Ensoulment: A Diverse analysis of the Feminine in Western cultureShaun Matthee
This a guest blog from Lorís Simón Salum, the creator and director of the multi award winning documentary Ensoulment, which we screened in Johannesburg and Cape Town during April 2015. You can visit the website www.ensoulmentfilm.com for more information on the movie.
Even though there might not be anything left to be said about my 21-22 year old self after you watch Ensoulment, there is one thing I rarely speak about concerning the making of this film. On an outer level, I studied and researched and grew plenty while filming the movie.
However on a deeper level, I spent 2 years of my life sharing and building on an idea with my mother, Rose Mary (producer), and my father, Antonio (executive producer), and my brother, José Antonio (AKA Jay, associate producer and music composer). This film was a journey I took with my entire family, later even bringing my partner, Jordan (sound designer), in to the picture as well. For a long time I felt ashamed of admitting that my crew was my family and my family is my crew, perhaps misguided by the illusion that those that never fully detach from their parents are doomed to eternal immaturity. However now I’ve grown to appreciate those years as an inner right of passage, guided and nurtured by the ones I love most. I resent myself for trying so hard to hide the magnitude of influence they had on the film.
Since in Mexico we have two last names, I would play around with them so as not to appear to be related: Rose Mary Salum, Lorís Simón, Jay Simon (notice the missing accent… because that of course would completely mislead the people that stay at the end of the movie to watch the entire list of credits).
Thus, on this note I would like to invite my readers and viewers to regard the protagonist in the film as one small part of a larger whole. I am not who I am without my family, and the film is not the film without its crew.
The Making of Ensoulment
The initial idea for the film came after a long afternoon conversation with my mother during my sophomore year in college. I was struggling to understand the after effects from my first encounter with BodySoul Rhythms, a women’s retreat held by the Marion Woodman Foundation. I remember feeling awakened yet confused about who I was and where I was going in my life. “What do you feel passionate about?” my mother asked from across the café table where we were seated. I watched as a woman came into the café and walked to the front counter. “Women,” I thought. “Women fascinate me.” True to her tendency to underestimate the amount of work involved in just about any project, my mother answered without flinching, “Why don’t you make a movie about women?” And I, struggling to find a project I could call my own, replied, “Okay.”
During the remaining two long years of college that followed this conversation, the idea held fast at the heart of my deepest ambitions. It became “the thing I would do after I finish this indefinite thing I’m doing now . . .” and my answer to everyone’s question, “What will you do after college?” “A documentary about women,” I would respond.
I began to do research. I sought out those hidden traits that women surely held deep in their bosoms, the womanly forces that must hold the key to inner liberation and world peace. I was adamant about finding the narrative that would break all glass ceilings: “If only women knew X, the world would be a better place.” I became convinced that if we women could grasp a deeper sense of who we are, we could strengthen our understanding of the freedom we truly hold in our hands. I was sure of it.
Of course I wasn’t getting the answers I wanted, not because they were “wrong” answers, but because when it came to leading happy, fulfilled lives, there was no difference between what was true for women and what was true for men, or true for any other gender. We all want to be economically stable, pursue our passions and cultivate the time we have with our families. All of us want it all.
Slowly but surely my focus started shifting toward something beyond gender. It was that term, “the feminine,” that made it all click. Hearing that word again threw me back across time to my sophomore year in college. I was 19 years old when my mother invited me to a women’s retreat in Tepoztlán, Mexico. It was a week long intensive that worked with the Jungian principle of “the feminine.” I don’t think I really understood back then what they were talking about, but I remember feeling how much the work resonated with me. It was my first true encounter with depth psychology. I was so young at the time that I don’t believe I ever really got to choose what lens I would later see the world through: I was baptized Jungian. It may be that I am biased now, but I came to adore this sort of upbringing.
