Exploring Afterlife with Jungian Archetypes - Ellyn O'Keefe

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Exploring Afterlife with Jungian Archetypes - Ellyn O'Keefe

Post  ellynhokeefe on Thu Jan 27, 2011 3:07 pm


Boiling down two seasons of a television show into a simple synopsis is not an easy thing to do, so keep in mind this is fairly general. The television series Afterlife centers around Alison Mundy, a reluctant medium, and Robert Bridge, a psychology professor who is following her to write a book about her for the university he works for. This book quickly turns into a journey to find out what is really beyond this world and in the afterlife and with each episode a task is given, questioning what they believe. That is the general synopsis, but the series dives deeper into the lives of both characters and what their relationship with death is like. Alison’s past has marked her with an unhealable wound and Robert’s past has led him to the aftermath of a fall. The series is heavily character driven featuring Alison, the Outcast, and Robert, the Mentor, constantly debating what is the truth. This, I believe, is the battle between light and darkness.

The series begins with Alison Mundy moving into her new home, already setting up the character as an outcast. As an outcast she is destined to wander from place to place, never being allowed to settle down. In season two it is revealed that after her mother’s suicide she began to see ghosts. Her father did not accept this sort of nonsense but her aunt did, and at the age of ten her aunt took her away from her negligible father. Her “crime”, one might say, is her ability to converse with the dead. In the very first episode she claims, “You don’t choose the spirits, they choose you,” meaning she was chosen and separated from everyone else. And because death is a very difficult subject for people to face, society declares her to be either a fraud or mentally unwell and she is met with ridicule and even verbal harassment in some cases.

Robert Bridge is the polar character of Alison. As a psychology professor, he needs statistics and proven evidence to believe anything, thus he has a very closed mind. It could be very easy to place him in the Mentor archetype because of his profession but there is more to him. In a way, his profession is his life and, at first, he sees Alison as someone who needs to be educated. He believes that her ability to see the dead is not real mediumship, but is a mental illness and he must help her realize this. He tries, in vain, but he is then convinced of her abilities when she speaks to him with the voice of his dead son in a séance, and by seeing the cost that she must go through. Although he still remains largely skeptic, Robert often finds himself defending what Alison says. The mentor archetype is very clear in the sixth episode of season two, titled, “Mind the Bugs Don’t Bite.” In the final stages of an emotional breakdown, Alison confesses to Robert and her father that she saw her mentally ill mother commit suicide and could have saved her, but she chose not to. Even before this confession, Robert stayed by her side, even when Alison was yelling at him to leave, and after the confession he leads her into accepting her past.

The whole series acts out like a journey. Robert Bridge starts out as a fallen character. Only a few years previously, his only child, Josh, died in a car accident. After the accident he and his wife, Jude, divorced, and he now resides on a boathouse. This divorce and moving to a new home rings true to the imagery of expulsion. Because of the death of his child and his inability to attempt to move on with his life, his marriage has been ruined and he has been banished from the warmth of his own home and has been sent to live alone on a cold river. A colleague at Robert’s work place, Barbara, proposes that Robert write a book about Alison and the subject of mediumship, solely to get Robert to work again. And thus the quest has been set, but the quest is not only for Robert. While Robert uses the book as a way to get out of his “ivory tower” as he puts it, Alison hopes that it will cleanse her of her demons. Robert writes this book throughout the series and each episode plays as a task, and only one episode after Alison confronts her demons and Robert has accepted his new life, does he finish the book.

The series also touches upon the archetype of the unhealable wound. Alison has both physical and emotional unhealable wounds. The physical is an injury she sustained in a horrific train crash, where metal pole impaled her, tearing away her womb. But these physical wounds take a back seat to her emotional wounds that she has sustained ever since she was ten. In the second season, her past literally comes back to haunt her as her mother’s obsessive compulsive behaviors invade upon Alison’s house and then ultimately Alison herself. These constant reminders of life with her mother push Alison to the very edge of her sanity. On one occasion, upon seeing everything been organized by her mother’s spirit, Alison covers herself in dirt from a potted plant repeating, “I will not be like you.” Even though her confession about witnessing her mother’s suicide has lifted some her emotional wounds she is still able to speak with spirits. This ability to speak with spirits came very soon after she witnessed her mother’s suicide, so I would consider this ability to be an unhealable wound.

As I mentioned before, the series Afterlife is heavily dependent on its characters. Without these unique and intriguing characters, Afterlife would not be half as interesting or entertaining as it is. Going back to the dependency on its characters, I would say the series is an example of a Light vs. Darkness archetype. For those who are interested in Freud, Alison could be considered as the id and Robert, the super-ego. Alison only says what she believes is right and rarely stops to consider the other party. As long as the spirits are at peace she is at peace. Robert, as the super-ego, seeks perfection in everything in his life. All thoughts must be clean, concise and he does not approve of anything that is less than so. I brought the id and super-ego into this review because I have always pictured the super-ego and the id as light and darkness. The ultimate goal in this series is to seek intellectual illumination and both characters act as different sides. Alison’s beliefs are not scientifically proven and are very murky. She whole-heartedly believes in the unknown. Robert’s beliefs are all scientifically proven and logical, he will only believe in a thought or idea that can be backed up with evidence. The two characters never cease their arguments over what is the truth. This battle between beliefs that are known and unknown, proven and not proven, can be translated into a battle of light and darkness.

Afterlife is series that is full of Jungian archetypes and as you can imagine it should not be viewed as a rest period for the mind. The show provokes thought and analysis, making it a very unique take on what could have been a dry, unoriginal knock-off of a genre that has been done to death (no pun intended). If you have the time, take a look at the series and judge it on your own accord. I can almost guarantee that you will not be disappointed.


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Post  Mr. C on Sun Feb 06, 2011 5:54 pm

Ellyn - wow...a fantastic analysis. This is a keeper. And it's not just the analysis, it's the organization and prose as well. Well done. Based on your description I wonder if Alison and Robert are Platonic Ideals or Anima/Animus? Nice addition of Freud, although I don't know if I would categorize the Id as just Darkness and the Super-Ego as just Light. But I'm not assessing your Freudian interpretation Smile Cheers!
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