Monday, December 25, 2006

ITB at the Movies: Understanding Bridget Jones With Imago Theory

A few days ago I had the chance to see again the delightful romantic comedy “Bridget Jones Diary”. This is the story of a single British woman in her early thirties, struggling with life, and especially with the daunting task of finding a partner. More details can be found here, and if you have not yet seen it you can buy it here or rent it. I think it is unquestionably worthwhile if you are into this genre. In any case, this post is definitely a spoiler so do not read it before you have seen the movie.

The Experiment
In this post I would like to get just a little bit into the underlying psychology of this movie. I will attempt to do so by using two small parts from the Imago Theory, which I have explained in a previous post, and will review again here. My only reservation is that I am not at all sure that analyzing the movie without the benefit of the theory in its entirety will be interesting or worthwhile. Still, I do want to put in my two cents about this lovely movie.
I am guessing that this post will interesting to devoted fans of the movie, Imago theory and anyone else who is interested in understanding relationships between the sexes.

What is Imago Theory
I have not yet had a chance to give a thorough explanation of this remarkable theory, and I am not going to do so now. I will rely on the explanation I gave in a previous post titled “Finding The Love You Need And Keeping It – Starters Guide For Singles”, which I will repeat, in short, here.

Imago theory states that we are born with a natural, free-flowing connection to the world, with a natural path of growth that, if followed, will enable us to be complete, fulfilled human beings. According to the theory there are several known stages of growth, which, if overcome correctly, enable us to proceed to the next stage of development with the necessary knowledge and skills (both emotional and physical).If our primary caregivers do not enable us to follow this natural path – then we become wounded.
A wound occurs every time our caregivers were consistently inattentive to our needs or incorrectly so. (Actually – this is an excellent definition of a toxic parent. I talked a little about this kind of parent in this post about the Billy Elliot movie. In short - this is a parent who uses his or her children in order to satisfy his or her own emotional and/or physical needs – a common occurrence in this movie.)
There are two basically different responses to the wounds we incur during growing up, and they form two distinct personalities – the Maximizer and the Minimizer.

The Minimizer is characterized by the following traits and behaviors:Denies his own needs, denies his dependence, stifles and limits his feelings, has clearly defined, rigid personal boundaries, keeps people away from his territory, self-centered and self-directing, thinks and acts in an obsessive manner, reveals precious little of his inner world, tries to control others.

The Maximizer” is characterized by the following traits and behaviors:Expresses her (or his) feelings to the world, exaggerates her feelings, tends to be dependent on others, obsessively open and subjective, lets other people into her private space, clings to others, too generous, personal boundaries are undefined, focused on the outer world, asks others to direct her, unsure of herself, focuses on others, acts on impulse, usually surrenders to others, and manipulates them.(These lists were taken from the Imago guide for singles.)

According to the theory, we desperately seek to heal our wounds, and to do so we must find the person who has the same wounds, but the opposite defense. That is why a maximizer will invariably be attracted to a minimizer, and that is why , in general, we will be attracted to our opposites, all this depending on the amount and severity of our wounds. The worse they are, the closer our personality will be to the prototype personality (either Maximizer or Minimizer), and therefore the partner we need to heal us will be that much more on the opposite extreme of this scale of personalities.. Such a couple has a long road ahead of them since they have many wounds to overcome.

Areas of Life
Imago theory divides life into four areas – sensing, feeling, doing and thinking.
Sensing includes everything connected to our senses – touching, hearing, seeing, tasting, and smelling. Our ability to engage in each of these sensing activities – eating, making love, feeling the breeze on our skin and the sunshine on our faces- may have been diminished because of childhood wounds.
Feeling
includes our ability to feel the whole range of emotions, to accurately discern our own emotions when they occur, and express them appropriately, and also the ability to empathize with other people, and make them feel that we identify with them.
Doing
includes all the activities that involve, well, doing things in the world – from housework to building houses, from driving a car to applying make-up. Most of our lives are dedicated to doing things, and usually if we are not doing we are thinking.
Thinking
includes the ability to calculate, to plan, to imagine, to understand and articulate abstractions, and also the ability (or disability) to engage in conversations with ourselves, inside our heads.

