Arriving at the Eternal Now
Lori Green, January 10, 2018
A recent NPR broadcast featuring the September 2017 release of Dave Eggers’ children’s book Her Right Foot described how, when Eggers visited the Statue of Liberty in 2015, he noticed for the first time that she is not stationary (Hobson, 2017). In fact, she is on the move: a woman striding boldly out toward the sea. While Eggers’ intentions are to highlight the importance of immigrants for his young audience, the depth psychological connection can nevertheless be made that one of America’s most celebrated icons is walking toward an image of the unconscious itself: Oceania. The “oceanic” group was identified by Osmond, Siegler, and Smoke (1977) as that category of the Jungian types comprised of intuitive feeling (NF). Oceanics not only “experience life as a seamless whole,” they “may invest any activity, no matter how alien, with psychic energy if it becomes personally important” (p. 211). Thus, the possibility exists that Lady Liberty is leading the charge to relate meaningfully with the unconscious, the unknown, the misunderstood. The 2016 film Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, provides a visual corollary to Eggers’ image of motion within stillness and its relationship to the Einsteinian time-space continuum. As a character study of the INFJ type, it reveals the unique dynamic between introverted intuition and time. More importantly, the film is arguably an example of INFJ art itself, providing a window into the awakening INFJ nature essential to the culture’s efforts to address power imbalances and welcome a new consciousness toward that which is deemed “other.” Indeed, one need look no farther than the multitude of media platforms to witness daily conflicts among genders, sexualities, religions, races, and cultures splashed in vivid, dysfunctional detail. Engaging Beebe’s eight-process model of type, the viewer can glimpse the rare INFJ in action, illuminating an alternative and effective sensibility for dealing with difference—one that sees with the eyes of wholeness and inclusion, a perspective capable of both nuance and paradox, a mode of perception and relating that honors the archetypal core. Louise Banks, the protagonist in Arrival, portrays an INFJ in the heat of conflict, and her overriding impulse is, like Lady Liberty, to strike out for new territory, to connect with the unconscious and harmonize with its wisdom.
Banks (played by Amy Adams) is a premier linguist enlisted by the military to help decipher communications from one of twelve extraterrestrial craft that have appeared across the globe. Archetypally speaking, “Banks” can be viewed as a threshold name. She not only lives on the shores of a lake but also willingly and expertly engages with the bounds and banks of consciousness itself. Thus, in quiet mystery, the visionary nature of the INFJ beckons. This enigmatic type, uniquely poised to pierce the hidden veils, to commune and communicate with the unknown, hastens on toward the numinous potential that type development ultimately holds: the “fifth essence.” In the words of von Franz (1971/2006):
Then comes the fifth essence, which is not another additional element, but is, so to speak, the essence of all four and yet none of the four; it is the four in one. To the four comes a fifth thing which is not the four but is something beyond them and consists of them all. That is what the alchemists called the fifth essence, the quintessentia or the philosopher’s stone. It means a consolidated nucleus of the personality which is no longer identified with any of the functions. This is a stepping out, so to speak, of identification with one’s own consciousness and with one’s own unconscious, and dwelling, or trying to dwell, on this middle plane. From then on …one moves without movement, runs without running (currens sine cursu, movens sine motu). (pp. 78-79)
Tracking the character of Banks, Arrival illustrates such a phenomenon, giving life to a new space-time sensibility. This paradigm shift ultimately requires humans to become active participants in an awakening consciousness, a frontier courageously navigated by the INFJ nature.
A Singular Woman
While all types have access to intuition and the realms of the unconscious, the INFJ orientation is well-suited for penetrating and fathoming cosmic, archetypal mystery. Banks’ INFJ disposition is more naturally at home in the unpredictable. Haas & Hunziker (2014) described the introverted intuitive as “the keeper of the so-called sixth sense” adding that “unexplainable information can take the form of hunches, clairvoyance, abstract intuition, and messages from the unconscious” (p. 64). Arrival opens upon a lake house at sunset. Banks’ voice begins in narration: “Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time; by its order. Maybe there’s a higher order” (Heisserer, 2015, p. 2). Immediately, the audience is put on notice that the governing laws of the universe, time among them, will be called into question, and Banks will prove the one capable of navigating this uncharted terrain. Banks readily leads with introverted intuition (Ni), in Beebe’s terminology her hero position, and this strength will serve her time and again.
