A Study of Archetypes in Mel Gibson and Kunle Afolayan Films


A Study of Archetypes in Mel Gibson and Kunle Afolayan Films



1.0 Background to the Study

Jung (1938, 1959) is the philosopher credited with founding what is today known as analytical philosophy, which is also referred to as Jungian philosophy. This philosophy espouses the concepts of extraversion and introversion, as well as it builds on the notion of archetypes as constructs which exist in the collective unconscious of all humans in the universe. Although, theorists such as James Frazer and Maud Bodkin first propounded archetypes from the perspectives of religion and primitive myth. Nevertheless, it is Carl Jung who presents a psychological insight into understanding archetypes. Jung (1959) theorises archetype as a series of possibilities which may include an image, a pattern or a character which other elements consistently interacted with throughout the course of a work of art. He posits that an archetype must possess the ability to be generally recognised and identified by its name, or its picture, or its description as appropriate to which archetype is being considered. Jung (2013) relates the analysis of archetypes to dreams which were filled with basic motifs analogous to mythical characters. This corresponds to James Frazer’s postulation on primitive myth…

Archetypes, according to Jung, are inherited tendencies or patterns whose existence, occurrence and manifestation possess global ubiquity irrespective of culture, location or civilisation. Archetypes can either be animate as in human or animal, or inanimate, as in objects. The bulk of the Jungian notion of archetypalism revolves around the sameness of manifestation which archetypes tend to exhibit irrespective of the time or place where they are deployed. By this token, a story set in the east of the world can be related with and understood if it is retold or recreated in the west because by the Jungian notion, archetypes are universal.

Jung concedes that archetypes are unlimited in number and possibility of existence, but however identified and focused his conception of them to twelve principal patterns. These are: the innocent, the orphan, the caregiver, the hero, the rebel, the explorer, the jester, the lover, the creator, the magician, the ruler and the sage. The appeal of archetypes lie in their immanent existence within the psychological issues of humans. Archetypes are powerful because they lie in the subconscious of people until they are awakened by exposure to works of art where they are utilised. In this case, they are used as mirrors with which the experiencer navigates knowledge of and their perception of their own reality. As far-reaching as Jung’s theorisation on archetypal representations appears, it is Northrop Frye who extended Carl Jung’s theory to literary expression.

Frye’s (1977) theory was uninterested about the collective unconscious of Carl Jung on the ground that it was unnecessary since the unconscious is unknown. For Northrop Frye, literary archetypes play an essential role in refashioning the material universe into an alternative verbal universe that is humanly intelligible and viable, because it is adapted to essential human needs and concerns. Literature, according to Frye (1990: 94) “arises out of enduring materials one can identify in archetypal geographies such as character types (heroes, villains, sidekicks, scapegoats), story aspects (journeys as rites of passage, monster-slaying), or themes (good vs. evil, man vs. nature) that give literature its structural unity.

Creators of works of art, including filmmakers, use archetypes to establish a deep reaching connection with their consumers. This connection is specifically designed to beat the confines of superficiality. It is with this connection that a unique experience is crafted from the art producer to the art consumer. Drawing from the perception that a work that resonates with the consumer is that which is successful. Archetypes are therefore used to create that resonance which leaves a lasting effect in the minds of the consumers of the work of art, whether painting, literature, or film.

Archetypes are an invaluable tool in filmic representations in all cultures. By the very nature of their composition and existence, filmic archetypes force the viewers to delve deeper into the motion on screen. The viewers, journey into the characters and their stories in a quest for the discovery of their own selves to blur the distinction between appearance as represented by the characters and the plot, and reality as represented by the viewers. Archetypes present characters and events in films as constructs predisposed to behave in a certain expected manner or to occur in a certain expected sequence. Thus, they help the viewers to interact and intertwine more closely with the film. Archetypes are used to give a three-dimensional living colour to characters, making them multifaceted personalities that are capable of being perceived differently by viewers, depending of their usage and functions in character and plot development. This invariably dictates ideologies that a consumer can identify with and deduce meaning from.

As earlier mentioned, Archetypes, are basically in two forms: animate and inanimate; and either way, they are symbolic. As symbols, they are used to embody earlier representations or first documentations of particular patterns that have become accepted or refined over time. They convey symbolic messages by adapting trite concepts of specific cultures to the realities of a modern period. Archetypes help to bring to the fore the consistency of the strengths and the weaknesses of humanity as encoded in its norms and cultures throughout history. These various symbolic representations of archetypes are visible in the films which this study undertakes to investigate.