I realized that the principle encompasses all those qualities that Western culture has come to relate to women. The way we think about women is incredibly entangled with the concept of the feminine. I asked myself at what point in history the qualities of nurturance or delicacy had been assigned to women, and those of strength and force had been appointed to men. Clear, analytical expression is desirable, and ambiguous or uncertain suggestions are unwanted. In a climate like this, emotional, passion-driven women are pushed aside from positions where decisions matter, and unambitious men who do not share an equal hunger for economic success can take a seat on the bench. One understanding followed another, and I began to believe that Western culture had reduced the feminine part of its collective psyche dramatically and then projected this diminished element onto an entire gender, arriving at the erroneous conclusion that women are by default less valuable than men.
I wasn’t looking for women, but for the nameless, the category-less, and the purely emblematic notion of the womb: that capacity to recognize, nurture, and bring to life. I was looking for this symbolism of a life cycle taken into the psyche and applied to each and every quality residing in the mind and soul. This was what was being devalued. This was what I was fighting for.
I’m still amazed to have had the honor to bring together such a fascinating group of intellectuals from so many different backgrounds. It was a privilege to sit down with experts in cognitive psychology, depth psychology, women and gender studies, theology, philanthropy, biology, art, television, print media, and business. I traveled with my mother and brother from Mexico City to Austin, Texas; from Miami to Atlanta to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles; along the East coast through New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Boston; across the puddle to London and back again to Ontario. We settled into a comfortable routine: I would research the experts and write the questions, and my mother would contact them and schedule an interview. I packed the equipment, and she booked the flights. I organized the set, while she entertained the interviewee. She asked the questions, and I dealt with the camera. The conversations we had after each interview on our way back to the hotel were solid gold. We thought we were the perfect team until Jay decided to accompany us midway through the project; he completed our band beautifully.
The honeymoon phase ended when the time came to edit the film. This was the longest phase of the film. We were so emotionally invested in every word, it became impossible to exclude sections that were not relevant to the story line. Our biggest challenge was to form conversation that remained true to their beliefs as well as to the documentary’s theme. Forty-five minute segments had to be cut down to five minute segments. At the same time, we had to make sure that everyone made an appearance at the correct moment. If the feminine is responsible for encompassing chaotic qualities, then this was by far the most feminine period of the process.
Another issue that continued to haunt us, even after the documentary was released, was the automatic connection that kept emerging between the “feminine” and “woman.” I was overwhelmed to find myself stumbling over this same stone again and again. How was I to separate an entire gender from a set of qualities that has been historically connected to it? Stuck once more in the linguistic confusion generated by the term, I found it impossible to escape without including an introductory segment about my use of “the feminine,”—a particular meaning that goes against the word’s etymological roots. To call the feminine “anima,” as Carl Jung did, would mean a total detachment from all the associations we Westerners have to the alternative, “feminine.” Yet calling it “feminine” meant drowning it in too many associations that also detached it from our intended meaning. By the time I grew acquainted with more contemporary terms like “diffuse awareness” or even the eastern “yin,” the interviews had been completed, and “feminine,” had been repeated over and over.
Despite my attempts to clarify my intentions, the majority of people who watch the documentary continue to categorize it as a women’s studies film. My father, a business man, unable to verbalize what the movie is about, has just resolved to an automatic, shameful shrug under my deathly stare every time he tells someone else the movie is about feminism. I came to think that I should have elaborated more on what the feminine represents with more examples or more academic abstractions. I ask myself if the audience deserved a longer, richer description of the term. Maybe I should have waited longer to make this film while I gathered a greater pool words. As most art usually goes, despite my own ruminations about what I did, what I could have done, and what I did not do, the final piece has taken on a spirit of its own, and I’ve learned to let it go.
Many people ask me what I think the feminine is after having spent so many years with it. My answer to that tends to vary, depending on the day, depending on my mood. I have grown to attempt to integrate what the feminine feels and looks like within me instead of trying to put words to it. I would have not understood the film myself if I continued to rest my understanding of this phenomenon only in the world of reason. It is the feminine that keeps me from ever allowing myself to describe myself in words, it is what takes away the boundaries between my body and the rest of nature, it is the search, it is the process, and it is. Sometimes.
For more information about the documentary and video clips from the movie, please visit the website www.ensoulmentfilm.com.