Question That Can be Answered With Imago Theory
Armed with these theoretical tools and concepts we can now view the movie in a different light. We can ask ourselves – are the characters wounded? In what areas of life? Which characters will be attracted to whom and why? What personality types are they? I think the answers to these question and others, can be interesting, since, as we know, art mirrors life, and such a method of analysis can be applied to ourselves and to our relationships in real life.

Analyzing Bridget Jones Diary with Imago Theory
The story revolves around three main characters: Bridget Jones herself, her boss Daniel Cleaver, and a childhood acquaintance Mark D’arcy. Bridget’s parents also are important and merit discussion.

Bridget Jones:
Can there any doubt that this woman is a maximizer? She expresses herself freely, and on all occasions, she has marvelous mood swings, meaning that she “exggerates her feelings”, she has no sense of her own boundaries, and lets other people step in and out of her own private space at will, a trait used and abused by her boss, and by her “uncle”, who keeps grabbing her bottom every chance he gets. She is extremely open with others, impulsive and spontaneous to a fault, and like all maximizers she will cling to anyone who shows the slightest sign of interest in her, like her rascal of a boss, asking him after two days of dating if other people will notice that something is going on between them, a premise that he immediately denies – being himself an avoider.(these terms mean exactly what they say, but for further clarification I suggest, again, reading the original post on Imago theory for singles).
If Bridget Jones is readily identifiable as a Maximizer this means that she has been severely wounded in her childhood, so that we may wonder in what areas of life has she been wounded?
Sensing: well, we do not have much to go on here. Still, she obviously enjoys “shagging” and if we are to believe her boss, she is also very good at it. She has a lot of problems with eating though, alternating eating binges with strict, puritan diets. If the purpose of eating is to satisfy our bodies needs, and gain some sensual pleasure while doing so – Bridget Jones gets neither. Like many other lovers before her, when the affair begins her senses open to the world and she takes it all in with the wonderment of a child – but before and after she seems oblivious to her surroundings – meaning that like most of the people in her culture her senses are almost shut down most of the time, basically operating at a very low level.
Feeling: Well, Bridget Jones has feelings - she acknowledges them and expresses them freely. However she can get caught up in them, especially when those feelings concern her relationships with the opposite sex. Then they simply take over her life – she can waste hours in useless speculation about her feelings, and his and whether he loves her or not and what their future together may be like and so on.
Doing: we have numerous examples during the movie that show us how awful Bridget is at doing things – starting from the awkward scene in the press conference for the new book in which Bridget, forgetting that a micropohone has a switch proceed to shout: (screen play as always from the inexhaustible Drew's Script-O-Rama)

“Welcome to the launch of "Kafka's Motorbike"... "The Greatest Book of Our Time." [Mild applause] Obviously except for your books, Mr. Rushdie... which are also very good. And Lord Archer... yours aren't bad, either. [Clears throat]Anyway... uh, what I mean is, uh... welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to the launch of... one of the top thirty books of our time.”

Her first interview at the fire department, the missed interview with a Kurdish freedom fighter, and, of course, Bridget (mis)cooking a birthday dinner party for herself and her guests consisting of blue string soup, an omelet made by her new barrister boyfriend (that’s “lawyer for you americanos), something green and mean looking and a sticky, over-cooked marmalade. Hardly the ideal housewife!

Thinking:
Bridget is also not very good at thinking. She displays her ignorance of worldly affairs and lack of general knowledge on several occasions – at the aforementioned press conference when she is asked her opinion about a theory of the novella she has to bail out by asking where the “loo” is (that’s British for toilet), when she goes job searching as a news reporter:
Interviewer: “What do you think of the EI Nino phenomenon?
BRIDGET: Um...it's a blip. I think, basically, Latin music is on its way out.

When she is sent to interview the Kurdish freedom fighter:
Boss: “OK, Bridget, see if you can get it right this time. The verdict in the Aghani-Heaney case is expected today. Get yourself down to the high court. I want a hardheaded interview. You do know the Aghani-Heaney case?”
Bridget: “Yes, of course. Big case... featuring someone called Aghanihini.”
Boss: “Or two people called Kafir Aghani and Eleanor Heaney.”
Bridget: “ That's the one.”
Boss: “ She's a British aid worker. He's a Kurdish freedom fighter. The government wants to extradite him home... where he'll certainly be executed. She's married to him... and they fought for five years to keep him here. Today is the decision.
Bridget: “Oh, that's exciting!”
Boss: “ Yes, it is... so what are you waiting for?”

