X-Men: Extremes in the Struggle for Anima

Since the 1960’s, Marvel comics have entertained readers with the exploits of X-Men, extreme female and male characters who are marginalized for their differences. X-Men, the movie, condenses and combines previous tales in a strong story, fresh to old as well as new acquaintances..

Since the 1960’s, Marvel comics have entertained readers with the exploits of X-Men, extreme female and male characters who are marginalized for their differences. X-Men, the movie, condenses and combines previous tales in a strong story, fresh to old as well as new acquaintances. This is a contemporary film with high technology, outstanding costumes and highly entertaining special effects. It is also a contemporary presentation of a male dominated kingdom deficient in anima, a kingdom that lacks a balance between the masculine and the feminine. Marie-Louise von Franz, writing about fairy tales, comments: “If the queen is absent, it means there is no longer any Eros in the old ruling system…The renewal of the kingdom, the necessary balance provided by the feminine, comes through the princess” ( Animus and Anima in Fairy Tales, 15). In this movie, finding the princess also recalls memories of Hades’ abduction of Persephone, and more importantly, Persephone’s transformation. Like Psyche in the underworld, the feminine in this movie is tested and matures. Archetypal themes and characters abound in X-Men.

The film begins in colorless shades of gray, with a scene entitled, “Poland 1944”, where Nazi soldiers cruelly separate a young man from his grief-stricken parents who, wearing yellow stars, are directed toward a brick building topped with an incinerator tower. We watch as the power of his outrage and grief mutilate a metal fence. We have met the protagonist Eric Menshire, a mutant with strong magnetic attraction known as Magneto, who, in retaliation, now attempts to avenge man’s inhumanity to man and his family with more power and aggression. His friend, Charles Xavier, possesses psychic and telepathic gifts, which he puts to use as the Zeus-like director of a school for the gifted and extremely different mutants. Like the brothers, Hades and Zeus, Magneto and Xavier see the world and their protection of mutants, from different perspectives. Mutants, Dr. Jean Grey, Xavier’s bright-eyed Athena-like protégé explains, develop their extraordinary attributes at puberty during an incident of heightened emotional stress.


Just as we have witnessed the painful acquisition of Magneto’s special powers, we also visit Maria, a seventeen-year-old living in Meridian Mississippi. When she entertains a boyfriend in her bedroom, their kiss causes disastrous results. Her adolescent quest for love and intimacy is thwarted by a mutation that causes any recipient of her touch the loss of their life force. Ideally, physical contact is reciprocal and, while she gains whatever energy or powers belong to the other, she also loses the object of her affections. Whether embedded within the developmental and hormonal biology of a mutant adolescence or as a symptom of more intrapsychic processes, transformation announces itself. Like Persephone and Psyche, she is forced to leave childhood innocence behind. Renaming herself Rogue, she runs away from home in hopes of avoiding her powers and emerging self. As Robert Johnson writes in She, “Psyche must make her way into the underworld through the place of waste (how many journeys begin at the least expected or valued place), down the pathless way into the dark recesses of the inner world” (70).

Rogue meets Logan, also known as Wolverine, in the cold and snow of remote lands, where she has journeyed, hungry and desperate. James Hillman reminds us that Cain, Judas and Lucifer reside in the icy ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno and that the frigid water of the river Styx protects the underworld (The Dream and the Underworld, 168). He writes: “We can meet Cain, Judas and Lucifer by being aware of our desires to be false and to betray, to kill our brother and to kill ourselves, that our kiss has death in it and that there is a piece of the soul that would live forever cast out from both human and heavenly company” (169). Archetypally, Hillman suggests that what we view in others resonates within our psyche as well. Prior to their fateful meeting in these icy regions, Rogue and Wolverine have each placed emotions too hot to handle in the deep-freeze of isolation and wandering.

Research into the history of his cousin, the wolf, provides interesting amplification of the Wolverine character. Sometimes compared to the devil, the name for wolf was avoided and replaced with the word Isengrimm, “…which means iron-grim, grim being the state of rage or fury or anger which has turned into cold determination” (Von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, 255). Both the wolverine and the wolf have associations to gluttonous and devouring attributes. A man displaying predatory attentions to women is called a “wolf”, among other things. Wolverine flirts harmlessly with Jean Grey, who appears interested, but declines in favor of a continuing relationship with Cyclops. According to Marie-Louise von Franz, in Greek mythology, the wolf was associated with Apollo, and, therefore consciousness, while in Rome, the wolf accompanied the god of war, Mars (254-5). She writes: “The animal has a secret relationship not only to the dark god of war and the dark side of the light god, but to the feminine principle….In the dreams of modern women the wolf often represents the animus…” (255). As his character develops, Wolverine’s behaviors indicate a shift toward a balance between his masculine animus and his inner anima.