Banks’ life is then viewed as a series of present, past, and ultimately future moments through which her auxiliary function of extraverted feeling (Fe) is revealed. She has a lover (perhaps her husband) and a daughter, who is shown at various stages of growth, connecting deeply and lovingly with her mother. For an INFJ, extraverted feeling is in the second position, in Beebe’s model the archetypal good parent. Extraverted feeling in the parent position “often naturally focuses on how to care for the feelings of others” and “can manage relationships in a nurturing way without being obvious or overt” (Shumate, 2017, p. 126). Indeed, Banks displays a quiet naturalness with her daughter, neither withholding nor infringing. Banks then appears to lose her daughter to an incurable illness and is grief-stricken. While she continues teaching linguistics at the college level, her sadness is palpable, though she does not appear to have completely shut down emotionally. Her dominant introverted intuition (Ni) quite possibly lends her a greater capacity to bear such an emotional trauma. Of Ni types, Haas and Hunziker (2014) noted “an understanding that all things are interrelated in ways that are often intangible and perhaps even unknowable” (p. 68). Because Banks readily grasps underlying connections and meanings, including unconscious material, she is more at home in circumstances larger than herself, death included. While her emotion may still be raw, she perseveres in navigating this new sea she has been plunged into, a harbinger of another otherworldly immersion Banks is about to face.
The main character is a professor of linguistics—a leader in her field, if not the leader. In an INFJ typology, introverted thinking (Ti) falls in the third position, that of the eternal child in Beebe’s model. While this archetype is characterized by a sense of play and improvisation, Banks clearly takes her work very seriously, and Shumate (2017) noted the “appreciat[ion] [for] linguistic precision” in this pattern (p. 114). Nevertheless, the Ti in this important tertiary slot lends a sense of newness and curiosity that serves Banks in the role of researcher and social scientist; the eternal child present in Banks’ work opens her to new potentialities. It is quite possible that Banks’ devotion to her work serves as an anchor, for the auxiliary and tertiary positions help one meet the ultimate demands of the inferior function, the function that “particularly resists integration into consciousness” (Sharp, 1987, p. 21). Von Franz (1971/2006) explained, “When one has to move from intuition to sensation one can still use the thinking function as a judge, and when intuition and sensation fight he can detach himself from the fight by thinking” (p. 23).
Banks quickly learns that her heroic Ni will not be sufficient on its own to deal with the mounting tensions. Truly, she is on a collision course with the inferior function whether she is ready or not. As alien spacecraft land in various locales across the globe, public panic ensues, and the television news broadcasts a growing military response. Banks’ reaction, though sober, is also colored by curiosity. Returning to work amidst the ongoing crisis, she finds the campus deserted. Alone in her office, Banks is unexpectedly interrupted by Colonel Weber, someone with whom she worked indirectly on an insurgent translation two years prior. She bristles at the memory of the military action taken but learns that Col. Weber is again enlisting her translation help, this time regarding the alien communication. Weber clarifies he is also reaching out to Banks’ linguistic rival at Berkeley. While we do not learn a lot about Col. Weber’s type, it is safe to assume he possesses a healthy command of his extraverted thinking (Te) capabilities, which can be experienced as a take-charge attitude. Te for Banks is expressed in her trickster archetype, which often presents in mischievous ways.
This certainly proves the case, as Banks uses her trickster in service to her own cause. As she sets terms with Col. Weber, she challenges him to ask the rival linguist what the Sanskrit word for “war” is, as well as its translation; Col. Weber replies “Gavisti” in response to Banks’ test, adding that her rival said it means “argument.” Knowingly, she counters with the correct meaning: “a desire for more cows” (Heisserer, 2015, p. 16-17). Her rival has fallen into the trap she had set, revealing his limitations as a linguist, and Banks has sealed her position on the team. Shumate (2017) noted that one with Te in the trickster position “can learn to trick others into doing one’s will by subterfuge” (p. 120). Similarly, regarding interactions with extraverted thinking in others, Shumate (2017) added that an INFJ “may view them as aggressive bullies or mindless bureaucrats” (p. 120). Banks will often experience the military mindset at large in this fashion. Haas & Hunziker (2014) said that introverted intuitives “[have] little regard for authority [and] they decide for themselves whether or not rules and regulations make sense and should be followed” (p. 67). Banks is not easily rattled or pressured. In many ways, the film arguably juxtaposes the INFJ with the more culturally common extraverted thinking displayed by the American military.
