This paper aims to illuminate the actions of various characters in Alan Parker’s film Angel Heart, by examining the causes and consequences of problems arising in the formation of the perfect individual and the balance of the soul and the body. This will be undertaken with regard to the theories of Carl Gustav Jung. In addition, Sir George James Frazer’s thoughts about “The Perils of the Soul” will be used. It will be argued that a happy individual of the society needs to have all the balance of good and bad, shortly the binaries, in his mind. This will be supported with a specific quotation from the movie “Angel Heart”, and with the principle of opposites of Jung. Also shadow and persona, conscious and unconscious will be given as examples.
Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987) is a movie full of binaries and conflicts. It is nearly impossible to guess what will happen next and when it happens you get very surprised to see and understand the clever work and little clues hidden all along the movie. The good and the bad are given in the movie like twin brothers. They complete each other perfectly and their little clues to make us arrive to the conclusion are a perfect job. These binaries in the movie are actually symbolizing the perfect individual that Jung always talks about. He says that if self, wholeness and the personality go along in great harmony it is then an ideal human. However self-deceptions cannot be tolerated. He talks about that also in his archetypes. Since persona and shadow, anima and animus, id and ego are the parts about our unconscious they have to be in a balance so that there will a harmony between conscious and unconscious as the result of it. For example he suggests that while conscious is an ordinate thing with everything clear and easy to understand and obey, unconscious manifest itself in an uncontrollable and disorganized way. There we again see the perfect harmony they make with each other.
“Normally the unconscious collaborates with the conscious without friction or disturbance, so that one is not even aware of its existence. But when an individual or a social group deviates too far from their instinctual foundations, they then experience the full impact of unconscious forces. The collaboration of the unconscious is intelligent and purposive, and even when it acts in opposition to consciousness its expression is still compensatory in an intelligent way, as if it were trying to restore the lost balance.” (Jung, C.G., 1983:219)
Jung believes in the utility of the balance between the good and the bad. Even though, for example, the shadow is known as a bad thing Jung believes that repressing the shadow produces a lack of balance and can result in shadow projection, which is the racial and/or religious prejudice. This is an important point to talk about.
“Louis Cyphre: Are you an atheist?
Harry Angel: Yeah, I’m from Brooklyn.”
This is a very good example to understand how at the beginning of the film there was no significance of Johnny Favorite in Harry Angel’s character then slowly when Angel starts to work for Louis Cyphre we see the change in him and slowly the repressed shadow starts to show up.
To summarize the film according to the symbols and binaries being used I would start with a brief information about the abstract of the movie. Harry Angel is a cheap private detective who specializes in divorce and insurance claims. One day he receives a phone call from a New York law firm asking him to help to their client Louis Cyphre. Harry Angel goes to Harlem as he was said and there he meets Cyphre’s lawyer Winesap and Louis Cyphre, a strange man who gives the message “There is something extraordinary in me” just from the beginning. He is so charismatic, intellectual and wealthy but more than these he is mysterious with very threatening eyes. Cyphre is looking for a man, a singer called Johnny Favorite who made a deal with him 12 years ago and disappeared after a traumatic wartime. It looks like Favorite owes something to Louis Cyphre and he is so consistent to learn what happened to him whether he lives or not and Cyphre does not care about the cost of the research. We understand from his stable behaviors that what Johnny owes to Louis Cyphre, he is very consistent for taking it back. Angel goes to a New York sanitarium but finds that the singer, injured during the war and suffering from amnesia, has been transferred, according to hospital records. He realizes immediately that is not true, what actually happened is that Johnny Favorite was taken away by a woman and a man and they paid money to the doctor in order to change the information on Johnny’s documents in the hospital. The trail leads him from New York City to New Orleans and the mystery gets more and more confused as voodoo, Satanism and the supernatural events like black magic and murder in his wake, enter into the story. Symbolism is the core of the movie and it is the main thing that helps the audience to discover what is really happening. The slowly spinning fans, the crowd in the Times Square, the black nun cleaning the blood from the wall, black dressed people going down the stairs and an elevator are the main clues for the hidden climax meanwhile they add a fabulous image to the movie. Flashbacks make you think and are to form the connection between the past and the present. The use of color and the music, which can be named as another fact of the symbolism in this movie, are impressive. Much of the film is very plain and colorless with beiges and grays which helps the sharply affect of the red blood. Whenever that piano solo starts we know there will be another dead person or a big conflict Harry Angel is faced with. In addition, the music is in a perfect harmony with the colors and the plot. There are also many ironies in the film.
“Louis Cyphre: You know in some old societies egg is the symbol of the soul. Would you like an egg?
Harry Angel: No thank you… I got a thing about the chickens.”