Like all women avoiding individuation, Rogue hitches a ride with the handsome Wolverine, even after he has declined. Their ride is shortened by an attack from Magneto’s assistant, Sabretooth, who is, in turn, thwarted by Xavier’s X-Men, Cyclops and Storm. Channeled through protective dark glasses, a blast from the eye of Cyclops resembles the solar powers of Apollo, and indeed, when not in the heat of battle, Scott Summers possesses a certain Apollonian logic and moderation in his demeanor. Xavier’s world, like Zeus’s Olympus, includes the feminine. Aurora Monroe, called Storm, conjures up wind and rain of cyclonic proportions in a manner all too similar to the Uruban goddess of West Africa, Oya. Goddess of change, Oya distributes a breezy dose of hubris, rearranging Magneto’s carefully executed ambush, apparently aimed to capture Wolverine. Storm and Cyclops rescue Rogue and Wolverine, and the four return to Xavier’s school.

Safe in Xavier’s compound, Wolverine’s mutations, as well as some additional man-made experimentations are discovered. Ageless, Wolverine is an archaic archetype with “uncharted regenerative capacities”, which allow him to heal rapidly. However, during some un-remembered period in his life, metal alloys have been grafted onto his bones that result in blades of steel springing from the knuckles of his hands when he is enraged. A comrade-in-arms to the spirit of Ares, Wolverine wears a mysterious dog tag, about which not even Xavier is able to divine the origin. Jean Grey and Wolverine, while seemingly incompatible, share this archetypal energy of war. Although her Athena-like characteristics manifest in her medical knowledge as a colleague to Xavier, it is her tele-kinetic powers that place her on the X-Men team as the second female member.

In a pivotal scene later that night, Logan cries out in his sleep, racked by nightmares. Rogue startles him when she enters his room to awaken him from his troubled sleep. Wolverine, baring his claws of steel, reflexively reacts and pierces her through her chest and heart. In danger of losing her life, she touches him, aware that her mutation will enable her to temporarily gain and make use of his regenerative powers. This is at the risk of depleting his powers of regeneration, now required by him to counteract her touch. She borrows only what she requires. He can restore his powers, as long as too much is not asked of him. Her developing self requires some of his animus at this stage of her journey. He reluctantly shares, with little consciousness about the internal process. Whether a match made in heaven or by the devil, this powerful scene illustrates the delicate balance required between the anima and animus in relationship, between each other, as well as within. Although their relationship is deepened and changed by the event, there is no merger. Rogue’s journey is not finished; her tasks are uncompleted. The keenly perceptive and wily Wolverine is still a lone wolf, who travels without the feminine.

With help from Magneto’s shape-shifting assistant, Mystique, Rogue is lured away from the safety of home. Whispered words of rejection and blame urge her to run away, once again. The following excerpt from “Understanding Female Psychology”, a chapter in She, describes some important aspects of this inner turmoil:

When a woman finds herself lonely and not understood, when she finds that people are good to her but stay just a little distance away, she has found the Psyche nature in her own person. This is a painful experience and women are often aware of it without knowing its origin. To be caught in this aspect of the feminine character is to remain untouched and unrelated (9-10).

There is no feminine in Magneto’s kingdom, and he will stop at nothing to protect mutants, as well as gaining dominance over the world. There is what appears to be a presence of the feminine in the yellow-eyed Mystique, a ravishingly beautiful woman, even though her vividly blue skin is slightly scaly. Like the mercurial and hermaphroditic Hermes, she shape-shifts, always furthering the wishes of her master, Magneto. In spite of her charms and loveliness, Mystique does not sufficiently contain enough of the feminine so necessary for balance in Magneto’s kingdom. Then, there is the Toad. Long considered a symbol of the feminine, Verena Kast says of frogs and toads: “Both animals point to transformation and fertility---they are linked to the uterus…” (The Mermaid in the Pond, 103). Although described as survivors: “Toads and frogs are animals which can survive on land as well as in the water”, there is also an unattractive “… enslavement to the physical…” (102). Even though in male form, might Toad’s powers provide some fertile and feminine life force? The Toad, while chthonic, seems less concerned about others than about himself and the instructions of Magneto. However, his prowess with his tongue and aerobatic antics do not disappoint.

