Movies That Reveal Enneagram Styles
Reviewed by Thomas Condon
Copyright © 1997, 1998 The Changeworks.
John Sayle's new movie Limbo is overlong but tightly acted by David Straithairn, playing a plain Nine, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is a counterphobic Six and her teenage daughter is a clear Four.
1969's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
features Maggie Smith as a flawed but sympathetic Two who is an
overinvolved teacher at an English girls school. Robert Stephens
is a Sevenish artist and various forces who oppose Smith are Oneish,
including the school's head mistress, Celia Johnson, and a hypocritical
One student (Pamela Franklin) who brings Smith down.
Affliction features Nick Nolte as a counterphobic Six going mad, James Coburn is his vital, impossible and abusive father. Willem Dafoe is Niney brother and Nolte's angry ex wife is a One. Though downbeat, the film, and especially the acting, is powerful and brilliant.
Billy Crystal is the unwilling Six psychiatrist of Mafioso Robert DeNiro in the coarse-but-funny Analyze This. Bullied by Eight DeNiro, Crystal continually refuses the case but gets interested in spite of himself in DeNiro's psychological dilemma. Even when Crystal is about to be executed he is still on the job, dogged asking questions, convinced that DeNiro's relationship with his father is the key to his problems. The mobster finally gets in touch with his feelings in the middle of a gun battle.
One True Thing has a good Nine in Meryl Streep. In American History X, Edward Norton plays a strong Eight and Avery Brooks a One. The Cruise is a new documentary about Timothy Speed Levich, an unstable, brilliant, extroverted Four with a 3 wing. Mr. Jealousy is entertaining and Annabella Sciorra plays an obvious Nine.
The best film of 1998 that no one saw is Lolita, with Jeremy Irons as a Four with a 5 wing (intimate subtype). Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film of Nabokov's novel featured James Mason as a Five (4 wing) obsessed with his vulnerable yet brutal stepdaughter, an Eight played by Sue Lyons. The Kubrick film was clearly a comedy while this new one is genuinely tragic. The girl here is still Eightish but not as obviously so. Her mother is a Two in both films.
Lolita 1998 was well like by some critics while many others said it was boring. I found it beautifully done and horribly sad. The film's sexual elements are as they should be: unsalacious and yet explicit enough to be uncomfortable to watch. The 50-year-old man's attraction to a 14-year-old girl is presented solely as a character flaw. In a career full of good performances, Jeremy Irons has not been better than in Lolita.
The small independent movie Buffalo 66 manages to be grungy, tender, violent and hilarious, sometimes all at once. But for a dull patch near the end, the film moves fast across its crazy-quilt story. Vincent Gallo plays an agitated counterphobic Six, just out of prison, who kidnaps a Niney stripper and demands that she impersonate his wife on an ill-advised trip home to visit Gallo's loopy parents. The latter are perfectly played by Ben Gazarra, as Gallo's irrational, eruptive father-something of a Seven with an Eight wing-and Anjelica Huston as the nut-case Twoish mother. Consistent with his Enneagram style, Gallo is scared and aggressive by turns but underneath he's pathetic and kind.
A few new films on video (at least in America) that illustrate Enneagram styles. Two movies that contrast a Five with a Four wing and a Five with a 6 wing are Love and Death On Long Island and PI, named for the mathematical symbol.
Love and Death stars John Hurt as a voyeuristic widower and English literature professor who accidently stumbles into a screening of a sleazy teenage comedy starring Jason Priestly (From tv's Beverly Hills 90210). The elegant snobbish Hurt "falls in love" with Priestly's B-movie screen persona and decides to seek the actor out at his residence on Long Island. Hurt essentially becomes a stalker, befriending the harmless, slightly vacant Priestly while in the grip of an obsessive love that Hurt knows is ridiculous.
Love and Death On Long Island is a modern retelling of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, which also feature an aging Five in love from afar with a young boy. Death in Venice was filmed in the 1972 with Dirk Bogarde in the lead as a plain Five. Critics who knew the source book complained that the film was solemn and tragic whereas Thomas Mann meant the whole thing to be a comedy, a farce of the senses.
Love and Death captures the humor in Hurt's situation, especially making fun of his proud, pointless inability to handle the practicalities of modern life. He is a Social subtype characterized by belonging to a rarified group of people who have arcane insider knowledge. Love and Death is elegantly told; Hurt is just great in the role and young Priestly holds his own against his classically trained elder.
PI is a bizarre,
stylish film about a Five
with a 6 wing
(Sean Gullette), a math genius who is seeking the existence of
a mystical number. Meanwhile he is being pursued by government
agents and driven mad by the stress of his task and the isolation
he needs to work. He is a self-preservation Five subtype charracterized
by a tendency towards worldly withdrawl.
