Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Self/less’ (2015)

Focus Features

Focus Features

Death means disintegration of the body, as well as the evaporation of every thought and mental talent the deceased ever accrued in life. Damian Hale, a wealthy real estate mogul with terminal cancer, is one of those people who’d like to stick around a bit longer.

Self/Less, a medical thriller directed by Tarsem Singh, explores the phenomenon of “shedding,” a dual process through which individuals, for an astronomical sum, can get a brand new chassis courtesy of a much younger – and dead – donor. They also get their still extraordinarily healthy brain matter and consciousness transferred into that surrogate body. Damian (Ben Kingsley) finds out about this process, orchestrated by the highly secretive Phoenix Biogenics company – “We offer humanity’s greatest minds more time” is their motto – and enters into a Faustian bargain to extend his life.

But who are those people who become donor bodies? That’s a question best answered by a young man (Ryan Reynolds), the corpse into whom Damian’s cranial contents get migrated. As he recovers under the care of the Plutonian controlling Albright (Matthew Goode), the chap housing Damian’s psyche gets a new name – Edward Kittner– and is given a weekly allotment of pills to prevent images from his pre-Damian life from flashing before him. Not surprisingly, the meds still allow visuals to leak through. Befitting the corporate name Phoenix, with its Plutonian association of death begetting regeneration, we now have both a resurrected Damian but also revitalized eruptive memories coming from a non-Damian wellspring.

Because he is desperate to learn the truth– and because Albright’s henchmen are following him – Edward/Damian goes on the hunt to find the trajectory to his past, which includes Maddy (Natalie Martinez) and Anna (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Damian’s trusted business partner Martin (Victor Garber) also figures in the mystery. Just when you think it’s over, the movie inserts a neat twist.

Self/Less explores several heavy-duty archetypes: transformational Pluto which posits that death must always precede new life, Neptune and its predilection for sacrifice and duplicity, and Mercury whose domain is thinking and decision-making. The predominant archetype, Saturn, involves issues of self-identity and boundaries, as well as the Senex, represented by the older Damian.

The movie is not shy about suggesting that even in the afterlife – or the present life if your essence is contained elsewhere – one can learn lessons. An absentee father, Edward/Damian gets a chance to rebond with his housing-advocate daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery).

Self/Less, essentially about restructuring of consciousness and brain matter, takes Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” a step further: “I think, therefore I have a mind of my own.”

Archetype: The Immortal. Manipulator. Controller. Senex. Victim.

Astrology Archetype: ☿ ♄ (Mercury, Saturn)

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