Magneto knows that his waning powers require renewal and mistakenly thinks that he can acquire new life from another, rather than through inner transformation. Is it the indestructible, virile Wolverine whose allegiance he desires? No, it is the maiden Rogue, the archetypal feminine, and the anima that he wants to consume and absorb. There is no pretence at collaboration or mutuality, he has the machinery ready to recharge his batteries with Rogue as a weapon of destruction. From atop the Statue of Liberty, an archetype of the feminine, Magneto plans to destroy those attending the summit for peace. Like Persephone, Rogue is abducted and Hades/Magneto has plans for her that do not include her input. In The Long Journey Home, a collection of contemporary writings about the myth of Demeter and Persephone, Christine Downing suggests that for some observers: “…the abduction is central—not as violation but as initiation” (161). In what she refers to as a more Jungian perspective, Downing continues: “Many women, however, read the myth as an initiatory scenario in which Hades serves to help Persephone make the transition to a more authentically female maturity” (162). Hillman widens the net when he writes: “The Persephone experience occurs to us each in sudden depressions, when we feel ourselves caught in hatefulness, cold, numbed, and drawn downward out of life by a force we cannot see…”(49). The action of the plot pleases us vicariously as it furthers Rogue’s individuation. As Downing observes about Persephone: “Hades helps her to know the self she is beginning to become” (163).

The X-Men rush to her rescue, but are subdued by Mystique, Sabretooth and Toad. Wolverine foils the diabolical efforts to imprison the team by receiving self-inflicted lacerations that test his powers of regeneration. After conquering Sabretooth, who represents the animal nature in himself as well as Magneto’s Brotherhood, he facilitates the escape of the super heroes by cleverly taking advantage of the skills of each. With further collaboration and high tech networking, the efforts of the X-Men save the day by redirecting Magneto’s destructive force field. There is a sense of the feminine at work here as the team combines attributes, setting individual egos aside. “The Brotherhood” manifests stamina, drive and determination in their efforts, characteristics which belong to the animal world and the older feminine powers, while Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Xavier, with the assistance of Cerebro, depend upon gifts from the upper regions of sky and logos. With the addition of Wolverine, the X-Men, with their mainly intellectual attributes, benefit from the more feral animus.

Logan revives Rogue with the conscious act of touching her in an embrace, draining away the regenerative powers he needs for healing multiple wounds from the day’s battle. Rogue has acquired a physical symbol of her intrapsychic transformation. A shock of white hair replaces the tresses of her recent, more innocent maidenhood. In the scene called “Logan’s Sacrifice”, Wolverine consciously engages in life and relationship more fully. What Rogue “borrowed” in the earlier scene is now offered. The previous disparity between their ages and emotional maturity is diminished. Each has made a sacrifice by trusting and changing. Some may say that that a shocking experience is partly due to too much light, or consciousness, for the emerging psyche to absorb and integrate. The alchemy, or mystery, of calibrating the right amount of dark with light seems to be intrinsic to the transformation or initiation process. Robert Johnson calls the transformation experience of the underworld, “the Death mountain experience”, and suggests: “…the passage through Hades is not without its price and preparation is essential” (She, 18, 65).

Rogue survives her death mountain experience, and resumes her life on the other side of the underworld as a part of the mutant community at Xavier’s School for the Gifted. Suspended in mid-air in a prison cell, sans metal, Magneto, plays a game of chess made of glass with Xavier. Unchanged by the events that facilitated transition in everyone else, he has lost this battle. As von Franz says: “…the anima, the feminine principle, is the decisive factor in the battle with the principle of evil” (Shadow and Evil, 277).

“You running again?” Rogue asks Wolverine, as he prepares to leave. Giving her his dog tags, he says: “I have some things to take care of up north”. Wolverine continues another chapter in his journey of individuation. I have been told that Wolverine fur is the only animal skin capable of protecting humans from the icy cold of the arctic. As James Hollis writes in Tracking the Gods: “We are obliged to suffer, to meditate upon, to incarnate, our unique experience of the cycle of sacrifice-death-rebirth, and, equally, to overthrow the gremlins of lethargy and fear to become that which nature so mysteriously offered” (77). As Magneto says: “Mankind has always feared what it does not understand”. In X-Men, the mysteries of nature offer the world mutants, and mutants rule!


© 2003 Victoria Hippard

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Works Cited

The Long Journey Home: Re-Visioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone For Our Time. Boston: Shambhala, 1994.

Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Hollis, James. Tracking the Gods: The Place of Myth in Modern Life. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1995.

Johnson, Robert A. She: Understanding Feminine Psychology. Revised Ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.

Kast, Verena. The Mermaid in the Pond. New York: Continuum, 1999.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. Revised ed., Boston: Shambhala. 1995.

---. Animus and Anima in Fairy Tales. Ed by Daryl Sharp. Toronto Ontario: Inner City Books, 2002.

X-Men. Dir. Bryan Singer. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry. Twentieth Century Fox, 2000.

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