The film tries to convey what its like to be schizoid, with your head full of numbers, and mostly succeeds. In style it is similiar to Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, reviewed at length in the 2nd edition of The Enneagram Movie & Video Guide.. PI has a few moments of intense disquieting gore, so be warned.
follows the story of a young "Jewess" (Minnie Driver)
as she moves away from home and takes her first job on a remote
coastal estate in the North of England. There she is governess
to a family and falls in love with her boss, Tom Burlinson (The
Full Monty) an older One
scientist/photographer. An affair follows, made all the more illicit
because Driver is Jewish and trying to conceal it. Burlinson,
who played a comically exasperated One in The Full Monty,
is here a sober serious One fighting the irrationality of his
feelings. The film is choppy, uncertain and predictable. Plucky
Minnie Driver is also way too contemporary for the story.
A very good example of a One - if you can stand him - is to be found in A Merry War. Based on a George Orwell novel, the story features Richard Grant a cranky dissatisfied advertising executive who one day quits his job so he can become a full-time poet. Grant is a Social One, characterized by rigidity and a fondness for ranting about the evils of civilization.
Instead of making a real go at poetry Grant descends into chaos, squalor and Sevenish licentiousness. A One's connection to Four is clear as Grant becomes exceedingly melancholy, self-pitying and self-victimizing. Luckily he is surrounded by tolerant Nineness. Helena Bonham-Carter is his too-patient fiance although her Enneagram style is not precisely clear. Grant's doddering boss seems more like a Nine and Grant's publisher/benefactor (Gordon Clapp) is a genteel tolerant Nine.
The Summer House is a rich character-driven comedy featuring Jeanne Moreau(Seven) as a lascivious Auntie Mame, visiting a sleepy English suburb to see her girlhood friend (Julie Walters). Walters, a One, is anxiously supervising the pending marriage of her withdrawn Fiveish daughter (Lena Headey) to the twit next door.
The groom's mother (Joan Plowright) is an apparently doddering Nine with a 1 wing. She talks to her dog, forgets what she's doing and has a vacant dislocated quality. Underneath, however, Plowright is shrewd and canny. After she and Moreau get (delightfully) drunk, they both agree that Plowright's son is a fool and that the marriage should not take place. This sets the stage for Moreau's disruption of the ceremony with a wedding gift that is both shocking and logical.
Headey, who, in fact, longs to be a nun, approaches her wedding like a trip to the gallows and is preoccupied with flashbacks of a recent exciting trip to Egypt. Headey is so passive and absent that when someone wonders if she might be anemic, Moreau replies, "I think she is a little low-key for anemia."
Moreau, by contrast, greets the morning with, "Can you believe our luck? Another day!" She breezes into each scene, knocking everyone off balance, calm in the center of little storms she is constantly creating. "Sometimes," she confesses to Headey, "I hear myself and I think, 'No, Lily, you won't say that.' But it's irresistible and so I do."
Moreau's also full of crackpot philosophical asides: "I like to go to confession," she says to Walters, "straight after I've been to the hairdresser. Makes me feel so complete, body and soul." "I'm not sure you've got the right idea, Lily," Walters replies dubiously.
One Walters is occasionally disapproving of Moreau ("I've forgotten how exhausting she can be") but enjoys her fun-loving nature and in it finds permission to be improper. Still, Walters is dead set on the wedding, focused only on propriety and procedure, blind to her daughter's resistance.
Twelve Angry Men is a remake of a 1959 American movie that had it's beginnings as a television play. Nearly all of the action takes place in one room as a jury deliberates the fate of a young man on trail for murder. The plot hinges on the American legal notion of "reasonable doubt"- i.e. if there are enough holes in what seems like compelling evidence the jury must return a verdict of not guilty. At first the jury members sound convinced of the young man's guilt but one man begins to raise questions and a long argument ensues.
Both the original and the remake are in American video stores. The first is tightly written and well-acted but rather dated. If you watch the original and then see the remake you may be struck by how unnecessary the later film is. The new film's attempts at updating fall somewhere between dubious and specious and the acting is uneven.
The central character was originally played by Henry Fonda as a One and now by Jack Lemmon as a mixture of Six and One. The character raises ethical objections and plays Devil's Advocate to an irrational, overly forceful Eight-Lee J. Cobb in the original and George C. Scott in the remake. Cobb almost always played Eights in the movies as has Scott.
