“Jack the Giant Slayer”: Some of the Film’s Psychology

According to IMDB, two of the top box-office successes today are Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer—both fantasies with main characters who are deemed worthy, by certain experts, of psychoanalysis or psychological study.

Jack the Giant Slayer is based on the fairy tales “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer.” A brief film synopsis by IMDB: “The ancient war between humans and a race of giants is reignited when Jack, a young farmhand fighting for a kingdom and the love of a princess, opens a gateway between the two worlds.”

Watch the trailer for Jack the Giant Slayer:

The late child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim notes in The Uses of Enchantment (1976) that what the giants may represent to little kids are those great big intimidating (meaning, any) adults; overcoming the giants, on the other hand, may represent having learned how to outwit them. Would all parents want their kids to get this concept? Not so sure.

A central issue in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” according to Bettelheim, is the loss of infantile pleasure:

We are told that the good cow Milky White, which until then had supported child and mother, has suddenly stopped giving milk. Thus the expulsion from an infantile paradise begins; it continues with the mother’s deriding Jack’s belief in the magic power of his seeds. The phallic beanstalk permits Jack to engage in oedipal conflict with the ogre, which he survives and finally wins, thanks only to the oedipal mother’s taking his side against her own husband. Jack relinquishes his reliance on the belief in the magic power of phallic self-assertion as he cuts down the beanstalk; and this opens the way toward a development of mature masculinity.

Okay. I’ll have to trust you on that one.

This traditionally psychoanalytic type of perspective isn’t the only game in town, however. A more contemporary non-analytic view will be presented after the following comments about the film by Bob Mondello, NPR: “…Nicholas Hoult is playing Jack as a 19-year-old who’s kind of a slacker and is trying to impress a girl when the beans sprout under him and he gets carried up to Giant-land very much against his will. Once there, he proves less incompetent than you might expect, but he’s basically reacting to things, not making them happen.”

So. What kind of young man is more prone to reacting versus making things happen? One diagnosable with ADHD, per Mark Banschick, child psychiatrist (Psychology Today).

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