There is a great deal of bitching in David Mamet's provocative screenplay about the trial of Phil Spector; bitching about the media, about liggers and hangers on, about the way celebrities can't get a fair trial. But right in the middle Al Pacino (as Spector) delivers this line:
"Freud was essentially ... a confidence man. He didn't invent a cure, he invented a disease".
This characterisation of the Sultan of Psychoanalysis as the L. Ron Hubbard of his day seems particularly ungrateful, as even Freud's flakiest ideas have been an absolute treasure trove for screenwriters for a century.
For some time now it's been accepted that many of Freud's ideas had little scientific foundation and the worst were plain wrong. But, possibly because he had the confidence man's capacity for capturing the imagination, and partly because there are some appealing ideas there with a certain amount of anecdotal support, they have found a firm place in popular culture which has allowed them to endure past their sell by date. And it turns out the subject matter of his theories - dreams, repressed memories, the unconscious mind - are the leaping off point for so many great stories.
Also, faith in Freud was at its peak when cinema was in its infancy and cinematic language was being formed. Film theory is full of ideas about cinema as a dream experience: When it goes dark we are essentially alone, passive to the images passing, usually in a fractured narrative. These events often represent our fantasies, many are impossible. The film viewer is partaking in a voyeuristic experience.
Perhaps the most influential idea we've got from Freud is the powerful influence of the subconscious mind. There's someone else inside your head you don't really know. Frequently, without you realising it, they are driving. Worst of all, like Neo's unimaginable naked battery body in The Matrix, it is this mystery figure and not the man in the mirror who is the real you. In a sense we are all "The Man (or Woman) With Two Brains".
Writers have long loved the Two Brains idea as it allows them to explore questions of identity, the influence of the subconscious, assorted attempts at mind control or augmentation, or just to keep you guessing with unpredictable characters acting against type, or write odd couple style buddy stories. Twobrains is a country where The Man in The White Hat may simultaneously be The Man in The Black Hat (giving us two characters for the price of one). It can provide the "Be careful what you wish for" morality story. Writers of Two Brains have drawn ideas which have evolved along with our relationship/ fascination with science and technology and our still evolving understanding of the brain. Above all, writers love a twist and so do we.
Two Brains reflects the time it's written. In the dark medieval times the integrity of your mind was forever being invaded by evil spirits, sometimes even The Devil himself. This loss of self is a universal and deep rooted fear. It's worth remembering thousands, possibly millions, of women were murdered in the hysteria whipped up by these stories. On the plus side it inspired the golden age of British horror films. In the sub-Hammer horror Crucible Of Terror there is a twist worthy of Agatha Christie. Among a veritable rogues gallery of likely murderers, the one doing the stabbing and slashing turns out to be the character we least suspect, as they do their killing during spells when they are possessed by an evil spirit.
For possession stories a demon comes into our brain and takes over. We lose control of (indeed for a time we cease to be) ourself. In contrast, in the most celebrated Two Brains story of all - The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde - the protagonist formulates a potion which liberates the evil part of himself. Henry Jekyll finds the constraints of Victorian society stifling and Mr Hyde is an avenue of release masquerading as an experiment. This is a commentary on the idea that civilised society has put too tight a rein on us and there's something underneath screaming to be released. (Friedrich Nietzsche, as usual, had an apt and pithy phrase for this. He called it "The whip of conscience"). Although Hyde appears to behave with the abandon of a prototype rock star, all gratification without conscience (note: Jekyll 's potion doesn't transform him into Hyde but releases Hyde from inside. The potion is a "loosener" like a rock god quaffing drugs to free his mind/ lower inhibitions) we might observe that Hyde is in fact a slave to his appetites and Jekyll, the man who can choose, is free. Victorian society is a stab at the compromise that is civilisation and its foundations are rationality and science. Just as the citizens are queasy, realising that Victorian order is based on what one might call "functioning hypocrisy", they also mistrust the scientist. And look: here's Dr Jekyll first of all exempting himself from the rules which restrain his fellow men (Nietzsche would say brave people are not subject to the same rules as others), experimenting without worrying about the possible consequences and amoral enough after Hyde has murdered to think only of his own neck. It'd make you wonder whether it was always on his mind that the Hyde alter ego would make possible the perfect crime.