Archetypal representations in films help to enrich and nourish the plot. The expectation of the viewer is heightened because s/he can relate with the archetypes used. This predilection to identification between the archetype and the viewer makes the viewer to actively and mentally engage with the plot as it develops, irrespective of its complexity and verisimilitude. This use of archetypes in films also results in tremendous dramatic tension which contributes to the memorability of the experience.

According to Faber and Mayer (2009: 308), modern archetypes that are represented in works of art have the following characteristics:

1. They are characters in stories.

2. They are represented psychologically as mental models like self- and other-schema and prototypes.

3. They often elicit intense emotional responses.

4. They operate at an unconscious level.

5. They are culturally enduring so are easily learned and widely recognisable.

In addition, Falsafi, Khorashad, and Abedin (2011: pg) comment that there are two other elements that are important to remember when discussing archetypes. These points are that the audience identifies archetypal characters as “mental models” of themselves and others, and also that these archetypal characters evoke powerful emotions. From the storytelling viewpoint especially as it relates to films, the use of archetypes is advantageous and almost obligatory. They evoke the crucial responses that the filmmaker wants from the audience. Responses such as active involvement of the audience in the narration as well as their interaction with the characters that will lead the audience to experience the various emotions appropriate to the genre and the story of the film. It is to this end that one may posit that in and of themselves, archetypes are valuable and necessary components of a film’s story.

Myths is a major component of archetype, going by Frazer’s postulation. Myths of culture and tradition incontestably serve as a principal source of inspiration or pool of raw materials for many filmmakers in telling their stories. These culture specific myths are usually stories of origins, which concern some specific characters, heroes or events without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation (Bascom, 1965: pg). In the telling of stories about actual events therefore, many mythical characteristics are imposed upon the characters involved in order to strengthen the appeal of the archetype and to create a more intimate experience for the viewer. Thus, an intricate relationship is established between myth and the filmic representation of a plot through archetypal representations. Since film is a medium of communication through codes and signs, the interaction of the audience with various forms of archetypes deployed in the film; becomes a venture which requires the application of the knowledge of Semiotics, the scientific study of signs and their meanings.

Semiotics is a form of communication that uses signs, codes, symbols, and significations to articulate ideas and information. It is a method of communication that investigates the creation of meanings. Adedina and Taiwo (2015:6) define it as the study of signs within the framework of social life as expressed in a work of art. Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist and semiotician who laid the foundation for the study of semiotics, posits that semiology (his preferred term) is the science that has to do with the study of signs in the society (1974:661). Pierce, the renowned American philosopher and semiotician represents semiotics as the quasi-necessary, or formal doctrine of signs. By describing the doctrine as “quasi-necessary,” or formal, I mean that we observe the characters of such signs as we know, and from such observation, by a process which I will not object to naming abstraction, we are led to statements, eminently fallible, and therefore in one sense by no means necessary, as to what must be the characters of all signs used by a “scientific” intelligence, that is to say by an intelligence capable of learning by experience” (cited in Desai and Nair 2005: 561).

The two definitions presented above are associated with the patterns of communication; that is, socio-cultural relationships and interactions in human society.

While Saussure emphasises the social function of the sign, Pierce emphasises its logical function. Nevertheless, both perspectives are closely related; and as Adesanya (2014:50) submits, the terms “semiology” and “semiotics” refer to the same concept. Therefore, semiotics can be defined as the study of how signs, codes and symbols function within recognised sign systems for significations. In furtherance of Adesanya’s (2014) position, Adedina and Taiwo (2015:7) state that there exists the formal and social aspects of semiotics. They note that while formal semiology deals with conceptualising signs from the contexts of their usage, social semiotics examines semiotic practices that are specific to cultures. Semiotics therefore, finds expression in every phenomenon that is intended for communication, either contextually or culture specific.

In film, semiotics helps in deepening the intended meaning. The visual basis of film gives it a universal power of communication. Film, Bankole (2014: 2) notes, is a repository of semiological symbols. The meanings are inferred from societal practices; norms, cultural values, individual experiences and environmental contexts, to showcase the way the society functions as aesthetically projected in films. As a result, every sign system operates within a given cultural context driven by a body of myth.

