Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Into the woods

I watched Into the Woods yesterday. It took me a while to go and see it and a while to get into it once I’d arrived. I’m not a fan of musicals but since this one was by Sondheim, it seemed a shame not to try it. I’m still not sure about the songs. How much they added to they whole experience. I always find it odd when a character bursts into song for no apparent reason. But one just has to suspend disbelief. The singing is no more fantastical than the whole plot-which sounds like something one might hear from a patient’s free associations to a dream. “I dreamt I was in a wood. I don’t quite know how I got there. Nor why I was there. I remember that my wife and I had been talking about how sad we are not to be able to have children. We said how lovely it would be if we met a fairy Godmother who could make everything right…” (Any therapist would enjoy working with such rich imager. Although like all unconscious material, pain and happiness are linked and challenge the therapist’s capacity to hold and contain both the patient’s material as well as their own responses.) In the film a childless couple (a baker and his wife) are given the chance to have a baby if they meet the demands of a witch-who has her own agenda. En route to trying to fulfil her demands the couple must get certain items-whose significance would fill a doctoral thesis or two. If these demands are not enough, there is a deadline. The only blue moon for another aeon is due to rise in two or three days time .The witch has to have her gifts ready at this time if her agenda is to be met. (Her shopping list is “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold.” All of which seem to be symbols of potency and fertility.) These symbols run throughout the film with their meaning changing slightly for each character and representing aspects of the psyche that hold both the Light and the Shadow. (Death, murder, sex, attempted rape, cruelty, self mutilation, ambition, envy and greed all form the ingredients that will make this new baby. (As well as love, sacrifice, insight, generosity and courage.) These all happen in on the edges of the wood. Which is a place where things can change easily and unpredictably, depending on both internal and external events. (The unconscious.) The central characters are drawn from several fairy tales-  Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Little Red hood. And the woods. In “real life” none of these characters  ever meet. But as Freud noted, there is no time in the unconscious. Here past present and future can meet quite happily (something Sondheim clearly understood.) That insight is part of the gift of fantasy. We can have talking Lions in Narnia, Goblins and Elves in Tolkien, magic beans in Jack and the Beanstalk, singing apes in the Jungle book along with seductive serpents. All of whom live together in our personal and national unconscious. So, go and see Into the Woods, But tell somebody where you’ve gone- in case you can’t find your back again… Into the woods


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