A Freudian Psychoanalysis of Mama Mia

Mama Mia perfectly exemplifies the Freudian tripartite psyche.

By Charles Lincoln — Draft version. Not complete.

Image from Wikipedia. I claim no ownership.

Freud’s Psyche

This section is only about Freudian psychoanalysis. If a reader is familiar, the reader may skip this section.

“Sigmund Freud’s Couch.” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no ownership.
“The iceberg metaphor is often used to explain the psyche’s parts in relation to one another.” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no ownership.

1. Ego

In Freud’s The Ego and the Id, he writes that, “[t]he functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that, normally, control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it.” This represents that the ego’s manifestation is that it controls the state of existence of the person. This represents that the ego is a key sort of driver coordinating the focus on the mind. Freud continues, “thus, in its relation to the id, [referring back to the ego] is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego uses borrowed forces,” whereby the ego again takes a type of control whereby he drives the direction of the mind. Specifically, the ego controls the id and tries to hold it back from getting out of control. This likely makes sense, the ego is our rational selves “telling” ourselves not to partake in chaotic tendencies. Indeed, this is a powerful analogy Freud presents and he takes it further by stating, “[o]ften, a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide [it — the horse] where it wants to go; so, in the same way, the ego is in the habit of transforming the id’s will into action, as if it were its own.” Likewise, the rider controlling the horse can not leave the horse — thus, the rider must do something with the horse and is inevitably never directly separated from it.

So much seems clear, and arguably the ego is the most accessible portion of Freud’s paradigm, because one can more consciously relate to it. Indeed, in our waking conscious lives, the ego is generally considered — in Freudian terms to be a more active agent.

Furthermore, Freud’s classical knowledge shines — either consciously or unconsciously — because the image of the horseman guiding a horse also appears in Plato’s theory of the soul. Plato’s theory of the soul frequently appears to parallel the Freudian tripartite conception of the soul.

Specifically in relation to the ego, the logos (λογιστικόν)[1] in the Platonic sense represents the part of the soul that loves knowledge and the search for knowledge.[2] It emphasizes the moral calculation of consequences, as opposed to blind passion.”[3] This idea can be compared to the section in the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus where “Socrates compares the soul to a charioteer who controls two horses — one white and docile, the other black and intemperate. These three figures echo the division of the soul into reason, emotion, and appetite in Book IV of the Republic.”[4] The charioteer is logos keeping control of the two horses.

Likewise, the logos and ego seem to be related — and it is possible Freud even wanted to make this direct analogy without explicitly referring to Plato’s theory.

2. Id

The id is a slightly more difficult concept to fully understand because in Freudian terms, the id is not directly evident to us. It is more closely associated with the unconscious aspects of our psyche.

Freud writes in his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933) that the id “is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the dreamwork, and, of course, the construction of neurotic symptoms and most of that is of a negative character, and can be described only as a contrast to the ego.” Essentially, here Freud is stating that the id is generally inaccessible because it is part of our subconscious. Here, it may make more sense to draw the contrast between the conscious and subconscious; the id more closely associates itself with the subconscious while the ego associates itself with the conscious. Indeed, it may be more accurate to state that the ego is the conscious existence guiding our actions while the id represents unconscious motives we may have.

Freud continues his exposition of the id in his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933) by extrapolating how “[w]e approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. . . . It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.”[5] Indeed, these analogies are helpful because the unconscious dimension of the psyche is difficult to interpret and delineate. Moreover, the id frequently tries to satiate its needs but the cause — or etiology — is difficult to identify. However, the instinctual needs to seek pleasure guide the id through what Freud calls the pleasure principle.

