Cinema as an image machine exhibits a vast abundance of archetypal characters, motifs, and qualities, which in astrology are embodied by planets, constellations and the signs of the zodiac.
Once a month Vesna Ivkovic will draw the connections offering insight into the cinematic representations and forms of expression for the current zodiacal sign.
Did you ever have to wink away tears in a theatre or even use up a bunch of tissues because a movie moved you to tears? Then you have experienced a typical Cancer-moment, as Cancer in cinema is always zeroing in on our emotions – no-holds-barred. It might be “Bambi” (D. Hand et al. 1942), the mother of all soppy Disney movies, “Amelié” (J.-P. Jeunet, 2001) and her fairy tale world, or “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (S. Spielberg, 1982), longing to “phone home”. It could just as well be a deeply emotional melodrama dealing with painful family ties like in “East of Eden” (E. Kazan, 1955) and “The Color Purple” (S. Spielberg, 1985)…
Cancer is a water sign, representing sentiment and soul, sensitive receptivity, intimate connection and the openness to be deeply emotionally touched, as well as the resulting desire for emotional safety. The ability to fearlessly and uninhibitedly open your soul to deep emotion and to venture all the way to the bottom of your feelings is a Cancer-characteristic and so is the need for protection, comfort and care on an emotional level by people who are near and dear to us . Emotional closeness, intimacy and comfort as well as the longing for it are the main Cancer-themes, which can be found in various cinematic genres and motifs: Whether it’s fantasy and fairy tale, family drama, coming-of-age-movie or some story about cute animals, the typical Cancer-features, beside a wide range of emotions, are predominantly simple archetypal images mirroring ancient emotional and spiritual contents, mainly without any hint of irony and relativization. These contents are often incorporated in naïve or at least deeply romantic stories, characterized by rather childlike sensation and a world view of great emotional innocence (in the original sense of unconsciousness and ignorance). Sentimental simplification is preferred to rational complexity, and all available tools are introduced to make the audience identify with the events on screen, thus appealing directly to our emotions and obliterating any awareness or meta-level right from the start by compassionate sympathy.
Music plays an important role as emotional catalyst in Cancer-cinema, protagonists are more or less modelled after the classical scheme of childlike characteristics (“Kindchenschema”: big, round head and eyes), main characters are often children or animals, as well as persons with physical or mental limitations and disabilities. Plots are revolving around loss and longing, sad twists and blows of fate, family conflicts and resulting emotional injuries, suffering orphans, lost homes and tales of heroes finding their way back through all the emotional tempests…
Audiences bursting out “Oh, it’s sooo cute!” referring to a character, a scene or a story, can be considered safe evidence for the Cancer-quality of the character, scene or story – and more often than not also for kitsch. But what exactly is kitsch? Where is that fine line between embarrassing mawkishness and truly heartfelt emotion?
As a child I almost couldn’t bear to watch the pet-movie-classic “Lassie Come Home” (F.M. Wilcox, 1943), because I was moved to tears by the bond between the famous movie-dog and his human friend. Until today watching only a trailer of e.g. “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” (L. Hallström, 2009), the story of a dog’s unswerving loyalty to his deceased owner, I have to fight emotion although I am fully aware of the utilized manipulative mechanisms. It is much easier for me, when the story is about humans instead of animals: The conventional depiction of abandonment, needy childishness and family relations, which Steven Spielberg employed in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) and “Artificial Intelligence: AI” (2001), making ample use of the “Kindchenschema”, is met by a quizzical dislike from my Aquarian IC – and accused of being kitschy.
The term “kitsch” basically characterizes the approach to the narrative, the manner of expression in dealing with a certain issue or story: If emotional states are presented by outworn and trite images (and phrases), if they determine the story in a clichéd way, the picture wouldn’t be convincing, it would not move us and would therefore be dismissed as kitsch. Yet what can touch us and move us to tears depends on the nature of our very own Cancer-energy. Calling something “kitsch” might sometimes also suggest, that a particular expression of emotion appears to us as far too excessive – or maybe we are just nestling deeper into that rational and intellectual coat, that gives shelter to our sensitivity and our feelings.
A huge and important chunk of movies featuring Cancer-quality consists of sentimental plots about people with seriously restricted physical or mental abilities, highlighting their greatness of heart and mind. The Cancer-characteristic “weakness” (due to neediness and/or dependency) undergoes an equally Cancerian transformation by expressing feelings and thus becomes strength. The famous actor Daniel Day Lewis gained his first Oscar for his role in “My Left Foot” (J. Sheridan, 1989), starring as writer and painter Christy Brown who was able to work only with his left foot because of spasticity. Tom Hanks was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of “Forrest Gump” (R. Zemeckis, 1994), a modern take on the old tale of the simple-minded fool making his luck despite of, or rather because of his intellectual plainness and his unsophisticated kind heart. The film was a huge success. Although less well-known, “I Am Sam” (J. Nelson, 2001), starring Sean Penn as a mentally retarded father fighting for custody of his little daughter, as well is making a point of emphasizing the importance of heart and emotion over mind and intellect. Even if one might consider this naïve it certainly is touching…
During the last decade a whole slew of films about seriously physically handicapped men were shot, one of them being “The Sea Inside” (A. Amenábar, 2004). A man who was paralyzed from the neck down in a swimming accident, played by the fabulous Javier Bardem, is fighting for his right to legally end his life while at the same time inspiring a positive attitude towards life in the people supporting him. One of last year’s most popular films was “Untouchable” (aka “The Intouchables” by Nakache/Toledano, 2011), based as well on a true story: When a quadriplegic millionaire employs an ex-con to take care of him and the two become friends, his daily routine gets exciting and his zest for life returns.