In Steven Moffat's tv update of the Jekyll fable, Nietzsche is echoed again: Hyde is frequently referred to as the "next stage in human evolution"; here (after a fashion) is the fearless Superman Dick was waiting for.
Because of terrible events which occurred later, the Superman idea is often misunderstood. In Nietzsche's vision The Superman is no slave to orthodoxy because he recognises the hypocrisy of the herd. He understands that the prevailing morality is for the benefit of society and not the individual and that guilt is a device to make people toe the line.
Stevenson's tale was published in 1886, a year after Nietzsche's meisterwerk Thus Spoke Zarathustra. 1886 was also the year Sigmund Freud began his practise, where he used hypnosis to explore the subconscious of his patients, believing repressed memories were the source of their ailments. Like Henry Jekyll, his patients were distressed by an unhealthy bottling of something. One criticism made of Freud's technique was that he would, perhaps inadvertently, lead his patients while they were under hypnotic influence. The implanting of false memories, repression of trauma and the power of hypnotic suggestion would all become tropes of screen stories.
If it's possible to direct your subconscious then I can work the conscious version of you like a muppet and you won't even know I'm doing it. It's a terrifying thought, but could it really be true? What's the world's annual advertising budget again?
Freud also explored the subconscious mind through the analysis of dreams. He equated the dream with the subconscious which is by no means obviously true. So, for the storyteller, if I could somehow interfere with your dreams I could effect your will or make you want or decide something (as explored in Inception). Or, for a more extreme case, as in the film Dreamscape I could participate in your dream and kill you there and the shock will kill you in real life. (Which is in marked contrast to Inception where death in the dream wakes you up).
In a subsequent theory, Freud divided the human psyche into the Id, Ego and Superego; The Id is the unconscious impulsive side which seeks immediate gratification (sounds a bit like Hyde, non?) Also, it is childlike in its lack of complication. Again, like Moffat's version of Jekyll where Hyde is a child who calls Jackman "Daddy". Compare and contrast: in the novel Hyde is a revolting freak but he's instantaneously able to traverse London like a gentleman, the Hyde of Jekyll moves like an adult but has a child's brain. He is is reminiscent of Flann O Brien's character in At Swim-Two-Birds: born fully grown, he has no idea of his own name, yet intuitively knows that in an upstairs room the door will not be found in the same wall as the window). The Superego is the moral compass: it knows what is right. But to function in this shitty world, Freud argues we need The Ego which employs reason to decide our actions setting a course which finds a balance between the demands of Id and Superego. Only a slight tweak of Jekyll and Hyde, really. How were people so impressed?
Orwell's 1984 revisits the idea of a "functioning hypocrisy" and takes it as far it will go with Doublethink. This rather British version of tyranny is like VictoriaSoc cubed (indeed the living conditions of most of the inhabitants have regressed to Victorian levels). As part of his job, Winston Smith is required to erase all records of the war with Eastasia and two weeks later, in order to function in this society, he must truly believe that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. Thus a fundamental axiom of identity: who I am is the sum of my memories, is expanded from the individual to include a whole society (an idea which proves the launchpad for The Matrix and Dark City). Winston tries to console himself that, no matter what, there will always be a true external reality independent of the dictates of The Party. "2+2" he repeats "will always equal 4".
O Brien says Winston must believe 2+2=5 if The Party says it is.
Under pain of torture Winston tries to believe it but cannot, even though he knows he won't be allowed to die until he does.
As O Brien puts it:
"When you finally surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be".
Terry Gilliam's Brazil is viewed as a Pythonesque take on 1984. When the Americans saw the ending they were horrified and an alternate "happy" ending was grafted on. But in the context of O Brien's comment above, the ending of Brazil is a happy one. When Peter Vaughan says "We've lost him", he means it.