The pleasure principle is a key part in Freudian thought of interpreting the id.[6] However, the reality principle functions as a part of the ego trying to achieve the id’s desires, but in realistic ways.[7] Freud states, that in relation to the id, “an ego thus educated has become ‘reasonable’; it no longer lets itself be governed by the pleasure principle, but obeys the reality principle, which also, at bottom, seeks to obtain pleasure, but pleasure which is assured through taking account of reality, even though it is pleasure postponed and diminished.”[8] In other words, the ego — as educated through social interactions — becomes “reasonable” and can not be governed by the pleasure principle. Thus, the psyche keeps in check the constant demand of the pleasure principle. However, instead of seeking pleasure instantaneously, Freud posits the reality principle itself also seeks pleasure but only in realistic and guided terms.

Further separating the id from the ego, Freud posits that the id “contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other. . . . There is nothing in the id that could be compared with negation . . . nothing in the id which corresponds to the idea of time.”[9] Therefore, the id is difficult to identify, but even if certain impulses are identified, there is likely a contradictory impulse leading to a different result. Moreover, enigmatically, Freud suggests that the id does not correspond to time. This lack of correspondence with time could either mean impulses that were better suited for another time or that the id lacks a conception of tracking regular motions. Arguably the former is a more likely answer whereby impulses can arise without causes or incentives, because it lacks a system of control — which is what the ego does.

Compared to the Platonic paradigm, the is eros. Eros in the Platonic sense represents what Socrates says is “that with which it loves, hungers, thirsts, and feels the flutter and titillation of other desires, the irrational and appetitive — companion of various repletions [sic] and pleasures.”[10] This, too, seems akin to Freud’s conception of the id. Thus, it gives further credence to the theory that the Platonic conception of the soul and Freud’s structure of the psyche run in tandem. Discussion of the parallel nature of the Platonic and Freudian system has occurred previously[11]

3. Super Ego

Finally, the third part of the Freudian paradigm is the super-ego. Freud describes the super-ego at times as almost a societal force reinforcing historical tradition. Freud specifically writes of the moral force of the super ego, “[t]hus a child’s super-ego is in fact constructed on the model not of its parents but of its parents’ super-ego; the contents which fill it are the same and it becomes the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgments of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation.”[12] Here, Freud suggest that children do not gain this type of moral guidance from their parents, but rather from their parents’ super ego. This moral guidance comes from societal traditions that will continue from generation to generation. In a sense, Freud posits a type of conservativism in this sense whereby the super ego constrains activity as a sort of social norm. In this sense, investigating the nature of the super ego is almost an anthropological discourse into the social values of the society and individual in which one resides.

In the Platonic conception of the soul, the Freudian super ego compares most closely with thumos, which represents the “spirit”[13] of unifying with the logos but resisting the erotic part of the soul.[14]

Again, if Freud’s conception of the super-ego is something that is passed down from a person’s parents. Thus, it represents a societal force brought down to an individual level into the psyche.

4. The Freudian Psyche Overall

Essentially, the Freudian psyche overall consists of three parts: the ego, id, and super ego. Each parts represents a key part of the human mind’s psyche for Freud and each part works in conjunction with the other parts and is essential for their healthy functioning. In a sense, a balance must exist between all of three parts.

Likewise, in parallel, the Platonic soul (ψυχή) consists of three parts; the λογιστικόν (logical), the θυμοειδές (thymotic/spirit) and the ἐπιθυμητικόν (appetitive/erotic). Each part represents an integral part to how a human functions. But there must exist a balance between the parts for justice to exist.

Regarding the overall psyche functioning together, Freud wrote, “The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it….” Here Freud means that the ego and id are deeply connected. The id seeks for the pleasure principle of constant immediate pleasure to please it right, then, and there. However, the ego relies on the reality principle that also seeks to fulfil desires, but in a more coordinated way based in realistic outcomes. Freud continues on the repressed — meaning the super ego — by outlining, “the repressed merges into the id as well, and is merely a part of it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression; it can communicate with the ego through the id.” Here, there is a deep connection between the id and super ego. The repressed attempts to suppress the ego, but the ego pushes off the repression of the super ego so that it can communicate with the id but only through he mediating force of the ego.

