The Feminine Principle in Film: A Different Way of Telling and Sharing Experiences

Ingela Romare
Malmoe, Sweden
Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists

Part 1: Showing of the film, Courage to Live

The film Courage to Live is an 84-minute documentary film about a young woman’s last five months of life, and the meetings between her and her two older friends, Ingela Romare and Märit Andersson- Naef (at that time both filmmakers, today, both of us also Jungian analysts).

Pia, the young woman, is mortally ill with cancer. She asks Märit and Ingela to come and visit her. As film and filmmaking is the common interest of all three of us, we decide to bring in a camera and tape recorder into our meetings. Pia wants to share her experiences and her thoughts during this hard time of her life, and working together with us and with the camera makes her feel active and participating in life.

Life proceeds, death approaches. A lot of questions arise around our human existence. How do we relate to life? How do we relate to death? How do we relate to the precious time? What can we do? What can we say? At this edge of experience …

Part 2: Lecture: “The Feminine Principle in Film: A different way of telling and sharing experiences”

This lecture is closely related to the film, Courage to live. While editing this film I realized that I had to work with quite another structure than the one that is usually used. As we – Pia, Märit and I – wanted to tell about – and share – experiences at this very edge of life, I also had to find the adequate form to do it. I found it after long and hard work with the film.

In this lecture I want to tell you about what I call the feminine principle in film. In order to do that, I first have to talk about art, and about this unique expression of art called film.


But let me first introduce myself briefly. I have been a film director for about thirty-five years now. I first got my training as a film director at “Ingmar Bergman’s Filmschool” in Stockholm, 1965-1968. I was accepted at the film school as the first, and at that time, only, woman. I mainly got my education to be a fiction film director, but for different reasons I have dedicated most of my work to documentary films.

One question has stayed with me from this very beginning all through the years: What does it mean to be a woman film maker?

For several years I traveled all over the world and made about fifty documentary films together with my former husband. We went to Vietnam during the war, we wandered in the jungles of Mozambique and Guinea Bissau, devoting most of our film work to describing the liberation struggles in the world.

In 1975 there was peace in Vietnam. There was peace in the former colonies of Portugal. My husband and I divorced. Two things happened for me in film making: I took up the camera myself. Earlier my husband had the camera, I the taperecorder. Now I started to make my images myself.

The second thing that happened was that instead of directing the camera outwards towards the conflicts of the world, I now also directed it inwards, towards what happened within the human psyche. I made this film called Courage to Live, which is a film about a young woman’s last five months of life and our meetings during those months. This film, among other things, took me to the C.G. Jung Institute. I realized while working with the film – and afterwards when I followed the film to the audience – how interested I was not only in film making but also in meetings with people around existential questions.

During one and a half years I was present at each showing of the film and invited those in the audience who wanted to do so, to join a conversation about thoughts and feelings that might have arisen within them in relation to the film.

During this time I became especially interested both in the ethics and the aesthetics of filmmaking. I was by necessity confronted with questions, such as:

  • How is it possible to direct the camera towards a dying person without exploiting the the situation?
  • How is it possible not just to talk about things but to create a situation where people are moved on a deeper level and can share their experiences?
  • How is it possible to create a deeper dialogue around the questions of life and death instead of just making a “story”?

During my investigations of the film medium, which took place both on the practical and the theoretical level, I was brought closer and closer to the question: Is there a feminine way of making film? Or, How does the feminine principle manifest itself in film creating?

Between 1987-1997 I studied Jungian psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich. When I first came to Zürich I was struck by all the subtle similarities that exist between film making and analysis, between art and Jungian psychology, between the symbol and the “film image.” I first thought I had wandered from one world to another and was now a stranger in a new world. But I realized that there were no harsh borders between them – at least not in the way I looked upon film making – but rather there were a lot of inspiring and challenging connections.

Now, almost seventeen years later, having the experience of being both an artist and an analyst, I want to try to discover the points where art and Jungian psychology may touch each other. I want to focus on the perspectives where a film as a work of art can have a deeper therapeutic function. Maybe – by doing so – I can also throw some light on the process of analysis, regardeding it as an art.

What then, is Art?

So how do we then grip the essence of art? What is it actually? I will try to find out something. Without capturing the flying bird in a cage. Perhaps art could be described like this: A way to search for and try to reveal – to yourself and your fellow-beings – something about the very conditions of human existence on this earth.

That would mean that art is one way for us to get to know about reality – outer and inner. Science would be another.

What science is doing is working with facts that can be scientifically proven.

