All of the films thus far discussed contain multiple overt references to initiation, to what Hillman describes as the initiation of the puer into puer-et-senex consciousness (239). The union of the sames. Consideration of another recent trend in the film genre of action thrillers reveals the same process but from the perspective of the senex. That is, the initiation of the senex by the puer into the senex-et-puer.
In the popular Taken trilogy starring Liam Neeson, The Equalizer with Denzel Washington, and John Wick with Keanu Reeves a wifeless protagonist returns from the exile of retirement, puts his “particular set of skills” to use killing his antagonists, and in so doing unites with a re-awakened puer aspect in himself.
In The Equalizer, Washington’s character, Robert McCall (pictured above), is a particularly striking if not entirely subtle example of such a senex figure. In an early scene in a diner he meets a young prostitute whom he is going to protect and become friends with over the course of the film. She sits at the counter; he sits at a table reading The Old Man and the Sea. McCall also times himself as he dispatches his many antagonists. If Katniss Everdeen, the huntress, resembles a young 21st century Artemis, then the stopwatch-wearing McCall is a modern-day Chronos, a death-dealing Father Time.
In the context of the present blog series these contemporary versions of Artemis and Chronos need each other. They need to reunite with their respective senex or puer pole. This reunion is the “metamorphosis” which Jung alludes to when he writes, “We are living what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods,’ of the fundamental principles and symbols” (CW 10: para. 585). Hillman appropriates this passage from Jung for use as the second epigraph to his 1967 essay. The third and final epigraph from English astronomer Fred Hoyle is meant to convey the same idea: we are in a “transitional phase” from a primitive puer and senex to a sophisticated puer-et-senex way of life (30).
That men and women over the age of 18 (and sometimes into their 40s or 50s) read Young Adult fiction suggests that unconsciously if not consciously they may be seeking initiation into this more sophisticated way of life. The films thus far discussed suggest several characteristics or qualities of this way, i.e., the new puer-et-senex. First, the films and books end somewhat ambiguously or ambivalently. Rather than a decidedly triumphant tone at the end, the land and the people in it, the survivors, are emblematic of what Hillman calls the “scarred wound” or “weak-strength.” “Soft-hardness” (239). These characters experience nightmares, deal with loss, and suffer betrayal, yet they are able to go about the business of rebuilding their homes, their communities, and their relationships.
Related to this rebuilding is the role played by memory at the conclusion of these stories. In almost all of the tales the characters have the option of restoring or removing their memory so that they do or do not remember that which has gone before. Likewise, at the end of The Hunger Games series honoring the memory of the tributes and others who have died over many years is of particular importance. If as Hillman argues history has become “The Great Repressed” with the splitting of puer from senex, then their reunion undoes this repression (80).
Hillman concludes his first essay in Senex & Puer by reiterating the notion that the ego or willful mind which has caused the split between puer and senex cannot bring them back together. In fact the ego must get out of the way. He writes, “In the absence of ego and into its emptiness an imaginal stream can flow, providing mythical solutions for the psychic connection or ‘progressive mediation’ between the senex/puer contradictions” (66).
The films discussed above are the imaginal streams of which Hillman writes. Their ideas and images provide solutions that are needed now. Psychologically these solutions can be labelled the puer-et-senex and senex-et-puer, the adolescent who has “died” or been initiated into adulthood and the adult who has reunited with his or her inner child.
Mythically these solutions are Katniss Everdeen and Robert McCall.
Note: This post concludes “The Death of Adolescence in American Culture” blog series. The next post will appear in October.