When we learn at the end that he has sold his soul to devil, Lucipher (Louis Cyphre), we start to think the conflicts Harry Angel has in his soul. His name is Angel but he made a deal with the devil. The movie’s name is Angel Heart; Johnny Favorite ate Angel’s heart to become famous. He killed Margaret Krusemark by taking her heart out of her body. Harry Angel is a private detective so he has to protect people from danger in a way, but he killed five people. He cannot stand the chickens since chickens are used in getting rid of the devil. He has big inner conflicts, which he and even we don’t understand until we arrive to the climax. Louis Cyphre is also a good irony. He doesn’t swear and he warns Angel to be careful about how he is talking in a church. He is a descent man. He is clean and good-looking and he seems like a man who is very disciplined. This is not the image of devil we would have in our minds. His name, no need to mention, is the biggest clue we should realize but just because he is so perfect as a human being nobody would even think that he is the devil. It is even more interesting after watching the film that you start realizing, it seems to me now that except Harry Angel everybody knew why he came there to ask them questions. It seems to me like everybody that he killed knew Harry Angel was going to kill him or her because Angel’s shadow, which he was not able to realize at that time, was working for the devil. Think of all the people Harry Angel killed, they were not very friendly at the beginning towards him; they did not want to share anything that they knew. This, in my opinion, is another kind of irony in the movie, which is under the control of Louis Cyphre. It is obvious that Madam Krusemark and Epiphany Proudfoot -Harry Angel’s daughter by the way- were also prisoners of evil. Krusemark was wearing a necklace with the same symbol on the ring of Cyphre. Proudfoot, moreover, was the daughter of a man who sold his soul to the devil and at the end when she was dead police found her baby and the baby was looking to Harry Angel with devilish eyes. There is a thing that Epiphany tells to Angel. One day when Harry Angel asks her what she knows about his father Johnny Favorite, she says that once her mother told her that her father was a terrific lover and he was very close to evil like Epiphany’s mother always wanted to be. When they were talking about Epiphany’s baby boy and how she got pregnant, Angel makes a joke and says “So you say Gods get you pregnant”. Maybe it was not Gods that get her pregnant; maybe just like her mother wanted to she also wants to be close to the Devil. Here we are faced with another conflict: even though she is making some voodoo ceremony to protect herself from the devil she is also in relation with devil. Therefore, this conflict made me think of one thing… Maybe she was acting in order to affect Harry Angel.
At the end of the movie we see Harry Angel discovering the truth about him. He does not want to believe in it but then Louis Cyphre says him that he killed all of these people by being guided by Louis Cyphre. At that moment everything becomes clear and we understand what all the symbols in the movie mean. Johnny Favorite kills Harry Angel; he eats his heart, and sells his soul to the devil to become a very famous singer. The turning fan is in the hotel room where Johnny Favorite killed Harry Angel, and then a black dressed nun enters to clean the blood over the wall. At that point every symbol that is been used in the movie gets very clear and meaningful. Johnny Favorite killing Harry Angel makes me remember of the movie Devil’s Advocate. The greed he has, destroys him. This is actually what Jung says exactly. The balance should be done in a perfect way otherwise it will cause us to destroy ourselves.
“We are still living in a wonderful new world where man thinks himself astonishingly new and ‘modern.’ This is unmistakable proof of the youthfulness of human consciousness, which has not yet grown aware of its historical antecedents.” (Jung, C.G., 1983:217)
In the movie “Angel Heart” it would not be fair to say that Harry Angel is totally guilty. He had been chased up by a shadow, a shadow that was going to exist in all the possibilities. He was not able to control Johnny Favorite this is not like the shadow in the movie “The Fight Club” this is something totally different. The shadow in Angel Heart is not “a negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.” (Jung, C.G., 1983:87) It is a second person that lives in the body of Harry Angel. It has got nothing to do with a shadow, it is another person. As Sir James George Frazer says:
“The soul, if not equivalent to the shadow, is at least regarded as a living part of the animal, so that the person or animal feels injury done to the soul as if it were done to his body.” (Frazer, J.G., 1969)
Therefore, it would be better to use shadow and persona in this paper as the examples for principles of opposites. According to this theory of Jung everything carries an own negation. The only way we can know anything is by contrast with an opposite and these opposites have to create a perfect harmony. The principle of opposites is a subtitle of energy principles, which comes from core tendency. The core tendency is:
“The tendency toward the attainment of selfhood. Selfhood is a balance between the opposing forces of personality and includes both unconscious and conscious material.” (http://oldsci.eiu.edu/pyschology/Spencer/Jung.httml)
What I really would like to support in this paper is the quotation “The flesh is weak, Johnny. Only the soul is immortal. And yours belongs to me.” Johnny Favorite sold his soul and Harry Angel suffered for that. The flesh is earthly, materialistic and in a way unconscious. Flesh is not able to understand and realize the real values in life instead it gives more importance to materialistic things like money. Meanwhile the soul is conscious and knows the most important things in life. It is a spirit so it can travel it is everlasting. For the soul the non-materialistic things are more valuable. For the movie “Angel Heart” Johnny Favorite is the flesh part that can do everything to be famous, shortly for his greed. Harry Angel on the other hand is not exactly the soul part. Maybe it is something between soul and flesh… He is neither so devilish nor an angel. The soul is a reflection of the flesh and what is the right thing it should do. As Carl Jung says:
“Spiritual needs are at least equally, if not more important, than basic biological needs.” (http://oldsci.eiu.edu/pyschology/Spencer/Jung.httml)
“Introverts try to harmonize inner conflicts into a whole self. Extravert try to harmonize self with social realities.” (http://oldsci.eiu.edu/pyschology/Spencer/Jung.httml)
To sum up, it could be said that the difference between the conscious and the unconscious should be realized perfectly by the individual in order to live a mentally healthy life. As in the movie Johnny Favorite realized who he was at the very end after all the harm he gave to himself and to others. The good and bad have to exist together since they are binaries that complete each other. At the end when Johnny completed the process of individuation and finished his journey to his inner world he was aware of his true self. A weak man who can do everything for his greed. A killer and the slave of the devil.
1. Frazer, J. G., “The Golden Bough.” Toronto, Macmillan Paperbacks: 1969
2. Storr, A., “The Essential Jung,” Princeton, Princeton University Press: 1983
3. “Carl Jung” http://oldsci.eiu.edu/psychology/Spencer/Jung.html