The last couple of nights, my husband and I watched a string of older movies together. We watched Drop Dead Fred (1991), Benny and Joon (1993), and Flash Dance (1983). Story-wise, all these movies are very well done. I tend to focus on story symbolism to the point that many might think I’ve gone the way of obtuse scholar critics who simply aren’t in touch with the real world, that is, the real “story” world as given to us by a real author living in physical reality. One dynamic of story I haven’t focused on as much is the archetypes of people rather than setting. However, in any successful story, classic archetypes will play out their roles in the lives of the characters. In unsuccessful stories–the ones, which for me, don’t quite ring true–the authors have an apparent lack of understanding for archetypes. So call me obtuse; I don’t care. I like discussing these aspects of story that the subconscious recognizes as truth.
In Drop Dead Fred, we have a young woman named Lizzie who loses everything, and I do mean everything, in the space of an hour: her husband, her job, her car. She’s the type of woman who’s mousy, dresses like a little girl, and who wouldn’t know how to stand up for herself if she had to for any reason. In fact, after losing it all, her controlling mother forces her to move back to her childhood home against her will. Once there, Lizzie opens a jack-in-the-box that sets free her imaginary friend, Fred. Enter Lizzie’s shadow. Drop Dead Fred creates trouble wherever he goes. He doesn’t allow anybody to step on him or Lizzie because he’d rather be the one to step on others in the name of fun. Through Fred, Lizzie is able to break free from her controlling ex-husband, which allows her to unite with her helpful animus (her new romantic interest), who in turn encourages her in her new erratic behavior. In the end, she breaks herself free from her controlling mother figure and is united with her divine child (herself as a child, and then as the girl child of her animus). Drop Dead Fred doesn’t ever leave her, as he says he must, but turns up as the imaginary friend of the animus’s girl child. All of these elements are overtly done. It’s a campy movie. Lizzie even banishes her mother while in a dreamscape of her childhood home, and that’s not to mention that the entire story thus far has moved forward like a dream. Although the plot is quite effective, and the film has something of a cult following, it doesn’t rate very high on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s far too overt in what it’s trying to accomplish.
I’d like to write a little more on this subject throughout this week, but I’m going to pause after describing the bare bones archetypes of this first film because if you want to learn about Jungian tropes and how they work in stories, this movie is a good place to start. You don’t have to do much analyzing to understand what happens in Lizzie’s mind and why it happens. I will leave you with this tidbit that will end in advice: I watched Drop Dead Fred in the theater when I was eighteen. I rejected its campiness without too much thought. It lacked subtly, and I was at an age when I didn’t want to acknowledge my shadow side, otherwise known as all the things about myself I was ashamed of. Now that I’m forty, I watched the story in good fun and found it incredibly cute, funny, and rewarding. But I had to mature in order for that shift to occur. Because there is no guarantee that a reading or viewing audience will have the maturity to be self-aware, at any age, Drop Dead Fred may make a very good case for erring on the side of subtly. If the archetypes are subtle, the reader may be effected in a subconscious way and may not realize why he or she either hates the story or, conversely, loves it. If you haven’t seen this film, though, I recommend it for further study of archetypes.