In a broad sense, myths refer to any traditional belief conveyed by cultural codes within socio-religious sign systems. According to Alagoa (1978:9), myths are sacred narratives of sacred things/beings and of semi-divine heroes. Similarly, Jaja (2012:9) perceives myths “as stories that play explanatory functions in understanding reality, concepts and beliefs and further serve as explanations of nature and events such as creations, origin of things, history of a race or a people, and heroic deeds and achievements”. This clearly shows that myths are taken to be true expressions of societal beliefs that are communicated through a collection of signifying elements. They also serve as unquestionable repositories of answers to enquiries about origins or temporal events purported to have occurred at a point in history.

Many filmmakers have extensively deployed mythic characters and stories in explaining reality. Such mythic characters resonate among people of diverse cultures hence creating an archetype of a sort, myth archetype. For example, historical characters such as Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Ogun, Sango and others can be arguably seen as myth archetypes. Myth archetype is an umbrella term that covers many other archetypes such as character, animal, dream, symbol and other representations encoded in culture or belief system.

Afolayan and Gibson’s films embody mythic representations that reinvent archetypes. Ihidero (2015:57) says:

Modern filmmakers across divergent continents have largely exploited their indigenous myths and archetypes in explaining major phenomenon and events in history. In Africa, and especially Nigeria, filmmakers have deployed archetypes in the re/presentation of African reality and they have continued to draw from primordial myths and divergent archetypes to depict the changing societies in Africa.

As profound as Ihidero’s (2015) assertion is, many film critics in Nigeria have not given much critical attention to the use of myth in explaining the social reality of the country. Also, only a fraction of filmmakers in Nigeria have employed myth in their films in a manner that will engender development. Tunde Kelani is one of the filmmakers who creatively use Yoruba myth to explain the action and, or, inaction of his film characters. Popular among his works are Saworoide (1999); Agogo-eewo (2002); Thunderbolt: Magun (2001); Arugba (2008); Maami (2012) – an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s Maami (1987); The Narrow Path (2006) – an adaptation of Biyi Bandele’s novel of the same title; and Sidi Ilujinle (2017) – an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (1959).

Furthermore, Andy Amenechi adapted Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine (2007) to film, and so did Biyi Bandele adapted Ngozi Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2012) to film, among many others. The above listed films deal with the past, present and changing conditions of the Nigerian society in all spheres, using myth-archetypes as elements of meaning making for resolutions. Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson are two prominent modern filmmakers that have used myths in their films to interrogate their immediate environment and the modern society at large. This is evident in the films of Kunle Afolayan that are chosen for this study. Fundamental to the filmic representations of Afolayan and Gibson is the deployment of semiotic properties in creating profound meanings. To this end, this study analyses and interprets archetypes in the selected films of Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson within the purview of Semiotics. This study employs semiotics as an intricate term that encapsulates the various levels of narratives, the filmic signs and codes, and other signifying elements that are capable of being semiotically analysed in the selected films.

This study also investigates the intermingling of the signifying elements in the signification and the interpretations of the films, and further juxtaposes the codes and signs employed in the films by these filmmakers. The films selected for this study are Irapada (2006), Figurine (2009), and October 1 (2014) by Kunle Afolayan, and Passion of the Christ (2004), Apocalypto (2006) and The Braveheart (1996) by Mel Gibson. The criteria for the selection of these films is the recurring theme of myth, which covers sacrifice, horror and heroic feats that are communicated through the various filmic and cultural codes and signs. The predominant elements of semiotics in these films are verbal language, text, images, and other non-verbal signs of communication that are semiotically internalised and analysed for signification and interpretation. The codes and signs used in these films are culture-based, as it is with other communication systems that require signification and interpretation. This situates the semiotic elements within the milieu of semiotics of culture.

For a semiotic reading of a work of art, an in-depth understanding of such a work will guide the interpretation of all the elements of production employed in the work. The semiosis of film has been broadly categorised into various conceptual milieu: syntagmatic paradigmatic, rhetorical tropes (Chandler 2005:52, 63, 88) and other cultural and social codes and signs. The paradigmatic (synchronic) and the syntagmatic (diachronic) analyses, rhetorical tropes, and other cultural and social codes and signs (which are aspects of semiotics), often intermingle in order to arrive at a near-accurate analysis and to derive the appropriate interpretation. The synchronic analysis involves a search for the hidden pattern of oppositions that are buried in the films that generate meaning. The diachronic analysis is a Syntagma. In this type of analysis, a text is examined as a sequence of events that form the narratives of the Film. Filmmakers combine these levels of codes with other linguistic, non-linguistic and rhetorical tropes to achieve their motif in the narration. In narratological terms, the synchronic structure of film is otherwise referred to as the fabula and the diachronic structure is known as the sjuzhet. The films chosen for this study will be analysed using the above listed variables, which are incorporated in a semiotic analysis.