Such a mediation between the super ego and id could be read as Freud suggesting that the ego wants to meet the desires of the id, but only to the extent that it is allowed to through the societal pressures pushing down on it. That is to say, the ego wishes to meet its desires based on the reality principle by maintaining part of the pleasure principle’s id. This id is constantly trying to be suppressed by the super ego, but in — perhaps an ironic or unexpected way, the ego saves the desires of the id.

Arguably, the best and clearest artistic representation of Freud’s paradigm comes from the philosopher and psychoanalytic social critic Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation from his documentary titled The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema(2009) of the three layers of the house in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie from golden age classic Hollywood cinema, Psycho(1960).[15] Žižek observes that main house in Psycho has three levels. Žižek contends that each level represents a part of the human psyche postulated by Freudian psychoanalysis. In Žižek’s conception, the top floor represents the superego where Norman Bates’ mother resides entirely in the movie; the ground floor represents the Freudian ego where all the normal seeming activity of the movie occurs; and the basement/fruit cellar represents the id; where the mother’s corpse is finally discovered in the film. Žižek describes the id as the reservoir of emotions and chaos. Moreover, in the movie, Bates moves his mother’s corpse from the top floor to the cellar. Žižek suggests this represents a deep connection in Freudian psychoanalysis between the id and superego. Žižek suggests this connection exists because usually the super ego represents a pressing and controlling force on the psyche but often with terms of “obscenity”. Žižek supports this proposition by observing the somewhat “obscene” language the mother uses to command Bates to otherwise.

Thus, arguably, the three levels of the Bates house in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as described by Slavoj Žižek in his documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2009) arguably represents the most accurate depiction of the Freudian paradigm of the psyche in the human mind.

“The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it…. But the repressed merges into the id as well, and is merely a part of it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression; it can communicate with the ego through the id.” (Sigmund Freud, 1923)

[1] Etymologically speaking, The Liddell & Scott’s A Greek-English Lexicon defines the word as,” λογιστικός from λογιστής 1 I.skilled or practised in calculating, Xen., Plat.: — ἡ λογιστική (sc. τέχνη), arithmetic, Plat. II.endued with reason, rational, Arist.: — τὸ λ. the reasoning faculty, Plat. 2.using one’s reason, reasonable, Xen.” Available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0058%3Aentry%3Dlogistiko%2Fs

[2] Republic, 435 e

[3] This can be compare to “Crito 46 B (one of the passages which the Christian apologists used to prove that Socrates knew the λόγος), Theaetetus186 C ἀναλογίσματα πρός τε οὐσίαν καὶ ὠφέλειαν, and Laws 644 D. Aristotle Eth. 1139 a 12 somewhat differently.””

Available at

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0167%3Abook%3D4%3Asection%3D439d

[4] Kenji Yoshino, The City and the Poet, 114 Yale L.J. 1835, 1841–68 (2005).

[5] Sigmund Freud (1933), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. pp. 105–6.

[6]

[7] Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis p. 402–3

[8] Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis p. 402–3

[9] Sigmund Freud (1933), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. pp. 106.

[10] Republic, 439 d

[11] Cf. Plato Robert C. Bordone, Tobias C. Berkman, Sara E. del Nido, The Negotiation Within: The Impact of Internal Conflict over Identity and Role on Across-the-Table Negotiations, 2014 J. Disp. Resol. 175, 180 (2014).

[12] Sigmund Freud (1933), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. pp. 95–96.

