Jane Campion and the Anima and Animus By Puddi Kullberg


When I first started reading Jung, I would go through his lengthy descriptions of the anima, and then look, in vain, for what he said about the animus. Inevitably, it was something like, “the animus has a similar function but for women, it is a masculine function.” If you did a word count, there would be at least 200 words on the anima for every 10 words about the animus. In other words, it got short shrift. Never did I feel like the (positive), awe-inspiring functions of “the anima” (soul!) were duplicated in Jung’s cosmology for the animus. How come the men had this essential element and the women had… what? Something that made them opinionated!

In fact, “animus possessed” seemed to be the most damning epithet rather casually flung at women who were in any way feisty. It made me crazy. And the most I heard otherwise, outside of the Collected Works, was that a woman was “supposed” to have an animus who “supported” her. It/he would provide spirit and ability to function in the world. I never liked this conception. I myself have always functioned rather well in the world and it seemed of-a-piece with my nature. Not something some male part of me was promoting or supporting or accomplishing.

Over the years I have kept my own counsel and confined my personal animus explorations to the facts, i.e. psychic facts – male figures who showed up in my dreams.

However, lately I am having a certain regard for Jung’s anima and animus ideas. Have you seen Jane Campion’s film The Piano or her recent TV series The Top of the Lake?

The PianoHolly Hunter goes from the protagonist, Ada, in The Piano to the sage in The Top of the Lake. Elizabeth Moss, as Detective Robin Griffin, takes over as the protagonist in this later Campion creation. At spinning class at the gym – where ideas and inspirations and aha’s come to me (unconscious coming through third function!) – I realized something from Campion’s work that matches my own experience, an anima/animus aha moment.

In The Piano the heroine, Ada, is being saved by the vigorous, sexual, smart, vital, renegade native man (animus), Banes, played by Harvey Keitel. But at a certain point Ada has to decide, as in really decide, make conscious, choose, to be saved. She has accidentally-on-purpose entangled herself in the rope that is attached to her piano which has toppled off the canoe and is inexorably on its way to the bottom of the ocean taking her along with it. At first Ada passively drifts down through the crystalline clear, azure tropical waters, enjoying the beauty. Then Life jolts her. Her survival instinct kicks in. She responds. Her will to live coagulates. She literally starts kicking (kicks-in) with purpose, trying to extricate herself from the rope and the clutches of a watery death. Eventually she succeeds in getting free of the line but the sunlight of the water’s surface is now far distant. She struggles upward and finally she does surface, gasping for breath as she is pulled into the canoe. As all this is going on, she is narrating, a voice-over:

What a chance

What a surprise

My will has chosen life.

Still, it has had me spooked and many others besides.

Top of the LakeSimilarly, in The Top of the Lake, the heroine has to consciously choose her self before she can be authentically related to an other, an animus. Towards the end of the series, Robin is having, it seems, a redeeming relationship with an old/new love, Johnno, played by Thomas M. Wright. But at a certain point, she too, like Ada in The Piano, cannot just let this circumstance allow her to drift off into oblivion. Consequently, Robin forces a confrontation with Johnno that will certainly threaten the new found love. “Did you give them [the rapists] a signal?” That is, “Lo those many years ago, and although you have apologized for not protecting me and I have forgiven you, is there any chance that you were, in fact, colluding [actually and/or psychologically, unconsciously] with the rapists?”

What am I saying? I am saying that there is something that needs to happen within a woman’s psyche, something definitive, where she determines to and chooses herself as the locus of her experience. This is not an ego project nor is it making the ego stronger. As with Ada and Robin, something native to a woman’s psyche needs to coalesce, coagulate, decide, take an action, force the issue, confront – within or without. That moment of assertion of her own being brings her into being as a woman. Her anima is born. From that core, herself as anima, she can now enjoy an equal, reciprocal relationship with the men in her inner and outer life.