The Cat People
The film, ‘ The Cat People’ is inspired by the shamanic tradition. The film begins in the distant past where we see a shamanic ritual being performed involving members of a tribe and an amorous panther. We are then transported to the present day with the suggestion that the central character, a young woman, is an ancestor of these people with a very close relationship with Big Cats. The woman is reunited with her brother, near the beginning of the film, unaware of a secret that concerns the nature of her identity, which he is conscious of. The film follows the woman’s discovery of this dark secret that manifests through her first sexual encounter, fittingly with a zoo- keeper. Basically because of her shamanic -panther- blood, that she shares with her brother, she turns into one whenever she has sex.
Cat People represents an incestuous desire by the brother towards the sister as a means of preserving the species. The sister recoils in horror at the thought of this, preferring to live as an animal in a cage rather than living as a shamanic woman- panther. This film represents a desire for incest as a result of otherness, as the brother and sister are unique individuals. Kings and queens of ancient Egypt also believed themselves to be unique as they believed they were gods that could only mate with gods. I would suggest that this was a product of mind, a belief of separation, superiority, pursuit and preservation of power that led to the development of the drive for incest. The film although interesting in exploring- Freud’s theories concerning incest and animism does not truly reflect shamanic tradition. The ability to be transformed into an animal will usually require abstinence from sex, due to the energy required to achieve it, rather than occurring through sexual intercourse.
. In northernmost Scandinavia, they believe that Lapp shamans turn into Wolves, Bears and fish. Carlos Castenada, the famous anthropological novelist, reports the experience of becoming a crow with the aid of hallucinogenic mixture. Don Genero, sorcerer in castanadas books, observes that shamans can become Eagles and owls. Even in Renaissance Italy, the alchemist and scientist Giovanni Battista Porta, a colleague of Gallileo, published a book called Natural Magick that enabled a man to be transformed into an animal such as a fish or a goose.
Within ‘The Cat People’ we see how what would have been an advantage within a hunter-gatherer society has now become anti-social within our ordered and domesticated society. Like the destiny of their panther- relations who are dying out in the wild, their place on the planet has become threatened. Like other wild animals, the only place for them in the modern urban world seems to be either in the circus like their parents or to be kept within a cage at a zoo. The connection with her transformation and her sexuality is interesting when considering how civilisation often attempts to control and imprison our sexuality. This was what Freud was primarily interested in