What art is doing is playing – playing with words, with images, with sounds, with things – taking us into a symbolic understanding of the world, a symbolic relation to the world. That means that we can approach and understand the world – and ourselves – in two ways, the scientific way and the symbolic way. Which to choose …? I think man has to walk on two legs. This gives him a beautiful opportunity to move.

I turn around and listen to other artists. This is what Andrej Tarkovskij, the Russian film director, says about art in his book, Sculpting in Time:

An artistic discovery occurs each time as a new and unique image of the world. It appears as a revelation, as a momentary, passionate wish to grasp intuitively and at a stroke all the laws of this world – its beauty and ugliness, its compassion and cruelty, its infinity and its limitations … Through the image is sustained an awareness of the infinite: the eternal within the finite, the spiritual within matter, the limitless given form.

If I translate those lines by the artist Andrej Tarkovskij into Jungian language it would obviously mean that what art is trying to find out about – and mirror – are the archetypes.

I turn to another artist – Leo T. Hurwitz. Leo Hurwitz was one of the great documentary film directors in the United States, one of the pioneers and one of the great artists among film makers. I myself have made a film about Leo Hurwitz called On Time, Art, Love and Trees – a meeting with Leo T. Hurwitz. In this film I put the question to Leo Hurwitz: “What is the very essence of art?” and this is his answer:

I have done a lot of thinking about that. And a lot of trying to condense it into something simple and not mystrious and not mystical, although the creation of art and the response to art is a mysterious phenomenon on a certain level, it’s no doubt about that. But the function of art and what art is is not so mysterious, I think. At least it can be spoken of.

I think fundamentally what it is – whether you are dealing with a painting, a poem, a novel, a movie, a play – you are dealing with finding a form to hold experience. Experince in itself is an ever nascent thing, it flows and it disappears. It’s held partially by memory, but much of it dissappears and it has very complex interactions. … By experience I don’t mean any narrow aspect of experience, because experience is a very wide thing. It moves from dream and nightmare to that we are sitting here with a cup of coffee and talking. There are whole ranges of the stuff of experince. And fantasy is of course one of them!

What Leo Hurwitz is saying is that on one level the creation of art and the response to art is a mysterious phenomenon, not accessible to our rational descriptions. On another level it is possible to talk about it, to talk about what art is and about it’s function.

I think it’s exactly the same thing with analysis. To some extent we can talk about it, its character and its function. At the same time we have to be conscious of – and respect! – its mysterious nature. I think it is of deepest importance to keep this paradox. We can talk about what we do – even in a more or less scientific way – when we are talking about the psychological work of the ego’s development and the relation to the shadow. But when we come closer to the Self concept, I think we have to be careful. This is the land of “the angels” and what we have to do is listen – not knowing so much. This is the place where Jungian psychology comes close to art and has its unique strength. I think we must be brave enough to defend this place from invasion by our rational thinking.

To keep the paradox … To move gently on two legs …

”What art is dealing with is to find a form to hold experience,” Leo Hurwitz says. And what would be the purpose of holding experience by giving it a form? It gives us a possibility to share it – even over time and distance – which in turn opens up the opportunity for somebody else to mirror his or her experience in ours. And in the moment those experiences given form in a work of art have reached archetypal depths, we too are given the opportunity of going to those depths. We are given the opportunity of getting to know something more about ourselves, about unknown life and about our commom humanness. This is what I would call the mirror function of art.

This doesn’t need to be as serious and heavy as it sounds! Those “depths” may contain a lot of laughter and joy. We know this from the process of analysis.

On film as a unique form of art

Now I would like to say something about this special form of art – the film. Film as a medium is very young, just a little bit more than one hundred years old. When the very first moving images were shown, by the brothers Lumière, in Grand Café de Paris in 1895, the director of Folies-Bergère at once offered 50.000 Francs for the exploitation rights to this new medium. He immediately saw the commercial potential inherent in it. Since then, film has lived its life in the tension between being on one side, a commercial industrial product (where the most important aim is to bring in money), and on the other side, being a very rich and to some extent yet unexplored form of art.

Film is a very powerful medium, one of the most powerful there is. Why is it so? Let’s look at that very first showing of film, of moving pictures in 1895. There were different short sequences shown. They had titles like, The child having breakfast, and, The workers leaving the factory, sequences of about eighteen seconds length. One sequence was called, The train arriving at the station, and showed an engine with wagons arriving at a railway station in Paris.

It has been told that people in the audience got very frightened. They took shelter behind the chairs, they ran our of the room.

We may laugh today – today when we are so used to moving pictures. We may laugh at their naïveness, we may laugh at their belief that the train could hurt them, could run over them. But I think that we should reflect a little bit about the reason why they reacted as they did. The significance of the reaction was that this new medium – moving pictures – gave such an impression of reality that it could hardly be separated from reality.