And so on and so on throughout the movie.

Summary of Bridget Jones Character: Personality Type and Potential Mate
Bridget is an obvious maximizer, and is very close to the ideal type of maximizer, meaning that she has been severely wounded by her caretakers – which we will meet shortly. These wounds are apparent in every area of life. She is characterized by her ability to express herself spontaneously with little inhibition, however even this trait is marred by her inability to choose when to express herself and in what way.
She seems sensuous although we are lacking information in that respect. Her abilities in the areas of doing and thinking are severely limited. To her credit she makes a conscious effort to improve in these areas throughout the movie – and that is what makes this story so interesting.
Although Bridget is clearly wounded in all areas, we can point out that she seems, relative to herself, and to the culture she lives in, much more adept at feeling than at doing and thinking. Since the script does not go out of it’s way to show us deficiencies in sensing, I will assume that, like most woman in Western culture she is less wounded in that area than in the areas of doing and thinking.
What this means is that she will be attracted to a minimizer who will be, like her, wounded in all areas but still clearly adept in the areas of thinking and doing, and just as bad at feeling as Bridget is in doing and thinking.
The first man she is attracted to is her boss Daniel Cleaver, and we shall now see if he indeed fits the bill or not, and in what ways.

Daniel Cleaver
Daniel is the boss of Bridget’s section and seems to be pretty high up in the hierarchy of the publishing house for which they both labor. He works in a raised, closed glass cubicle, overlooking his charges. This in itself implies that he is a proficient Doer and Thinker. Indeed, one of the first scenes in the movies has him embarrassing Bridget, using his knowledge in literature, and her lack of it:
(Bridget is in the office talking on the phone with her sobbing friend Jude)
Jude: Am I codependent?
Bridget: “No, you're not. It's not you. You're lovely. It's Vile Richard. Ugh. He's just a big knob head with no knob (Daniel approaches her desk)... Is some people's opinion of Kafka... but they couldn't be more wrong. This book is a searing vision... of the wounds our century has inflicted on-- on traditional masculinity. It's positively Vonnegut-esque. Thank you for calling, Professor Leavis.(puts down phone and says to Daniel): “ Guest list for launch party.”
Daniel: “Ah. Was that...F.R. Leavis?
Bridget: “Mm-hmm.”
DANIEL: Wow. Huh. The F.R. Leavis... who wrote "Mass Civilization and Minority Culture"?
Bridget: Mm-hmm.
Daniel: “ The F.R. Leavis who died in 1978? Amazing.”


Daniel seems very independent and extremely self-centered, concerned with his fellow man or woman only to the extent that they serve his needs at the moment. He is not one to reveal his emotions or the workings of his inner life, and in all probability, has no idea himself what is actually going on inside him. In any case, he certainly does not reveal anything of the sort throughout the movie. For instance while Bridget gushes about their new relationship, asking him what will they do when they get back to the office and what will people think – Daniel plays it down reminding her that’s only been two days and when she asks him if he loves her he tries to evade the question. All in all he answers nearly all the criteria of a Maximalist at least as far as the script allows us to know.

Feeling – Daniel rarely discusses his feelings, and if he does so it is usually because he is prompted to do so by Bridget, in which case he states them in a very concise, emotionless manner, which to me at least, seems very insincere. On the other hand he is funny, spontaneous, and playful, especially, it seems, with women. Daniel is capable of expressing himself very well as long as the relationship is superficial. This enables him to create and have very good inter-personal relationships with other people (well, except for the women he’s dumped, and the men who’s wife he’s “shagged”…).
Sensing – Daniel is very sensuous. He enjoys gratifying the senses, especially sexually, as witnessed by his endless exploits, but also aesthetically - he is always dressed sharply, his car is beautiful, he himself is beautiful, and so are the woman he picks up. Daniel always does things in style.
Doing and Thinking – as we mentioned previously, Daniel is a Doer and Thinker a fact attested to by his high position in the publishing company. He is worldly and knowledgeable and shows this on various occasions. In fact it seems that the only thing that Daniel cannot do successfully is to be honest with himself, and with the women in his life, and, chiefly – commit to one woman.