The other clear styles are an ultra-reasonable One, originally played by E.G. Marshall and now by Armin Muller-Stahl. There is also a bigoted Eight, first played by Ed Begley, Sr and now by Mykeleti Williamson. In the remake this character has been changed into a black militant who is so bigoted and nihilistic that he changes his vote from guilty to innocent for no reason-which makes him seem like an idiot.
There is also an airy blase advertising man, a Seven, originally played by Robert Webber and now by William L. Petersen. Petersen is a Seven and often plays them most obviously in a good but obscure movie called Hard Promises. He played a Five in Manhunter, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs.
"Dying is easy; comedy is hard," said an American stage actor before he breathed his last. I think that's why I'm inordinately impressed by successful light comedies - they're so rare. The Full Monty is a spirited story of suddenly unemployed steel workers in the North of England. Off-balance and broke, they cast about for something to do and hit on the idea of becoming male strippers.
Australian actor Tom Wilkinson plays a hilariously hotheaded One-the only group member who knows how to dance. Robert Carlyle is a flaky, big- dreaming Seven on the run from his own desperation. Mark Addy is an angry resigned Nine convinced that the stripping will only lead to humiliation. Carlyle played the violent psychotic Eight in Trainspotting.
Star Maps is an offbeat, watchable slice of life that follows an ambitious young Mexican-American as he returns from Mexico to live with his birth family and pursue his dream of being an actor in Los Angeles. He's pressed into the family business of selling maps to the homes of movie stars-except that's not the family business. The boy's father is a pimp and he puts his son to work on a tight schedule.
The film contrasts a matter-of-fact normalcy with the damage this lifestyle does. The Twoish mother is recovering from a nervous breakdown while the family's Nineish daughter is frantically trying to pretend she has a normal life. The father (Efrain Figueroa)-an unhealthy Eight and the villian of the piece-is slowly revealed to be a brutal maniac. Partly he is acting out of his own background, trying to "toughen up" the boy for life in a hard world. But he lies to everyone and when the boy has a real chance an acting job the father steals it for himself.
This same kind of monster father is on display in This Boy's Life. Robert DeNiro plays an unhealthy Eight (a self-preservation subtype) who values objects over people. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the abused son and Ellen Barkin is the abused Sevenish mother.
Good Will Hunting, just out on video, is a good case
study of a troubled young Eight played by Matt Damon. Robin Williams
is effective as Damon's Five psychiatrist. As a Five, though, he
demonstrates a strong connection to Eight. Ben Affleck could be a cheerful Six; he seems that way in this film but
he has a minor role. In Chasing Amy he played a Nine.
a German documentary just out in American video stores. The subect
is Nico, a German avant garde singer who found underground fame
in the 1960's as a member of Andy Warhol's Factory and as the
lead vocalist for The Velvet Underground. She's a Four
and the film begins by chronicling her rough childhood and fortunate
young adulthood as a model, made possible by her striking beauty.
She subsequently defiles that beauty through heroin addiction and a nomadic, rootless life as a toneless singer of morbid songs. One song is about admiring her childhood toys just before she breaks them; another is about feeling a sense of loss for she knows not what. Nico had a Five wing, consistent with her solitary nature, deadpan, alienated manner and sullen vanity.
The film captures Nico in a 1960s context and
ascribes some of her more self-destructive behavior to artistic
temperment. But Nico's downward slide is typical of a deeply unhealthy
Four. This is a story of damage and squalor, of squandered opportunity.
You can almost feel her drive to wreck it all and hasten her own
death. "That's what makes the whole thing so sad," says
one friend, "to have all the assets and still fail."
There are other recent films that nicely showcase Fours. The Dark Side of the Human Heart is a weird Argentine movie about a poet who renounces normal life and becomes a street person. Meanwhile he's on an abstract quest to find the perfect woman. The story is sometimes monotonous but instructive about Fours.
For a healthy Four see Maya Linn, A Strong Clear Vision.
Linn is the Asian-American sculptor who created the Vietnam war
memorial in Washington, DC. She is a self-preservation subtype,
a risktaker who realized her inner vision of the memorial against
a typhoon of opposition. She's inspiring and I'd recommend this
film to any Four who needed a role model.
Washington Square features a good villianous One father, played by Albert Finney. His daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is Niney and over the course of the story she acquires a resigned bitter focus as she surrenders to her father's control of her life. Outwardly, you can see her change from placating tactfulness-wanting to make peace-to the dead-eyed bluntness that Nines have after they give up on themselves.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is a real-life Nine and often plays them (Miami Blues). Albert Finney, a real-life Seven, also played a terrific One in The Browning Version. Maggie Smith plays a clear Two in Washington Square .
