Archetypes in Cinema

This month I am introducing guest blogger Mark Lumpkin, Ph.D.  He wrote an essay on the 1999 film 8MM (Eight Millimeter) viewing the film through an archetypal lens.  He highlights the archetype of Hermes, Persephone, and the journey to the Underworld.  He takes us step by step through the film and unpacks its mythological underpinnings.  I reproduce his introduction and conclusion in this blog.  For his complete essay, see the attached PDF below.

I m m o r t a l i z e d    P e r s e p h o n e


“It’s eight millimeters wide – it runs at 16 frames per second” (Walker). And contains images so devastating they inexorably alter the lives of all who know its very existence. This elusive mythic legend is buried underneath grainy shadows and divisions of embattled psyche and soul. Passion and violence comingle, one leading into another – no beginning or end. Hidden and veiled within illusory layers of darkened mystery the violent human heart is revealed through the periphery of perceptions and persona as the movie’s characters journey and tumble through a perilous and mysterious underworld. Private detective, Tom Wells is hired to investigate if these forbidden celluloid images are indeed real or a stunning illusion of ephemeral darkness. Eventually and desperately, he finds both are the case. His pilgrimage and descent directly into hell are part of his desensitization from illusory everyday life and the fairytale he believes to be real. Through unyielding darkness and encroaching violence he becomes subtly entrapped and subdued, lost in his own mysteries and relentless search for deeper meaning within his Soul. 

Just like individual frames of the film, each character and archetype are brought into entwined contact through an unraveling of their deceitful lies. Their lives are thin veils and mere surface textures floating over an undulating sea of unbridled desires of the unspeakable. Darkness hidden in plain sight – evil masquerading with the invisible cloak of acceptable commerce. As the plot deepens, pace quickens and characters are accelerated into a fluid abyss of external violence that mirrors their internal psychic wars. Here, darkness prevails and infuses the character of every archetype. Body and Soul are trafficked and separated – innocence is the ultimate product when found, filmed, and used. Truth is another commodity partitioned for the highest bidder – only if one can afford the price.  What is truly priceless is the divine joy snuffed out for pleasure and profit. 

The small metal reel that accompanies this film winds the characters around its tight axis as a fiery centripetal tempest. Tom’s journey unravels the heinous mysteries of pain and pleasure through a web of internal and external duplicity. Each person here embodies an aspect of the other’s hidden psyche, previously unknown – unbearable. In this drama darkness ebbs and flows through each brutal scene and act of pornography washing over every character and through their emotional landscape. In order to reach the final truth within this crucible, Tom Wells must be willing to pay the ultimate price – his life and the illusion of morality. Has Tom slowly become the very monster he set out to entrap and expose? Who is predator and prey in this base landscape? Violence and power is more pornographic than sexual content or imagery within this underworld. Can he use violence as his ally or has violence seduced and deceived him? His life has forever changed just as his descent into the moral wastelands has tormented and tempered his transformation. He dances with the Devil – only he is changed. His passionate quest for the hidden truths pushes him to the very limits of forbearance and tolerance. In the end his quest for truth cost him the ultimate price – his innocence and salvation. 

T h e   A r c h e t y p e s   e m b o d i e d   w i t h i n   t h i s  f i l m:   

  • Nicholas Cage as Tom Wells – Hermes
  • Katherine Keener as Amy Wells – Aphrodite
  • Baby Cindy as Cinderella/Innocence – Kore (Virgin)
  • Anthony Heald as Mr. Daniel Longdale – Achilles
  • Myra Carter as Mrs. Christian – Hera
  • Mr. Christian as Dead Husband – Zeus
  • Jenny Powell as Mary Ann Matthews – Persephone
  • Amy Norton as Janet Matthews – Demeter
  • James Gandolfini as Eddie Poole – Cupid
  • Joaquin Phoenix as Max California – Pan
  • Peter Stormare as Dino Velvet – Hades
  • Chris Bauer as George Anthony Higgins: “Machine” – Cyclops

Final Truths Revealed

“Both soul and story are revealed incarnately, in and through the body. It is as if the parts of the body have corresponding poetic appendages in ones’ life story; our stories are located in our bodies, and perhaps the genesis of this story rests deeply nestled in our wounds”(Slattery 38). Returning full circle we see Tom standing in his front yard raking leaves, gathering the debris of fallen winter. Here he collects the remnants of his tattered life trying to pick up the pieces and move forward. Sounds of the old projector running in the background enforce that this internal movie is not over as the maddening sound slowly diminishes into an eerie winter quiet. Pictures and images are obviously running on the internal screen of Tom’s mind and emotions.  

In the final moments of this closing scene Tom looks up to see his wife and child standing inside the house. They are safe and warm held within the bounds of comfort and security while he is outside in the elements of nature. Amy is tenderly holding their daughter in her arms as she looks lovingly at her husband through a glass window. His face begins to show a worn and broken smile, as he knows that he is finally home. The descent is finally over and now he must return to the ‘Persephone’ directly in front of him.

She begins to cry as she glimpses this man who she does not truly know yet and possibly never will as his secrets must remain hidden. She understands he has been through war with many scars to be healed and their unspoken gaze speaks volumes between them held in the silence of a winter day. These stories of Hermes Persephonic journey are locked away in the shadows of his heart. The love and support of authentic family can eventually unlock their meaning and help Tom unreel the truth. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.