The transformative potion reappears in The Nutty Professor, where Jerry Lewis employs it as a wish fulfillment to get muscles to take on a bully to impress a girl. Instead he becomes a combination of The Fonz and Jerry's real life buddy Dean Martin. He is initially pleased with the results, but it turns out the girl prefers the smart professor to his self-adoring supersmooth alter ego).
Stan Lee has said that the idea for The Incredible Hulk was a composite of Frankenstein's monster (the giant freak people fear) and Mr Hyde (a manifestation of the force of The Id within) but methinks he owes a lot to the Nutty Professor's original goal which was bigger muscles through chemistry. The professor/ monster relationship can be complicated: Doctor Banner is very proud of his qualifications, "Make sure that in the opening credits they say that I am both a scientist AND a physician", he demands. Yet watching him, week after week, getting himself trapped in a barn about to be beaten up by roughnecks, requiring The Hulk to save his ass, you'd have to wonder who is really the stupid one?.
The Nutty Professor is a shot at Two Brains as wish fulfillment. Another great example of the wish fulfillment morality tale is the Belgian movie Dirty Mind. One day the shy Diego has to fill in for his stuntman brother. The stunt goes wrong and Diego receives head injuries which effect a personality change in him so that he becomes a fearless womaniser. A new man, he renames himself Tony T. The doctors, including the pretty one he keeps hitting on, tell him he needs surgery. But he refuses treatment as he is delighted with his new persona. But as the film proceeds Tony T becomes more and more of a monster.
The turning point comes while he is having doggy sex with a prostitute who is wearing a Dutch football jersey with Van Basten's name on the back. Realising at last that he loves the pretty doctor Diego stops
"I can't do this, he explains, "I'm thinking of someone else".
The prostitute leaves, then comes back into the room wearing a jersey with "Kluivert" on the back.
The Bump On The Head movie is an entire subgenre. In The Last Kiss Goodnight, for example, suburban Mom Geena Davis gets a bump and remembers she is an assassin.
But my own favourite "switch flip" story is the saga of Paul Robinson in Neighbours. Paul was the pantomime villain of Ramsay Street who kept going away and coming back (depending on how Stefan Dennis's pop career was doing) with some new Machiavellian scheme. After two full decades of this, even Paul's new wife turns against him and, at what should be a moment of triumph, he is cheated out of everything and sent on his way. This being Neighbours, Paul hangs around outside Lassiter's like a bad smell (beginning to smell badly). Then a young upstart convinces him to stop feeling sorry for himself and fight back. One day Paul and his new young mate are scheming away when a row erupts between them. At this very moment, Paul's wife bursts into the room and... Paul is having a fight with himself. There is no-one else in the room (Fight Club stylee!).
It turns out there is something wrong with Paul's brain and - get this - the doctors believe the switch flipped twenty years ago when Paul was still a nice young man. He has been "acting out of character" for all that time!
Bobby Ewing's one series dream - you are just the s**t on Paul Robinson's shoe.
While Diego is the victim of an accident, Henry Jekyll and The Nutty Professor are the agents of their own transformations. But what if dastardly humans could invade the mind and manipulate someone the way the demons do? In John Frankenheimer's film The Manchurian Candidate, evil Commies use brainwashing to create the perfect sleeper agent, free of conscience and also having no fear of getting caught as they have no foreknowledge of what they're about to do and they are automatons while they do it. Once again, the story is inspired by real life. The term brainwashing was coined in 1950 by a CIA operative who observed mindfuckery conducted on Korean prisoners of war. He noted how the patient had:
"A weird unnatural compunction to go on with a whole train of thought. He was no longer capable of using free will or adapting himself to a situation for which he had been uninstructed"
Here it might be mentioned that a good soldier is made using depersonalising techniques and might be more susceptible to suggestion.