Fonda's precise, nuanced performance in Ulee surprised everyone but he gave a hint that he could act in the recent Nadja, a campy atmospheric vampire movie. Fonda played Van Helsing the vampire killer as a goofy off-kilter Seven while Elina Lowensohn had the title role, a clear Four.
The Edge looks like an overheated, testosterone-laced adventure about a plane crash in the Alaska. It is, but there are some exciting sequences and two strong performances by Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins.
Baldwin is playing a sort of
Seven with an Eight wing. Hopkins plays his real life style
(Five), an emotionally constricted billionaire
who has to translate his book knowledge about wilderness survival
In the Company of Men sports two clear portraits of a sociopathic Three (Aaron Eckhart) and a Threeish Six (Matt Malloy). They set out to romance and then emotionally devastate a Niney deaf woman played by Stacy Edwards (from tv's ER).
The film is a nominal indictment of the way some men treat women but if you know the Enneagram it has several levels. Actor Eckhard said he deliberately studied sociopaths and he gets the syndrome letter perfect. Many are profoundly unhealthy Threes. The character is a corporate Three, something I discuss in The Enneagram Movie & Video Guide.
Malloy, the Six, also behaves close to type. As the nasty scheme progresses he grows guilty and ambivalent. While attempting to confess to Edwards he winds up attacking her. Apart from a ham-fisted scene or two, this film is pretty good.
Primal Fear is a not-too-bad thriller with a relationship at its center between an Eight (Edward Norton) who for most of the movie pretends he's a Nine and his defense attoney, a Three played by Richard Gere. Gere squares off in morality arguments with One with a 2 wing Laura Linney, an actress who has said that her idol is Joanne Woodward- a One with a 2 wing.
Due to a seamlessly busy schedule I've not
seen Titanic but I'll offer some blindfolded guesses about
the movie's possible Enneagram styles - assuming it actually has
Kate Winslet has played a Four with a 3 wing in most of her films, from Heavenly Creatures (true story of two unstable teenage Fours who murder one of the girls' mothers; recommended for the way it contrasts the 3 and 5 wings) to Sense and Sensibility (near-perfect movie; Emma Thompson's a clear One, her real-life style).
In Titanic, Winslet's older self is played by 87 year old actress Gloria Stuart. I've not seen Stuart's early movies but watched her in a number of recent tv interviews. She also seems a Four with a Three wing.
In real life, Leonardo DiCaprio is a multi-talented Seven with maybe an 8 wing. You can see him playing this style in the fairly awful Total Eclipse. Kathy Bates who, I think, plays Molly Brown in Titanic, often plays Eights (Men Don't Leave, The Late Show) and is maybe at it again in the new John Travolta movie Primary Colors. Her other notable Enneagram role was as an insane Two in the well-acted horror movie Misery.
It also looks like part of Titanic takes
place in the present and features a character based of the shipwreck's
discoverer, Robert Ballard. Ballard is a Seven and Bill Paxton
plays the explorer figure in the movie. Paxton is also a Seven
and plays them (the recent not-so-hot Traveller) as well
as Sixes (the flaming
paranoid soldier in Aliens).
Billy Zane, who plays Kate Winslet's husband in Titanic, has knocked around in B movies for years mainly playing Threes and Sixes. But he made a stunning debut in the grim, enthralling Dead Calm, an Australian film noir about a couple (Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman) with the worst luck in the world. Out on a sailing vacation, recovering from the accidental death of their young daughter, the couple comes across a stranded ship and rescues its lone survivor (Zane). They too-slowly realize that he is a psychotic counter-phobic Six.
The movie shows how dangerous deeply unhealthy Sixes can be. Zane's character is a "victimizing victim," someone who projects his own hostility and then lashes out at the people he has projected onto. Enneagram students often struggle with the difference between Eights and unhealthy counterphobic Sixes because both can be destructively aggressive. One key difference is that unhealthy Sixes almost always see themselves as victims while Eights never do.
Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) is Fiveish
as always. Nicole Kidman, who I suspect is a real-life Three and
often plays them (see Malice and especially To Die For),
is faintly Eightish in Dead Calm. She gives words like
"plucky" and "resourceful" new meanings. This
film is not for sissies.
There's one word for every aspect of Un Couer En Hiver (A Heart in Winter): elegant. Pretty, porcelein-doll-faced Emannuelle Beart is a concert violinist who gives her violin (and her unrequited love) to cold, stingy repairman Daniel Auteuil (Five with a Four wing). When I first saw this film in 1992 I thought it was written by an Enneagram student, so exact is its portrayal of a unhealthy Five.