However, existing critiques on these films have not been read from the purview of archetypal conventions and how they define the contemporary society. The few accessible critiques on The Figurine is Afolayan’s (2015) Auteuring Nollywood: Critical Perspectives on The Figurine. Most of the essays in this book adopt extraneous standards to appraise the themes inherent in the film. The implication of analysing The Figurine using a foreign model is that it tends to reduce the export of the Yoruba narratological systems and codes which Afolayan deploys in telling his stories, but this cannot be totally helped because he has carved a niche for himself on the international film scene. For example, Afolayan’s October 1 and The Figurine deploy nuanced forms of barding and, or diachronic communication systems which absolutely differs from colloquial usage. Thus, the export of Yoruba representational arts cannot be said to have been given credible treatment as Judae-Christian films have received.

Several orientations exist on the application of semiotics in film or literary studies. Due to the similarities in the codes and signs employed by the filmmakers in their representations of myth-archetypal elements, this study appraises the myth-archetypes in the selected films. The conception of semiotics from this dimension conveys the cultural modes that drive the diegesis of the films. The application of this dimension to the films will change the interpretations and constructions of meanings in the film. It will inevitably change some established understandings and meanings of such myths. To this end, the several schools of thought that have theorised on film analysis have a point of convergence; the construction of meanings which can be taken as semiotics. This is because the semiotic theory specifically constructs and analyses man’s communicative behaviour. In this case, our task mainly is the interrogation, identification and description of signs and sign-systems for the purpose of signification. This is supported by Lemke’s (2004:177) argument that Semiotics suggests that each intelligence is mediated by an analytically distinct semiotic resource system, such as language, visual depiction, or mathematical symbolics, and that when we combine these resources their meaning-making potentials quite literally multiply one another, making possible distinct kinds of meaning that cannot be made in each one separately.

Lemke’s assertion is imperative in a semiotic analysis of film of this kind in the sense that it combines all the employed semiotic resources for signification. This study uses the parameters that guide a semiotic analysis of film such as synchronic and diachronic examination, denotation and connotation, metonymy, metaphor, and irony to interrogate how meanings are produced in the selected films. By so doing, the latent meanings that enhance the significance of the films from a socio-cultural context and sub-contexts will be uncovered. Filmmakers employ these resources in creating ethno-religious and socio-culturally situated activities where the audience also observe the presence of the social world, either because it is mentioned, or because various resources have been symbolically used in the process of making sense of the events represented. Applying these elements of narrative accelerates the psychological reorientation of the audience specifically with regard to the construction of their social reality.

1.1 Statement of Research Problem

Archetypal representations exist in abundance in all human societies. In film studies generally, a lot of researches have been carried out using the semiotic perspective to analyse these representations. In Nigeria as well as the United States, such existing works have focused largely on the general identification and analysis of films using the theory of semiotics. A number of other works have only focused on general archetypal representations in films. Much has not been done on the semiotic analysis of archetypal representations in films. Paying attention to archetypal representations will enable us to compare motifs in the selected films of the filmmakers. This study intends to fill this gap.

1.2 Objectives of the study

The specific objectives of the study are to

(a) identify the archetypal representations in the selected films of Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson;

(b) analyse the varieties of codes and signs used to project the archetypal motifs in the narratives;

(c) examine the relevance of the codes and signs in locating the films within archetypal and semiotics criticism; and

(d) juxtapose the codes and signs used by the filmmakers in communicating their messages.

1.3 Research Methodology

This study employs both primary and secondary sources of data. The primary source consists of three purposively selected films of each of the filmmakers. They are: Irapada (2006), Figurine (2009) and October 1 (2014) by Kunle Afolayan; and Brave Heart (1996), Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006) by Mel Gibson. The films have been selected based on the way they employ archetypal motifs in expressing their different concerns in the narratives. The secondary data comprises archival materials, books, journal articles, and the Internet. The films are analysed using the theoretical model of structural semiotics by Ferdinand de Saussure.