This is one of the reasons why the medium of film is so powerful. I would like to add here that I often wish that we still had some of this immediate reaction towards the film medium – and then I talk about the whole mass-media picture – that people had in the beginning. I wish that we could still feel this feeling of danger and this immediate need to protect ourselves. Because I think that many, many times we are run over in a very destructive way by the pictures – if not over our bodies – at least in our souls. That might be even more dangerous, as we often are not aware of it. There is no obvious blood around.

Another reason why this medium is so powerful is that it potentially is a very intricate system of manipulation. A film is a very complicated combination of images and sound, and images with images, and sound with sound. There are a great many choices on different levels made before the film reaches the audience. This is inherent in the medium and necessarily so. But what gives the medium its power is that most of those choices are not possible for the spectator to see. They enter him, so to speak, on the unconscious level.

What we mostly see and talk about is what happens on the conscious level in a film or in a mass-media sequence, on the content level or the level of action. We are much too unaware about what is there below the surface – in the form itself or on the level of telling. Most of the objects for the camera – people, animals things, events – can be looked at in two quite opposite ways. Either they are seen with care and respect in their existence, or they are used and exploited for some other purpose. This attitude of the film maker lies on a level that most of the time remains unconscious, but which nevertheless is strongly transferred to the audience.

This is a whole area upon which I think we Jungians, especially, should focus our attention. How will it affect our psyche in the long run that we are being exposed day in and day out to images and sounds against which we are not aware enough to defend ourselves?

And now to the Anglo-Saxon Dramaturgy

Before I talk about the feminine principle in film, I want to say some words about what is called the “Anglo-Saxon Dramaturgy.” It was introduced in Sweden about twenty-five years ago. Sometimes it also borrowed its name from the Greek philosopher Aristoteles and was called the “Aristotelian Dramaturgy.” It had great success. It started among a smaller group of film makers and script writers but later spread like an epidemic to all the istitutions of mass media – television and lournalism institutes – so that practically everybody who worked actively with the mass-media image participated in those courses. Later, that was not enough: the chiefs, the decision makers and the administrators of the mass media institutions also had to know what it was about.

So what was it about?

Very briefly I would describe it as a way of making a film, telling a story, which is common in the Holywood tradition and which could be described like this:

We have a main conflict. The conflict is the starting point for the action. The conflict is introduced in the first touch, the first scene, it is presented and deepend and then accelerated until a climax, where it is solved and then tuned out.

This action, built on a conflict, is driven froward in a logical chain of events and a linear progressive time. The spectator is bound in eager anticipation which keeps him with the question: What will happen? What will happen? How will it end – this conflict? All the anticipation is built on the mouvement forward, forward towards the goal which is the conflict solution, and then the play is “over.” One sequence leads to the next which leads to the next. Everything that doesn’t immeadiately and logically belong to the main conflict and the movement forward has to be removed. Everything that can build up the excitement about the conflict has to be used.

With this model there are a whole arsenal of tricks and ways of telling to catch the spectator, take him or her to where you want, get him to think, feel and experience what you want him to think, feel and experience.

I have to confess that in the beginning this was very stimulating to learn about. We film directors acquired a language for what we did and did not do. There were efficient and goal oriented tools to use when we made a film – or a reportage – which we wanted to be succesful.

But what is also involved in this dramaturgy is of course the power of language. This is not a way of creating a dialogue with the spectator or opening for a relationship to the receiver. This model of building a film very easily results in the opposite. Added to the power I as a film maker or mass-media person already has by necessity, I now have a whole arsenal of deliberate tools of manipulation to catch and bind the audience – and this on a level which, to a great degree, is unconscious for the audience.

What is most obvious with this dramatical structure and the consequences of it within the mass media world is the absence of the meeting, the absence of the space in between, the absence of respect for “the other.”

The Feminine Principle

Now, about the feminine principle. And when I talk about the feminine principle I also have to say some words about the masculine principle – not the whole concepts, but some words connected to those concepts, words that I associate with each. The masculine principle I associate with words like: efficiency, goal orientation, moving forward (towards a goal), analysis, Logos. The feminine principle I associate with words like: holding, carrying, nourishing, creating space, synthesis, Eros, and above all, the word relating – inwards and outwards …

(Note: Here is the three-minute opening sequence of the film, Courage to live)

The Feminine Principle in Film

I mentioned in the beginning that I was interested in the question whether there was something one could call a feminine way of filmmaking.

For some years I was chairwoman of the “Women Film Directors’ Association” in Sweden. This was in the late ’70s, long before I came to the C.G. Jung Institute. It turned out that the resistance against the increasingly prevalent and efficient Anglo-Saxon dramaturgy slowly grew and was first formulated among women.

