychodrama. During that time, he encountered the problems of adults, adolescents and children, deprived of parental care and served by the Centers for Social Support and the Local Centers for Psychological Support of Juvenile Offenders. He also works with children and adolescents, raised in their biological families. He is currently working in private practice as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in Sofia, Bulgaria. You may find more information about him on his website: http://www.zapsihichnoto.com which means “for the psychic.com”