In addition to engaging her trickster, Banks is quickly challenged with facing her inferior function, extraverted sensing (Se), which “moves freely through the physical environment seeking sensory stimuli to understand and interact with the world” (Shumate, 2017, p. 102). By way of illustration, Banks is now paired with Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner), the theoretical physicist she will be working with in “the shell,” the name for the UFO. Almost immediately, Banks and Donnelly become spirited, though good-natured rivals. A strong case can be made for Donnelly’s typology as an ESTP, an extraverted sensing type with introverted thinking represented emphatically in his second position. In this case, Banks’ dominant Ni is mirrored in Donnelly’s inferior positon and Donnelly’s superior Se is reflected back in Banks’ inferior position. The film is swiftly taking us into the rich domain of the gifts of the inferior function, and Banks and Donnelly suddenly find themselves at the very threshold of consciousness. In the words of von Franz (1971/2006), “To be crucified between the superior and the inferior functions is vitally important” (p. 46). Alarmingly, their ability to integrate the unknown at this level will contribute to their ultimate success or failure. Time is of the essence, and the inferior function’s likely resistance to assimilation will prove daunting.
Embracing the Inferior
Jung (1921/1971) illustrated a link between Ni and Se that can be applied to the dynamic between Banks and Donnelly, respectively. He remarked that “introverted intuition perceives all the background processes of consciousness with almost the same distinctness as extraverted sensation registers external objects. For intuition, therefore, unconscious images acquire the dignity of things” (CW 6, ¶ 657). This distinction is alive in the ways Banks and Donnelly each experience their first encounter with the shell and the “heptapods,” the name given to the octopus-like creatures they meet. Banks, though overall supple in her responses to unknown experiences, is nevertheless thrust into her inferior function—what von Franz (1971/2006) refers to as the “ridiculous and unadapted part, but also that part which builds up the connection with the unconscious and therefore holds the secret key to the unconscious totality of the person” (p. 10). In experiencing the sheer physicality of the initial extraterrestrial meeting—having to don a hazmat suit and helmet, reeling as the rules of gravity change and manipulate her body, and absorbing the shock of the immense aliens behind a foggy barrier—Banks’ labored breathing is indicative of her discomfort. Shumate (2017) indicated that types with inferior Se “may become easily disoriented in a new environment [and] can experience heightened sensitivity to visual images” (p. 103). By contrast, Donnelly, with Se as his superior function, is like a kid at an amusement park: engaged, curious, agile, and quick to react. He enjoys the experience, leaping with abandon through the strange and potentially frightening gravitational field. Of the Se dominant, Haas & Hunziker (2014) stated, “[He] needs the immediate sensation of an external object, person, or event in order to have an experience. There is no experience without active involvement through one or more of the senses” (p. 34). Donnelly, inundated with sensory novelty, is keen to partake of this alien world.
But the psychological tables quickly turn when Banks and Donnelly return to basecamp. She begins to gather her bearings, already tracking the all-important unconscious meaning behind the images she just witnessed, and he vomits, revealing his overload at something beyond the five senses. As Shumate (2017) said of persons with Ni in the inferior, they “can have superstitious or irrational fear reactions to a mere image” (p. 107). Fortunately, Banks and Donnelly can each reorient themselves by engaging their auxiliary functions of Fe and Ti, respectively, to bridge the superior and inferior positions. For example, Banks’ Fe enjoys her growing friendship with Donnelly, teasing him and actively listening to and expanding on his developing theories, while Donnelly’s Ti gains energy from his quickening comprehension of the heptapods’ visual matrix. In these moments of mounting crisis, Banks’ empathetic connection with humanity is on full display. She had seen the insurgents as human beings, worthy of respect—an attitude that will carry forward into her dealings with the extraterrestrials.
Navigating the inferior function with increasing skill aids Banks and Donnelly not only in establishing communication with the heptapods but also with the unconscious itself, illustrating von Franz’s (1971/2006) observation:
In the realm of the inferior function there is a great concentration of life, so that as soon as the superior function is worn out—begins to rattle and lose oil like an old car—if people succeed in turning to their inferior function they will rediscover a new potential of life. Everything in the realm of the inferior function becomes exciting, dramatic, full of positive and negative possibilities. There is tremendous tension and the world is, as it were, rediscovered through the inferior function. (p.15)
On a level deeper than her type’s resistance to Se, Banks’ experience of her daughter’s death—holding her in the bed, caressing her bald head, cradling her lifeless body—utterly overpowered her. Von Franz (1971/2006) added that “an introvert who wants to assimilate his inferior function must relate to outer objects, bearing in mind that they are symbolic” (p. 11). As Banks probes her Se, relating to and deciphering the language of Abbott and Costello (as she and Donnelly now refer to the heptapods), connecting with them from her humanity and feeling, she is also led into the painful territory of memories of losing her daughter. In type terms, this shift can be viewed as moving from Se to Si, from Banks’ inferior function to the archetypal depths of the demonic, Beebe’s eighth position. And yet, the embrace of the inferior is also helping her form a symbolic image for the death, thus releasing Banks not only into her own healing, but also augmenting her ability to save the world. This image begins to knit together in the tapestries of time that are spinning about in her mind, much like the new, cyclical language she is assimilating. Her acceptance arrives in the paradoxical knowing that even though she comprehends that she will experience losing her daughter again, she will without hesitation choose the wonder of “once again” knowing her. As Hillman (1992) clarified, engaging in imaginal, mythical ways is a fruitful process unto itself:
We hover in puzzlement at the border where the true depths are. Rather than an increase of certainty there is a spread of mystery, which is both the precondition and the consequence of revelation. Therefore the more clearly I see the myth that is taking place in the events I am psychologizing, the more mysterious and enigmatic they become, even as they become more and more revealed. (pp. 142-143)
As Banks penetrates the mysteries and gifts of her inferior function, psychological healing is taking place: she is coming to terms with the mythopoetic facets of death itself. Abbott and Costello guide her toward the ultimate gift of her awakening, a renaissance of conscious participation in a timeless universe. This alchemical coalescence of Ni, Se, and Si, the heroic, inferior, and demonic, is creating something larger than the sum of its parts—a profound revelation.