Shallow soap operas too make use of stories like these, just as well as they thrive on the material popular tear-jerking melodramas from the 50ies were made of. Their plots were barely different from today’s TV-soaps and telenovelas, however, e.g. Douglas Sirk’s exceedingly emotional movies about family dramas became classics of film history. Spielberg’s adaptation of “The Color Purple” (1985), a sad Southern story about an abused woman of colour and her torn-apart family, was nominated for numerous Oscars, and Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), revolving around a naïve prostitute and her hapless pursuit of love and happiness, is considered as cinema’s high art. Because of its mother-daughter-motif Sirk’s “Imitation of Life” (1959) is an especially great example of Cancer in cinema: When a struggling actress with a six-year-old daughter moves in with a black housekeeper and her light-skinned daughter, difficulties emerge quickly as it transpires that the light-skinned girl rejects her mother, so she could pass for white. Deeply hurt feelings, emotional dependency, children’s needs, motherly self-sacrifice, tears and pain – a whole arsenal of Cancer-motifs is brought up and if you forget the tissue-box you will end up with soaked sleeves… Motherly dedication again has an important part in “All That Heaven Allows” (D. Sirk, 1955), where a rich widow falls in love with a socially inappropriate and younger man, whom her children are not willing to accept . Such stories rarely make it to the theatres today, since they are on the daily menu of both shallow TV-shows and the latest adaptation of some Pilcher-novel.
Yet now and then there is grand cinematic emotion in small films, daring to bring some hard stuff, some emotionally challenging twists of fate to the screen without any kitsch or stereotyped images. They invite us to share in the ups and downs of their eccentric and likable characters, acting out their range of feelings uninhibitedly and thus very Cancer-like. The latest example of this kind of movie is the recently released Belgian drama “The Broken Circle Breakdown” (F.V. Groeningen, 2012), a tale about the love and dreams of a couple living an unconventional life. They both already have had their shares of difficult times and lost their innocence long ago, so that probably because of that, they enjoy love and happiness with each other even more dearly when they are actually blessed with a daughter. What happens to them, after the girl is diagnosed with Cancer and finally dies is depicted in an emotionally convincing manner without shying away from the various and different ways of expressing deepest pain. Illustrating all of it, the film is never kitschy but thoroughly touching. Again music is an important part of it and in its particular approach of the lively and emotional sound of bluegrass-music it perfectly corresponds to the Cancer-quality of the movie.
To accept and welcome all the emotional ups and downs that life can present you with is not always easy, especially so when you’re young and inexperienced. That is what many coming-of-age films are about, with stories of troubled kids, teenagers and youngsters. A classic in this genre is Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” (1982), a lengthy family saga about the fears and joys of childhood, narrated in an imaginative style.
„The Squid and the Whale“ (N. Baumbach, 2005) has us commiserate with two brothers struggling with their parent’s divorce, wishing more than anything that mum and dad would get back together again and on top of that having to cope with their own adolescent emotional commotions. The central character in “Thumbsucker“ (M. Mills, 2005) has to deal with these commotions too, yet he additionally is addicted to sucking his thumb while already being a teenager – that alone makes the Cancer-quality of the movie perfectly clear. And “Juno” (J. Reitman, 2007) is a 16-year-old girl (played by the brilliant Ellen Page), discovering that she’s pregnant after she slept with her best friend. Without moralistic finger wagging and in a refreshingly light tone, the film illustrates the emotional rollercoaster the likable and cheeky heroine is in for, while having to decide about the possibility of abortion and in her subsequent search for adoptive parents for her baby.
A marvellous little movie about the joyful as well as the bothersome aspects of family life is illustrating, that a dysfunctional family with problems like adolescent misanthropy, suicidal crisis and drug addiction can be depicted without weepy dismay: “Little Miss Sunshine” (Dayton/Faris, 2006) is about little Olive, who has made it to the finals of a children’s beauty pageant, when everybody in her family seems to be stricken by some personal disappointment. Struggling with their difficulties and breakdowns they nevertheless go on the road together, supporting and encouraging the little girl to pursue her dream. Once again it is human weakness and the quirky yet compassionate treatment of perceived failure, which gives the movie a touching, however almost not sentimental Cancer-character…
1. This is different from Taurus’ need for physical and substantial security and being well provided for, things he can take care of by himself.
2. This is a frequent plot device in Cancer cinema: the conflict with Capricorn-energy, e.g. the social requirements restricting someone’s free expression of feelings.
Vesna Ivkovic studied literature and linguistics, sociology, philosophy and history and as well took a profound interest in psychology, mythology and different belief systems. Along the way she also explored various paths of body awareness such as the martial arts of Kung Fu, Dance, Yoga, Qi Gong and several other methods of body work and motion arts. In 1993 she discovered astrology as an instrument of knowledge and graduated in 2004 in Markus Jehle's and Petra Niehaus' master class at the Astrology Center Berlin. You can find out more about the author and her work on her own website www.astrosemiotics.de