Summary of Daniel Cleaver’s Character: Personality Type and Potential Mate
Daniel Cleaver is a Minimizer, and as far we can tell he is proficient in the areas of doing, thinking and sensing, but lacking in the area of feeling.
As a minimizer he will need a maximalist as a life partner who is strong in the area of feeling while being weak in all the other areas of doing, thinking and sensing. The most important capability that Daniel lacks – sincerity and honesty will have to be supplied abundantly by his future partner. In this respect Bridget Jones does fit the bill, since she is honest to a fault. However her ability to be just as sensual as Daniel, and Daniels ability to be spontaneous and playful indicate that this is far from a perfect fit.
On the other side of this match, Daniel does have some ability in the area of feeling, so perhaps he is not as wounded in this area as Bridget is in the areas of doing and thinking and therefore not a perfect fit for her. In other words – the two do not need each other enough. That leaves us with one other possibility: Marc D’arcy.
Finally, Daniels biggest problem is his inability to stand any kind of intimacy with his fellow man, or with himself. He is charming, witty, and sexy – a regular Don Juan, and like most men of this type, incapable of spiritual growth. This behavior pattern is attractive when a man is young, but Daniel is fast approaching an age where his easygoing, superficial romantic escapades produce not admiration but pity. His inability to grow ultimately denies him the companionship of Bridget Jones.

Mark D’arcy
Mark is a successful lawyer. He is handsome, and pompous, and dignified. He always does what is expected of a man in his position, never a hair or word out of place. In short – he is dead from the head down. He definitely “stifles and limits his feelings”, and his stiff, rigid demeanor is a clear indicator that he is a fierce defender of his territory. He seems to be a typical minimizer.
Feeling – If Mark has feelings he does his best to hide them. He is so used to not expressing his feelings that when he finally desires to do so, he falters, and the experienced lawyer becomes strangely tongue-tied:
Bridget: “That'll be my taxi. “
Mark: “Good night. Look, um... I'm sorry if I've been...
Bridget, impatiently: “What?”
Mark: “I don't think you're an idiot at all. I mean, there are elements of the ridiculous about you. Your mother's pretty interesting. And you really are... an appallingly bad public speaker. And you tend to let whatever's in your head... come out of your mouth... without much consideration of the consequences. I realize that when I met you at the turkey curry buffet... that I was unforgivably rude and wearing a reindeer jumper... that my mother had given me the day before. But the thing is, um... what I'm trying to say very inarticulately is... that, um... in fact... perhaps, despite appearances... I like you very much. Ah…
Bridget: “Apart from the smoking and the drinking... and the vulgar mother and the verbal diarrhea.”
Mark: “No. I like you very much-- just as you are.”

Sensing – The text does not supply us with much evidence concerning Mark’s use of the senses. He dresses like a lawyer is supposed to, so that does not tell us much. He does have sex eventually with Bridget but we are not exactly informed of the proceedings so it is difficult to draw conclusions from this.other than that he seems concerned mainly with his job, and does not seem to notice much else ,except, obviously Bridget. Until then his senses seem to me to be asleep.
Doing – Mark seems to be physically capable of doing anything he wants and he displays this ability on two occasions – first when he helps Bridget to prepare her birthday dinner, and second when he successfully fights Daniel.
Thinking - Every lawyer must obviously have the ability to think, to analyze and put forth a coherent argument, and Mark is certainly no exception. He is a man of the world and extremely knowledgeable.

Summary of Mark D’arcy’s Character: Personality Type and Potential Mate
Mark is a minimizer, who excels at thinking and doing, but is severely wounded in the area of feeling, and probably also in the area of sensing. A perfect match for him would be a maximizer who is badly wounded in the areas of thinking and doing but is very capable in the areas of feeling and sensing. The two would compliment each other and, ideally, would learn from their partner what they are lacking and thus heal their wounds.
I think ultimately this is why Bridget chooses Mark over Daniel - Mark needs Bridget far more than Daniel does, and Bridget needs the tight-lipped and strait-laced Mark to compensate for her thoughtlessness, something that the frivolous Daniel could not do for her. Also, Because Mark is so serious in everything he does, he is also serious in love, and therefore willing to commit himself to Bridget, while Daniel, the eternal playboy, simply cannot do so.

Bridget’s Parents
According to Imago theory the wounds that we have seen in Bridget’s personality have been inflicted upon her when she was a child, by her caregivers. Interestingly enough both of her parents appear in the movie and the text gives us some information, which may help us understand how the family situation contributed to her wounds.