In the brilliant opening scene of The Manchurian Candidate an elderly ladies' Garden Club is attending a talk on hydraengas. But as the camera does a full circle of the room we see this is a hypnotically-induced illusion, and we are in Korea, where a troupe of soldiers are on a stage in front of an audience of their enemies. The speaker demonstrates that it is untrue that a hypnotised person cannot be made to do something that goes against their nature. He does this by getting his patsy Raymond Shaw to kill one of his corporals in cold blood.
The flaw with this plan is that, for it work, the patsy must remain himself (there are still two people in there) until ready, and may have nightmares/ flashbacks in the meantime which will foil your long game plan.
The Manchurian Candidate was remade by Jonathan Demme in 2004. In both films Shaw's relationship with his mother has an Oedipal riff. In the original, Angela Lansbury, though thoroughly convincing as the manic matriarch, is only 3 years older than her co-star. The original movie also features one of the greatest pieces of product placement ever. Raymond's father, a senator, is on a Commie witch hunt saying he knows for a fact the house of representatives is riddled with Communists. Pressed by a telephone interviewer for an exact figure he glances at the bottle of Heinz ketchup on his breakfast table before replying "57".
It was hubris that brought The Borg their first defeat in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Observing that the human instinct to follow a commander was strong, they allowed Picard to remain inside his head simultaneously with his replacement Locutus of Borg. When freed of the Borg influence Picard could use what he had learned while part of the Borg's hive mind to help the Enterprise escape.
Any mindfuckery which leaves the original identity present is problematic. For this kind of thing to work you need a Scoopout.
In Dollhouse people are have their brains wiped clean (their original personalities are stored on what looks like old Atari cartridges). Between missions they are in a child-like state with communal showers and sleeping arrangements. Thus, when needed, the dolls (a depersonalising term makes evil so much easier) can be "imprinted" with whatever traits are required by clients. (Almost always "Love Puppets" naturally; Dollhouse is like a soft porn version of Mr Benn - "How about today you try on this schoolgirl outfit", the shopkeeper suggested). What I like about this show is the way it represents the essence of human nature: if "our betters" thought they could get away with this, they would do it. Things begin to unravel when the main character Echo starts to retain echoes (geddit?) of her previous imprints until the imprinting fails. Her handler, who is supposed to be helping her escape, needs her to spend a wedding night with a gangster and she can remember the whole thing/ is completely aware while she is doing it. Sordid through the roof, yet, thanks to some cracking writing, in the course of the series we manage to be sympathetic to all of the characters, even Adelle the boss and Topher the mindfucker.
The Dollhouse, with its mindless slaves, is run by the Rossum Corporation. The word robot first appeared in a play called Rossum's Universal Robots by Karel Capek in 1920. In the play the robots aren't the metallic machines you might expect in a 1920s play, but mindless humanoid slaves more akin to the replicants of Blade Runner.
A successful self scoopout is the perfect place to hide. In Doctor Who, both The Doctor and The Master use a fob watch to hide their identity from pursuers. The catch is that now they don't even know themselves; The Master, forgetting that he is an evil genius, becomes a do-gooder despite himself. Now that is deep cover. In Total Recall neither we nor Arnie initially know for sure whether his newly acquired memories are real or the result of his trip to Rekall.
Quantum Leap is more like a mind shuntout: Sam Beckett takes over a person's mind for up to a week. But we never hang around to see how the person reacts when they get their own mind back. How must they feel? Where have they been? By and large, these temporal gaps tend to be treated as a narrative inconvenience to be glossed over. A recent film which, unusually, took on this question was Shane Carruth's Upstream Color.
In the final episode of Quantum Leap Sam materialises in a mental hospital patient and is subjected to electric shock therapy. This causes him, like Echo, to remember some of the characters he has been before (although not himself).
"It's the most extraordinary case of multiple personality disorder I've ever seen", remarks his doctor.
