Why Can the Films of Martin Scorsese Completely Change Your Life?
"The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face." (Carl G. Jung)
In Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious Carl Jung explains the difference between the persona and the shadow. The persona consists of the masks we wear and hide behind. In order to protect our ego we create these outer layers of identity. The shadow on the other hand consists of the parts of us we have disowned and do not want to acknowledge or own up. The sides we perceive as too painful, too embarrassing, too evil, too unacceptable to our surroundings. But these parts still exist inside us and often the shadow contains the very worst sides of us as well as the most luminous sides of us. The shadow always holds a truth that our ego needs to hear.
The thicker the mask, the false self, the more internecine becomes the battle between the persona and the shadow. Because the shadow (like all repressed, unconscious sides of us) will always insist on being heard, and the more we deny it, the more we suppress it, the more force it accumulates. As Alex, the Glenn Closes character in Fatal Attraction, puts it: "I will not be ignored, Dan!"
The mirror does not flatter, says Jung, and the shadow is the face we cover with the mask because we does not want the world to see it. But the shadow shows our true face.
In movies we often see this battle between the mask and the mirror, the persona and the shadow, and it is of course a reflection of a battle that is constantly taking place deep inside us all.
We see this battle in the majority of the films of Martin Scorsese. In Casino for instance Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) spends most of his energy trying to keep the outer facade intact so that no one can see the boy from the streets that he used to be. Like in fairy tales, the persona is symbolized by the outer garments, and Ace's attire is so immaculate that it becomes involuntarily comical. But the more he tries to cover his true face with expensive, elegant designer clothes, the more unruly becomes his friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). Nicky becomes the personification of Ace's shadow, and the two of them are inextricably connected: "Every time they mention my name in the papers, they mention Nicky too," Ace says mystified.
The battle between these two men becomes a battle to the death. When the film is over, Nicky is dead while Ace is still alive, but the very last we hear of Nicky is, that he was still breathing when they buried him. We may try to get rid of our shadow with all our might, but it is to no avail: we will never, ever get rid of it. And what we can't be with, won't let us be! As Debbie Ford always says, "What we resist, persists!"
People often complain that Scorsese's films are violent, but this is small wonder, since they reflect an extremely brutal battle inside each and every one of us. I absolutely believe that we can use Scorsese's films to significantly improve our lives, if we truly listen to what Scorsese is telling us, if we can find the courage to own up to the fact that the darkness is inside me too. Because we cannot truly own our light if we do not have the courage to go through our darkness to find it.