Mother

Bridget’s mother displays several traits common to the maximizer – she does not distinguish between herself and her daughter, exemplifying the lack of personal boundaries typical to a maximizer, and seems throughout the movie completely oblivious to the needs of her daughter. She is obviously focused on the outside world and dependent on others, so much so that even when she decides to strike out for herself (this too, on a whim) , she latches on to a successful TV host.

Father
Bridget’s father plays a far smaller role in the movie. Usually he is seen in the part of a quiet, bashful old man, who is embarrassed by his wife’s shenanigans, and especially by the fact that she leaves him for another man. It is notable that, although he is devastated by this, he cannot bring himself to actually do anything about it, probably because he is so bad at expressing his feelings, and he does not wish to expose his dependence upon her, or admit his needs in front of her. We may safely assume that he is the minimizer in this relationship.

Mother and Daughter
Bridget’s mother seems completely oblivious to her daughter’s needs – from the beginning of the movie to the end. In the opening scene she forces Bridget to wear an unsuitable outfit, and then introduces her in a most embarrassing fashion, to a potential date. Twice she seeks her daughter’s help, and both times she does not even ask if Bridget can spare the time at the moment, nor does she seem to think that it is inappropriate to involve her daughter in her own marital crises. Also, throughout the movie she does not display any concern for Bridget – she does not display any interest in what she is doing, in what she wants or needs. In short, Bridget’s mother uses Bridget and acknowledges her daughter only to the extent that she can use this daughter for her own ends. Raising a child in this manner is a surefire way of wounding him or her.
Since Bridget is used to such abuse from her own parent, it is obvious that she will feel at ease only in such situations. This is why she always picks men who degrade her and use her, why her friends are exactly as messed up as she is – and therefore unable to help her. This is why she goes to a dinner of married couples where she is sure to be humiliated.
As bad as Bridget’s mother seems to be, the task of wounding an innocent and helpless child is never accomplished by one parent alone.

Father and Daughter
As would be expected, Bridget, a maximizer, seems to be much more comfortable with her minimizer father than with her mother. She is seen several times seeking his company, in which she finds some solace – he never seems to demean her or force her to do things she does not want to. On the other hand he also does not do anything to help her, and does not display any interest in her life beyond asking ‘what’s going on’ and settling for a non-committal answer. On the other hand sweet Bridget does her best to cheer her father up when he is tossed away by his wife.
Bridget and her father also have a small conspiracy going on, they confide with each other and seem to find comfort in a quasi-cabal against their childish and irresponsible mother/wife.

Summary of Relationship in the Jones Family
Bridget’s parents seem to be preoccupied with themselves, and with their own problematic relationship. Toxic parents will involve their children in their marital relationships, and force them to choose sides. Such parents will use their own children to satisfy their own needs. Such a child will grow up with very low self-esteem, he will be easily addicted to almost anything, he or she will abuse themselves in various ways, including drugs, alcohol, and smoking, not to mention becoming involved in abusive and humiliating relationships. Bridget indeed goes through all of this. But, she is fortunate – she manages to will herself out of this situation. Our heroine is indeed a hero – she overcomes the obstacles of fate and against the odds manages to rise above them. She learns to do things, she learns to focus and gain control over herself, and stop letting her attention wander all over the place. She does not make great strides in these areas, but it is enough to start a ball rolling that will eventually lead her to her life partner, and a chance to finally heal her wounds and return to her original perfection.
Will she manage to do so?
If you want to find out the answer to that question you will have to see the second part of this movie - Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason.

Results of the Experiment
Well, this took much longer than I expected. I was hoping that using only a small part of the theory would make this post short and easy to read, but clearly I was wrong. I am a little disappointed that I did not make full use of the theory, because I would be able to explain and demonstrate the three stages of the committed relationship – romance, power struggle and the conscious marriage, and together with the concept of the lost self, the falsified self and the disowned self it would be clear, for instance, why the same traits that cause Mark to fall in love with Bridget, are the exact same ones which he is so quick to criticize and condemn. Of course if I had explained all that this post would have been two or three times longer, (and perhaps more interesting.) Maybe I will add these ideas when (and if) I review the second part of the movie.

Well, if you have made it all the way to here – my congratulations. I would love to know if this post has been interesting or enlightening in any way to you. I would appreciate any comments that would let me know if this experiment was indeed a success or failure.
Thanks,
Joe


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