Emannuelle Beart is probably a real life Two. Her characters often have a rough time in love, as if her movies have to punish her for being so beautiful. In L'Enfer (The Hell) she marries an unhealthy counter-phobic Six, not unlike Billy Zane in Dead Calm. Most of the movie tracks the husband's degeneration into paranoidal jealousy. The film is harrowing but is instructive about the extremes of unhealthy Sixness.
Though it may annoy French
people, Eric Rohmer's films always remind me of Woody Allen movies;
his characters are openly neurotic in a similiar way. Instead
of Allen's Sixes, Rohmer's films often showcase Fours.
A Tale of Winter dwells on a Four (Charlotte Very) who waits in perpetual longing for the return of a man who abandoned her. When we first meet her, she seems an irritable, self-indulgent, whiner unfoundedly pining away for her lost love. But the joke of the film is that he comes back to her in a way that exactly matches her romantic fantasy.
Another useful Rohmer film is Chloe in the Afternoon, about a Four businessman (Bernard Verley) who becomes fascinated with a flightly eccentric Seven (Zouzou). The film show us a Four growing hypnotized by his own romantic fantasies before snapping out of his trance when reality intrudes. Chloe has a surprisingly moving ending when we finally hear from Verley's long-suffering Niney wife.
In Career Girls, British director Mike Leigh's follow-up to Secrets and Lies, two college roommates remeet and compare their relationship then and now. Katrin Cartlidge plays the Eight while Lynda Steadman is the phobic Six. Career Girls works well as a character study though not as a narrative. It pointedly relies on coincidence and unsuccessfully tries to rationalize the device.
The same Eight-Six character relationship can be seen in the movie Leaving Normal reviewed in the Video Guide. The Eight is played by Christine Lahti and Meg Tilly is the phobic Six. The Eight-Six dynamic is also destructively evident in John Cassavettes's film, A Woman Under the Influence. Gena Rowlands (real-life Nine) plays a terrified, unstable Six married to violent, desperate Eight Peter Falk (real-life Nine with an 8 wing).
Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies is a stunning movie that deserved its Oscar nominations and critical ballyhoo. At first it seems like melodrama but it's more like a psychodrama, one that rolls towards a powerful ending that will leave you either bathed in sweat or tears.
Morris (Timothy Spall), is the story's moral hero, a Nine with a 1 wing. Brenda Blethyn plays a screechy, whiny self-involved Two, who, by film's end, has become highly sympathetic. Phyllis Logan plays Spall's brittle Oneish wife. The other characters are not so Enneagramatically clear.
Leigh's earlier movie Naked is also worth a look for an in-depth portrait of an unhealthy Eight, played by David Thewlis. He is never pleasant but interesting if you're learning about the Enneagram. The film is brutal and funny.
Speaking of Gena Rowlands, Unhook the Stars is a fine showcase for her acting even if it's not a great movie. Nick Cassavettes, the film's writer/director is a Nine with an 8 wing. So is Gena Rowlands and she plays her style in this movie. Marisa Tomei, a fluttery, ungenerous actress, is better than usual here as an single mother Eight who bonds with Rowlands.
Billy Wilder's 1950 Sunset Boulevard centers on an insane, melancholic has-been movie star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who lives in a gothic mansion that reflects her memories of past glory. She's an unhealthy Two - a social subtype characterized by excessive, prideful ambition. Her delirious obsession is of returning to the movies and making a comeback, a "return to greatness." She also demonstrates an unhealthy Two's connection to the low side of Four.
I sometimes dread screening old movies because they are often corny and crudely made but this movie feels timeless and Gloria Swanson is fabulous. Erich von Stronheim is in the background as Swanson's Fiveish chauffeur and William Holden is a corrupt Threeish golden boy whom Swanson desperately falls for. The story is actually narrated by his corpse.
Sunset Boulevard was eventually made into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Three with a Four wing). Several women were cast in the Norma Desmond role including Glenn Close, Patti LuPone, Faye Dunaway and Betty Buckley. All are real life Twos.
Another ambitious Two drives the plot of All About Eve. Bette Davis plays an aging actress who is sabotaged by a smiling-but-backbiting Eve, played by Anne Baxter. Latter is a Two with a 3 wing, consumed with ambition and skilled at deceit.
Davis is her usual self, often seeming like a nasty jealous Four and other times a Seven with an 8 wing. I read two biographies of her and never got her Enneagram style but she was most likely a jealous competative Four. Elegant, cynical, Fiveish George Sanders is in the background. Gary Merrill as Davis' fiance is a blustery, loyal Eight. This edgy intelligent movie is famous for its crackling dialogue.
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