1.4 Contribution to Knowledge

The study sheds light on the mode of archetypal representations in films generally. It also undertakes a comparative analysis of the archetypal motifs in the selected films of Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson, using semiotic analysis. This study further contributes to knowledge in that it brings to the fore the strategies of communicating meaning in films via the signs and codes conveyed through archetypal representations, and thus provides a new perspective and a valuable addition to the literature on the analysis of films and film contents.

1.5 Scope of the Study

As mentioned earlier in this study, significant efforts have been made in the field of film studies in Nigeria. However, the scope of this study covers the semiosis of cinema especially as means of communication between the filmmaker and the audience, and as a method of analysing myth-archetypes in the selected films. The study analyses archetypal representations in Afolayan’s Irapada (2006), The Figurine (2009), October 1 (2014), and Gibson’s Brave Heart (1996), Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006) using the tools of semiotics.

1.6 Significance of the Study

This study is significant because it takes into account the complexity of the mechanisms of the filmic expression for a better comprehension of film with the goal to developing the audience’s imagination and knowledge of their world through archetypal representations. This study is imperative because it examines the possibilities of semiotics in universalising signs, codes and archetypal representations in the works of the Afolayan and Gibson, and particularly in exporting Nigerian myth-archetypes to the international stage.

1.7 Theoretical Framework

This study is anchored on Archetypal and Semiotic theories. The rationale for choosing these theories is that Semiotics helps to answer the questions that archetypal theory raises while archetypes offer semiotics syntagmatic objects or subjects for signification. Archetypal theory denotes recurrent narrative designs, patterns of action, character-types, themes, and images which are identifiable in a wide variety of works of literature, as well as in myths, dreams, and even social rituals (Abrams 1999:22). Such recurrent items are held to be the result of elemental and universal forms or patterns in the human psyche, whose effective embodiment in a literary work evokes a profound response from the attentive reader, because he or she is familiar with the archetypes expressed by the author (Yamma 2016:31). The essence of archetypal criticism, Gillespie (2010: 58) notes, is to identify those elements that give a work of art a deeper resonance. Semiotics, on the other hand, is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign in identifying archetypes. Although, semiotics has its roots in the field of linguistics, it is notwithstanding conceived as a science that would provide readers with the ability to interpret all constructed human signs other than those found within the linguistic systems. As such, it is a study of language, concerned with the nature and functions of signs as well as the techniques of signification, expression, representation and communication. It has to be understood, in this usage, that language is not limited to speech alone; rather, it encompasses expressions of thoughts that have the capacity of being understood within the reserve of its usage. This forms the premise of Elam’s (2002:1) argument that

Objects are thus at once the different sign-systems and codes at work in society and the actual messages and texts produced thereby. The breadth of the enterprise is such that it cannot be considered simply as a ‘discipline’, while it is too multifaceted and heterogeneous to be reduced to a ‘method’. It is—ideally, at least—a multidisciplinary science whose precise methodological characteristics will necessarily vary from field to field but which is united by a common global concern, the better understanding of our own meaning-bearing behaviour.

Semiotic theory, therefore, focuses on signs; how signs are used, the laws that govern their usage and the social, cultural and ideological meanings of signs and codes (Saussure 1915/1959: 16; Scholes 1982: 39; Danesi 2004: 4; Cobley 2005: 3).

There are several tools of analysis inherent in archetypal theory and semiotics, depending on the discipline or orientation of a researcher. For a study of this nature, Northrop Frye’s and Carl Jung’s theorisation on archetypes are employed with Saussure’s conception on semiotics to analyse and decode the representation in the narratives of Afolayan and Gibson. The combination of Frye and Jung’s theorisations offer this study the frames or codes for the analysing the archetypes in the films of Kunle Afolayan and Mel Gibson. The archetypes are analysed under the following codes: Mythico-poetic code, Plotal code and Characterizational code. The mythico-poetic code includes aspects of mythic codes, musical codes, dialogues and instrumentation, all which facilitates the signification process. These codes follow the most basic questions archetypal criticism ask such as “What archetypal elements can a critic find in a literary work? Are there any mythic plots, characters, themes, symbols, or recurring images? How do these archetypal elements contribute to the work as a whole? Semiotics, on the other hand, comes in as an appropriate tool of analysis in the process of answering these questions.