INFJ: Gateway to the Universal
Banks’ finesse with introverted intuition takes the lead again as she finds herself slipping into the language, the very thinking patterns, of the heptapods. She discovers that their communication and processing is circular, not linear. Haas & Hunziker’s (2014) descriptors of the Ni types effectively reflect Banks’ immersion: one who “seeks to understand the entire ‘dance of the universe,’ and [one who] can intentionally access the process only by creating certain conditions and letting it happen” (pp. 64-65). Banks’ experience of the cyclical, symbolic language begins to bend and test the concept of time as a fixed reality. Pressed by the military and bureaucracy to get answers now, Banks ultimately asks Abbott and Costello, “What is your purpose on earth?” This question unleashes a chain reaction of heart-stopping moves and counter-moves, interpretations and misinterpretations that require Banks to ultimately surrender to her visions newly unbound by time. In this way, she is able to see into possible futures and intuit what steps she must take to prevent catastrophe. At this crucial point in the story and in Banks’ interiority, again the demonic/daimonic comes to bear. This archetype can both undermine and bring redemption. When introverted sensation occupies this lowest position, Shumate (2017) noted, one “can experience a memory that has the aspect of divine revelation” and “may be transported out of self to another time” (p.101). Indeed, past, present, and future all collide in Banks’ reality at this point. Her consciousness is merging with another consciousness altogether, and she is able to make wise and life-saving choices with the guidance of this wisdom from beyond. This is the astonishing gift the aliens bring: a radical new way of seeing outside the dimension of time and space.
Endings …and Beginnings…
What are the greater implications for us all? Arrival offers its audience an opportunity to engage with a relatively rare pattern of psychological functions given life in the character of Banks. It reveals a roadmap for engaging with the “other,” be it another gender, sexuality, religion, race, culture, or the unexplored dimensions of one’s unconscious. Such engagement is easier said than done. But ignoring the “other” is no longer a viable option either. In discussing the terrible challenge of living or not living with the fourth, inferior function, von Franz (1971/2006) wrote:
So what does one do? At that moment this alchemical recipe comes into place: namely, the effort to deal with the fourth function by putting it into a spherical vessel, by giving it the possibility of a fantasy expression, whether in writing or painting or dancing or in any other form of active imagination. Jung found that active imagination was practically the only means for dealing with the fourth function. (p. 77)
There are options, particularly of the artistic and ritualistic nature. Thus, the process for relating to one’s inner unknowns can extend to relating to differences and resistance in the external world. Engaging with the shadow aspects of conflict via works of creativity is an alternative to hurling epithets and inciting war.
Clearly, the film as a whole can be argued as visionary in nature and an example of INFJ art itself. For some, the present chaos is too much to bear. For others, this extraordinary moment of interpersonal, environmental, and global urgency is summoning the bold to act, to hold, to tend to interiority, that vast frontier so well-traveled by the INFJ, as a means of cradling the soul of the world. It is possible to touch the alchemical essence, to ritually understand the fifth and transcendent function, the function that shimmers in magic and wonder. Demons can become daimons.Visionaries of the past have pointed the way, artistically inspiring the future into vibrant manifestation. The cosmic longing, the call of the unconscious, can not only be invoked, but felt. Rilke (as cited in Polikoff, 2011, p. 476) poignantly described the genius of relating to the unknowable:
which, cosmic and earthly like a meteor
collects heaviness solely from the sum,
of its flight, weighing nothing but arrival.
May those with the propensity to engage the unconscious be blessed in their creative and humane endeavors for relating to the numinous image.
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