Film Review: ‘Matter of Heart’

Matter of Heart is a wonderfully deep and compelling portrait of the psychiatrist and founder of Analytical Psychology, Carl Gustav Jung.  His genius was extraordinary and manifested itself in the quality of his original thought, as well as his ability to break through conventional boundaries and redefine how we view the essential nature of humanity and how this functions at an individual and collective level. Although Jung was medically trained, he was eclectic in his interests and embraced diverse disciplines including anthropology, theology sociology and philosophy in order to formulate and test his landmark theories.

Matter of Heart is true to Jung’s method by being equally eclectic in how it pieces together the fragments of Jung’s professional and personal life in order to paint a full and lively portrait of a complex and genial man. More than a simple biography, the film presents a rounded perspective on this healer, friend and mentor, through the interweaving of rare home movies, extensive archival footage, and a wealth of interviews with colleagues, relatives and friends.  Many of his contemporaries, such as Sir Laurens van der Post, Marie-Louise von Franz, and Joseph Henderson share their own unique insights into Jung’s theory, whilst also commenting on his personality and modes of thinking.

There is much elucidation and discussion of Jung’s theoretical framework and the film touches on issues such as the psychology of individuation, transference, archetype, psychological types, anima and animus, consciousness and unconsciousness, the ‘shadow’, personal and collective evil and the collective sub-conscious. Jung’s assertion that he greatest danger to the world is Man, and that we know nothing of the power of the psyche, is made wonderfully in the film.

Interestingly, Jung’s espousal of the importance and functioning of myth and the God Image within each individual is explained by his colleagues, and also in parts of the film by Jung himself.  It has always intrigued me that, in his writings and interviews, Jung called for a return to the sacred and viewed it as of critical importance for well-being of the individual and collective psyche and obtaining a fuller understanding of it.  That said, Jung was ambivalent towards creeds, although he was frustrated that theologians, priests and ministers did not engage with him to any meaningful degree on the crucial issues of belief and faith during his lifetime.  Nevertheless, I personally find Jung’s insight into religion to be illuminating, even although it is deficient in many respects; no doubt an in-depth dialogue with academic theologians would have helped him to formulate a more fulsome theoretical and empirical framework.

Matter of Heart is a rare documentary that does justice to the multifaceted nature of Jung’s personality, including his infidelities, as well as drawing attention to, and exploring in some depth, the main strands of his thought.  It may have been released in 1985, but this documentary is as timeless as it is thorough, and as such, it comes highly recommended to anyone who is interested in understanding Jung and his contribution to modern psychology and psychiatry. It is a fitting testament to what Jung himself said in 1946:

Biographies should show people

in their undershirts.

Goethe had his weaknesses,

and Calvin was often cruel.

Considerations of this kind reveal

the true greatness of a man.

This way of looking at things is better

than false hero worship!

You can watch the whole film here:

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