Entry updated 19 February 2020. Tagged: Film.
Film (2008). The Weinstein Company and Virtual Films present an Ascendant Pictures and VIP 4 production in association with Rising Star. Directed by Howard McCain. Written by Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain. Cast includes Jim Caviezel, John Hurt, Jack Huston, Sophia Myles and Ron Perlman. 115 minutes. Colour.
Mysterious Stranger Kainan (Caviezel) crash-lands his Spaceship close to the Scandinavian Iron Age settlement of Heorot, spilling into its midst an off-world Alien called a "Moorwen". Kainan must combine the Technology from his ship with the Weapons and expertise of the local Vikings – themselves transitioning from a belief in Norse Mythology to a nascent form of the Christian Religion – to capture and kill both this "dragon" and its young. It emerges that Kainan had been culpable in the interplanetary Imperialism that ravaged the home planet of the Moorwens and he must come to terms with his effect on Life on Other Worlds in order to be accepted into his community.
The conflation of the visual tropes of the Monster Movie with the narrative arc of Beowulf (written circa 700-1000 CE) [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] produces a film that feels familiar and undemanding but which fails to surpass the Clichés of either Genre SF or the heroic epic. Graphic references to Alien (1979) and Predator (1987), and to the previous attempt to harness the box-office success of both franchises in AVP Alien vs Predator (2004), give way to formulaic familial acceptance routines in Outlander's second half, as Kainan ingratiates himself first with King Hrothgar (Hurt) and then with Hrothgar's daughter Freya (Myles) before finally forging an alliance with Hrothgar's nephew and apparent rival for Freya's affections Wulfric (Huston).
The use of themes developed by the psychologist (see Psychology) Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in Hollywood-produced screenplays is well-established, dominating both North American university courses and many of the popular film franchises since Star Wars (1977), wherein the free-flowing efficacy of an approach based in part on the Jungian archetypes enumerated in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (1949) proved itself by box-office success and cultural impact. Outlander is by no means the only film to include something of all seven of the plots in Christopher Booker's Jungian storytelling treatise The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (2004), which are: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. Jung's own formulation of the shamanic journey toward individuation in Psychology and Religion: West and East (coll, trans 1958; rev 1970) identifies the stages of sacrificial dismemberment, death and rebirth common to so many religious traditions, and which underpin the story arcs of so much of Cinema: sickness is followed by torture is followed by death is followed by rebirth, a narrative trajectory expressed in Outlander as crashing, wounding, capture and the hunt.
This pattern, cartoonish in Outlander, can be found again and again. Fight Club (1999) – adapted from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk – has, when examined at this structural level, an almost identical plot to several films in the Star Wars sequence; sickness proves to be the most important stage of the shamanic cycle in this case. Shadow-mentor "Tyler Durden", a "figment" of the protagonist's unhinged mind, somehow leads him to the bombing of the "Death Star" in corporate Seattle at the movie's climax: something which his anima and love-interest "Marla Singer" – an archetype of "inner femininity" and wisdom formulated by Jung to connote the possibility of a male protagonist's journey to individuation – has understood throughout the film. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) stresses the second stage of the shamanic narrative, as Luke Skywalker must face his shadow "Darth Vader", first in a cave, as in both Beowulf and Outlander, and then aboard the Death Star itself, where he suffers further torture in the form of a lost hand – soon replaced with a Cyborg prosthetic similar to the exoskeleton of the father-figure he has just defeated. Elsewhere in the SF Megatext, Robert Silverberg stresses the death stage of the shamanic narrative in The Book of Skulls (1971), whose protagonists discover they cannot properly achieve the sort of rebirth later achieved in Philip K Dick's VALIS (1981) via the two-year-old anima of "Sophia" or "Holy Wisdom". Where the shape of these stories remains similar, the stress they put on each of the four stages differs – as do the forms of code they use to communicate the basic message of transmutation, sometimes relayed in sf as Transcendence, the defeat of Supernatural Creatures or, as in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), a somewhat New Wave exchange of inner and outer space in which the family problems of the protagonists are dramatized by their interrelationship with the shamanic properties of "The Force".
Outlander namechecks but does not fully utilize these precepts. By the time proto-human Kainan has survived and defeated the Moorwen and its young, and the rescue ships have arrived at Earth's "abandoned seed colony" from the "home of the gods", the film has settled into a pastiche of those films whose success it hopes to emulate. Kainan's off-world wife – introduced via flashback earlier in the film in a manner similar to that of the protagonist in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) – is cast adrift, Cryogenically-suspended in her glass-fronted coffin, as Kainan destroys the distress beacon by which the couple were to be rescued. "The gods sent us Kainan," Freya, the new wife, breathes misty-eyed as she watches the lights go out (see Women in SF): "He chose to stay with us." Our hero is bedded-in, rather than individuated in the Jungian fashion, his anima earth-bound rather than reborn. Both film and hero have failed to understand themselves. Outlander was called "entertaining nonsense" by The Hollywood Reporter and "interesting as a collision of genres" by critic Roger Ebert. It is said to have lost the greater part of its $47 million budget at the box-office. [MD]
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