[13] This spirit has been described in a

distinctively Platonic sense of θυμόςas the power of noble wrath, which, unless perverted by a bad education, is naturally the ally of the reason, though as mere angry passion it might seem to belong to the irrational part of the soul, and so, as Glaucon suggets, be akin to appetite, with which it is associated in the mortal soul of the Timaeus 69 D. In Laws 731 B-C Plato tells us again that the soul cannot combat injustice without the capacity for righteous indignation. The Stoics affected to deprecate anger always, and the difference remained a theme of controversy between them and the Platonists. Cf. Schmidt, Ethik der Griechen, ii. pp. 321 ff., Seneca, De ira, i. 9, and passim. Moralists are still divided on the point. Cf. Bagehot, Lord Brougham: “Another faculty of Brougham . . . is the faculty of easy anger. The supine placidity of civilization is not favorable to animosity [Bacon’s word for θυμός].” Leslie Stephen, Science of Ethics, pp. 60 ff. and p. 62, seems to contradict Plato: “The supposed conflict between reason and passion is, as I hold, meaningless if it is taken to imply that the reason is a faculty separate from the emotions,” etc. But this is only his metaphysics. On the practical ethical issue he is with Plato.

[14]

Available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0094%3Abook%3D4%3Asection%3D439e

[15] The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (Amoeba Film et al. 2009).

Mama Mia

This beautiful movie is filmed on location on a small Greek island called Skopelos. It is a tiny Greek island in the Aegean Sea in the region of Thessaly. It is surrounded by beautiful blue water on white sand beaches with Mediterranean climate and cedar trees adorning the hills of the island. The church itself is a Greek Orthodox Church set a top of a hill where one can proceed up the hill and walk to the top of the church. Indeed that itself is somewhat of a representation of the Nietzsche an idea of Zarathustra sending them out.

“The Agios Ioannis chapel during filming of the wedding scene for Mamma Mia!.” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no ownership.

The movie itself is on a fictional island but essentially Sophie the main character or one of the main characters is 20 years old and is about to get married. She has two bridesmaids. The two bridesmaids are Ali and Lisa.

But at the same time Sophie invites for three supposed fathers after reading her mothers private diary and finding out that there may indeed be other fathers. Indeed she is unsure about who those fathers are. The three fathers are Sam Carmichael, Bill Anderson, and Terry Bright. Sophie believes that she’ll figure out who her father is on the day of the wedding and that will be the father who walks her down.

“The movie was filmed in the Greek island of Skopelos.” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no ownership.

Meanwhile there is another triad consisting of the mothers two friends that she spent a lot of her youth with.

Ultimately the movie is adorned with wonderful ABBA songs exemplifying the mood and situation occurring in the movie. My personal favorite is dancing queen but I found some interesting Freudian analysis within the other songs.

Application:

As indicated there are three triads. That is to say there are triads of a triad. In the sense one can already make a logical numerological jump to Freudian psychoanalysis. But that itself does not prove any psychoanalytic or Freudian interpretation to the movie.

Each triad seems to represent one of the three parts of the Freudian psyche. I would propose that the main characters each themselves represent the thematic and thymotic motifs.

Sophie, Donna, and Sam are the super ego. They are the spirit driving the plot.

Tanya, Harry, and Lisa represent the ego. It seems that they are the most logical and form fitting of the individuals that can guide the story and continue to provide guidance to the entire story and plot.

Finally, Rosie, Bill, and Ali represent the Id . I’ve everyone in the film they are the ones who are most representative of the erotic elements constituting the Id.

Does each triad has the constituent elements of the Freudian psycho analytic framework but each of the triads themselves represent a spirit or force as well.

What makes this movie absolutely incredible is not just a delightful ABBA songs and the simplistic get complex plot but the wonderful deep analysis and understanding of the human condition. This movie speaks to us not just because it’s filmed in a beautiful setting with an amazing cinematography but that it truly represents the human condition and the trials and tribulations that we pass leading us to that pivotal moment of marriage in life

Because this movie represents the Freudian psycho analytic framework so well, and it does so in a beautiful setting with a magnificent cast, is why this is an incredible movie.

ABBA appeared together with the film’s cast in 2008. (Left to right: Benny Andersson, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Catherine Johnson, Phyllida Lloyd, Judy Craymer, Björn Ulvaeus and Dominic Cooper)” Image and description from Wikipedia. I claim no ownership.

Draft copyrighted by Charles Edward Andrew Lincoln IV ©

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Charles Lincon

Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, Hegelian dialectics, Attic Greek, masters University of Amsterdam.