It started with a feeling … We women film makers felt more and more closed in and pressed in. There was something that did not get its space – its room – its time in this structure where everything had to be better and better, faster and faster and more and more efficient.

At that time we invited a Danish woman author and dramaturg, Ulla Ryum, to give a seminar on the question, “Is there a feminine dramaturgy?” There were three overbooked seminars. And what did she say?

She said that in the moment we wanted to do something else other than to merely tell “a story” in an efficient way with conflict acceleration, conflict solution and conclusion, then we had better look out! We had to find another movement!

She used a very special word which does not really exist either in Swedish or in Danish, “på tvärran.” In some way it indicates both that you oppose the conventional, the expected way of moving – forwards towards a goal – and also that you move laterally, in the direction of your fellow-beings.

At that time I was working with my film, Courage to live. I had got stuck. I couldn’t find my way through it. I hadn’t found the adequate structure of the film. In front of me on the editing table I had just a “story,” which I tried to make efficient.

But it was not a “story” that I had wanted to make. It was not a conflict with an acceleration, a climax and an end. It was something else. At the same time as I told about Pia’s last five months in life, I wanted to raise questions in the film, questions that touch all of us. Questions about haow we relate to life, how we relate to death, how we relate to time.

I went home and I thought about what kind of different movement I could find. What could be behind this expression she had used – “på tvärran?”? How would I apply it in this very case?

I realized that it had to do with time, with the time construction of the film. What other construction of time is there if you don’t want to use a linear, causal one which leads towards a goal?

I think there is another kind of time, which moves in a circle – which starts at one point and then slowly turns around this point. Or it starts in the periphery and moves inwards in the search for a kernel. A time conception that allows a telling that, rather than putting the question, “What will happen, what will happen?” quietly wonders, “How is it really?” A time that gives space for searching – and finding out about – the questions of man’s existence in this world.

A time that allows the movement towards the archetypes.

Those thoughts made me put in a sequence at the beginning of the film, which I hadn’t used so far. I had filmed it very intuitively but I hadn’t found any place for it, so I had put it aside on a shelf. The sequence is a three-minute image, unbroken, unedited, of a sunset in Greece, with mountains in the background and the sea in the foreground. The young woman, Pia, was born of Greek parents and was buried in her mother’s home village in Greece. Now the film opened up for me.

Time …

What is it that happens in the relation between the image and the spectator when time comes into the picture? After about three seconds we have taken in, apprehended, the content of the image. We have water, we have mountains, we have a sun which is setting behind the mountains. We have a sunset. If we keep this image for ten seconds, then we have quite a long image of a sunset. If we then keep it for twenty seconds, we have a very long image of a sunset. Maybe we get anxious. What kind of film is this? We have now seen this image, give us a new one! We know it is a sunset. Doesn’t she know how to edit?

After about thirty seconds maybe our worry gets worse. But maybe it might also be that our eye starts moving in the picture, that we see that there are more things to discover, the movement in the water, the changes in the light.

And when the image then is kept even longer – one minute, two minutes – then there may be something more happening. It is not just an image of a sunset, but also an image of time. And in that time there is created a space, a room, for us as spectators to stay in, to be in. There is possiblly a relationship created between the film and us, a relation to sunsets, to our own memory of sunsets, to ourselves. Having started in this way, creating a space for a possible relationship, the film opened up for me and it was possible for me to complete it.

Is this now a feminine film language?

This other way to relate to time and space and goal orientation?

This tendency to ask questions rather than to present answers and conclusions?

This wish to create relationhips and to surrender power?

This wish to give respect to “the other?”

This wish to create a movement towards the archetypal structure of the psyche?

Today I am prepared to say “yes” to these questions; I would describe it so that there is an attitude where the feminine principle is at hand.

At that time in Sweden in the late ’70s it was a question of sexes, of men and women film makers, and there was a hard and fruitless debate around those things. I then preferred not to talk about it in terms of feminine or masculine but more about power play in film language. But after having studied Jungian psychology I am more ready to talk about it again in terms of the feminine principle, the feminine principle in film making.

We live in a world today where most people get as many impressions from mass media images as from life, if not more. I think that we need a much deeper understanding and awareness about what is happening in this field. It highly affects our psyches.

What we need is above all a balance, a balance between the masculine and the feminine principle. We need a balance – to safeguard our bodies, to safeguard our minds, to safeguard our souls. I say it as a woman, as a film maker, and as a Jungian analyst.

We have reached up to the moon – what a goal! What a success of efficiency! But how do we relate to nature – around us and within us …?