During the 20th century, as our understanding of how the brain works developed, efforts to treat the mind have flitted from surgery to electricity to chemistry. We know and have known for millenia we can alter moods/ personalities with drugs. One area where electricity has helped has been in mapping which areas of the brain are primarily responsible for different functions. In the sixties Doctor Jose Delgado famously implanted electrodes into a bull's brain and was able to stun it by remote control.
Obviously, writers seeing this famous clip began speculating about the consequences for humans:
While electrical connections and the chemicals which carry messages help us to understand the brain as an organ, the rise of the computer has compelled us to consider it as an information processing device. If our brain is a knobbly pink computer how about an upgrade? Nowadays, for six million dollars I would expect more than a bionic arm that rattles like a Lada going up a hill chukka-chukka-chukka every time I lift something heavy.
Joe 90 is the man here (See those Victorians, I'm sure their chimney cleaning firms would have approved of Joe's dad working his 9 year old son as a secret agent). He's "the little guy you don't see coming", like Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate. He climbs into the supercool Big Rat and uploads knowledge relevant to his mission. In practical terms this seems like a good idea: take on the extra bits you need right now.
In contrast Chuck has the vast resources of The Intersect (the motherlode of government and military intelligence) stored in his mind - his problem is accessing useful bits when he needs them. And the googly-eyed face he makes when he "flashes" on something looks really uncomfortable.
Despite being all computerywootery, Chuck is the latest telling of the classic story: at first it's a comedy about some douche being the carrier of all the CIA's knowledge but it soon becomes obvious that he's fantastically resourceful and brave - the unlikely champion who, it turns out, is exactly the right guy to have the power (Sword In The Stone stylee).
In the Canadian sci fi show Continuum Rachel Nichols is a cyber-upgraded cop from the future who travels back to the present chasing a gang of terrorists bent on preventing a future they don't believe in. (It's like a parallel projection of Ashes To Ashes: (Now -> Past) becomes (Future -> Now). During the course of the first series she even comes to rely less on her tech and more on her gut and respect the methods of contemporary cops, just like Alex does with Gene Hunt in Ashes To Ashes).
At first she's stranded in 2012 but makes a connection with the computer genius who will invent the tech she is using while it's still in development. Thus we get the archetypal odd couple nerd and tough cop. How odd? He's a teenage boy who, thanks to the miracle of tech, can see through her cyber eyes when she's looking in the mirror while undressing for bed.
The premise of Jekyll and Hyde and the alter ego is pure chalk and cheese, so inevitably it will be embraced by the odd couple buddy story writers.
Airwolf is a cool helicopter and Salvage One is a cool spaceship. But Michael Knight talks to his car. This is a man & motor buddy show. If you don't think this is an equal relationship a la Starsky and Hutch, check out the tv movie Knight Rider 2000. As the story unfolds first Michael's boss Devon appears. Then Michael walks on. And finally, the star, Kitt. Not the whole car, but the glorified GPS with the slightly camp tone.
The nerd/ toughman combination is beautifully done in Person of Interest. At first glance this is a an ultra modern zeitgeisty story about surveillance and paranoia in the post 9/11 environment with futuristic A.I. to boot. In reality it's a fantastic old fashioned adventure programme, reminiscent of sixties tech-savvy shows like The Champions and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. They call their machine The Machine - perhaps a reference to the fact that it's the ultimate machine like when Robert Redford in Sneakers has THE codebreaker. Or maybe it's an acknowledgement that, as cool names for machines go, there's no point trying to compete with The Big Rat.
Funny enough the buddy idea brings us back to the story of Henry Jekyll. In Moffat's version they say they can "cure" him. This necessitates putting him inside a tight fitting metal box, forcing him to permanently stabilise as either Jackman or Hyde. Until they open the box they won't know which has prevailed, which is a nice nod to Schrodinger's Cat. Instead their strongarm tactics turn the hitherto-adversaries into a "two-buddies-in-the-same-head why-can't-we-just-get-along-and-avenge-the-tormentors-of-our-family" story.