The Jungle Book

A tradition throughout the world within the shamanic tradition is the concept of the spirit protector, usually in the form of an animal that is representative of the energy that provides protection and empowerment for the individual. Most illness and psychic disturbance can be related to the loss of this animal protection. The shaman will attempt to heal an individual by going into his trance state and searching for this lost power animal or attempt to discover another.

Obviously film and tv cannot provide this individual and personal shamanic relationship, but it often uses Animistic portrayals that attempt to define a relationship with our ‘animal’ nature or ‘ID’ using Freud’s terminology. A big tradition within cinema, especially animation, is the telling of a fable involving a story with animal characters that represent aspects of human behaviour. One only has to think of the snake, the ape and the tiger in the Jungle Book. Each individual character carrying one or a few traits from the broad spectrum of human characteristics.

The Jungle Book, seems to follow a Freudian attitude towards the instincts, although creating some amiable characters, it basically represents them as weak rather than a source of empowerment, attempting to demystify the magic of the jungle. Freud is quoted, ‘from the point of view of instinctual control, of morality, it may be said that of the id that it is totally non-moral.’ He further wrote, ‘the id of course knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no morality. The economic or if you prefer the, the quantitative factor, which is intimately linked to the pleasure principle, dominates all its processes. Instinctual cathexes seeking discharge- that, in our view, is all there is in the id.’ Freud viewed the minds of savages like the minds of children and it is therefore appropriate, in the Freudian context, that Mogli is the lost man-child.

After being thrown out of the wolf pack, Mogli’s first companion and role model is Ballo the bear, who despite being warm and cuddly, could be seen to represent a counter cultural characterisation. His easy living lifestyle reminiscent of the Jazz beatniks of the time the film was made. Pursuing a less materialistic lifestyle involving the ‘bear necessities’. Drug references are subtlety expressed as the bear sings “do be do be do”, referring to a ‘doobie’, a street reference for a joint of marijuana. Indeed the constantly grinning and dozey bear looks and acts as if he is constantly stoned.

Most of the animals attempt to make the lost man-child like them, in a sense tempting him to the weakness they represent. Following the monotheistic framework where the beast is related to the tempting devil, although apart from Sher Khan and Kai they are not represented as really evil, just weak. The four buzzards with their scouse accents are pure Beatles, another cultural influence that was acting on society at this time. A counter cultural influence that had many conservatives worried. The independent big cats are uninterested in making Mogli like themselves, they seem to want to either save him, in the case of the panther, or destroy him, like the tiger.

The monkey, is a thinly disguised reflection of jazz and swing culture, which of course had deep roots in black culture. An expert dancer he lolls others into the hypnotic rhythm, much the same way as Kai the snake hypnotises his prey into submission. Rhythm and dance is an important component of shamanism, a means of ecstatic joy and spontaneous expression of self. The monkey sings that he wants to be like Mowgli, suggesting some kind of mastery between man and beast. The insinuation being that Mowgli is representative of civilised humanity and shouldn’t be acting like the ape ( with its wild primal  beats) because dancing is dangerous and base.

The film is quite catholic in its contradiction, in that it indulges in Jazz and rhythm and yet attempts to demonise it at the same time. The ending of the film cements the ideology that the film is trying to communicate, emphasising the Christian separation between the natural world and the world of man. Mowgli leaves the forest world of animals and joins the fenced enclosure of the human world, like Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden of Eden. The alleged sorcerer- Don Juan, stated that ‘The Christian idea of being cast out of the garden of Eden sounded to him like an allegory for loosing our silent knowledge, our knowledge of intent. Sorcery, then, was a going back to the beginning, a return to paradise.

The more recent Jungle book is more sympathetic towards animistic culture; Mogli is portrayed as the veritable noble savage, like Tarzan of Greystoke. Here, just as unrealistically, the natural, spontaneous and instinctual side of nature is engendered ‘good’ against the corrupting evils of civilisation. The film occurred at a time when there was a wave of mainstream interest in environmental issues, Sting had been in the South- American Jungle and culture in general was more open to ethnic influence. This proved to be a superficial interest based on fashion, although there are still many people genuinely concerned about the environment. Sting now advertises Jaguar cars rather than trying to save real cats in the jungle. Although, with a world-wide recession predicted, it is interesting to see if fashion again swings towards environmental concern, as it did during the last recession.

Freud interpreted the animistic system as the crude beginnings of an attempt to control nature believing that archaic man believed that they could, ‘obtain mastery over men, beasts and things- or rather, over the spirits.’ Freud quotes Frazer who believed that ‘Men mistook the order of their ideas for the order of nature, and hence imagined that the control which they have, or seem to have, over their thoughts, permitted them to exercise a corresponding control over things.’ Freud didn’t totally agree with this was, but was inspired to conclude that, ‘the principle governing magic, the technique of the animist mode of thinking, is the principle of the ‘omnipotence of thoughts.’’ Freud questioning the sanity of ‘savages’, ‘who believe that they can alter the external world by mere thinking.’
Freud, in my opinion, projects the immoral desire to dominate nature by modern man onto ‘savages’, who usually have nothing but respect for other creatures and merely want to live in harmony with nature. To archaic man, the world is not one of cause and effect, his world-view perceives a unity and interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. This is reflected in science where we are moving away from the Newtonian model of basic building blocks to the world of quantum physics. Where-‘at the atomic and subatomic level- constituents of matter and the basic phenomena involving them are all interconnected, interrelated and inter-dependant that they cannot be understood as isolated entities, but only as parts of the whole.’
Freud bases his view of reality on the constructed reality of civilization, a reality that imposes its reality on the ‘nature’ of reality. Unfortunately this is destroying natural reality, without which there is no nature, which we are a part of. Are we leaving nature for the self-contained reality of space, or will we develop a way of respecting the interconnected web of nature and become a part of it?

Jung observed that archaic man was no more- good or evil than civilised man, but appreciated an instinctual intelligence that modern man usually ignores. Jung described archaic man’s concept of his environment as a ‘ world in which man is contained not only physically, but psychically as well. To a certain extent he coalesces with it. In no way is he master of this world, but rather its component. ‘He does not dream of classifying himself as the lord of creation. It never occurs to him that he may be able to rule nature; it is civilised man who strives to dominate nature and therefore devotes his greatest efforts to the discovery of natural causes which will give him the key to nature’s secret laboratory. That is why he strongly resents the idea of arbitrary powers and denies them. Their existence would amount to proof that his attempt to dominate nature is futile after all.’