I. THE FILM
First the deficits. Some movies are dated in tone, others in plot, still others in their depiction of behaviors. Datedness in tone is the least problematic because it gives us a look back into a past when that tone was normal for the time (Rules of the Game, On the Waterfront, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) or presents us with an ideal for that moment in history (any Cary Grant movie). Datedness in plot is more troublesome. It asks future generations to believe in actions that are not credible coming from motives that are not comprehensible leading to endings that are not logical (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Strangers on a Train, any John Ford movie). But datedness in the depiction of behaviors is the most troubling of all. Some behaviors age more awkwardly than others. Bad boys with leather jackets and jiggling limbs, roués who pose in theatrical profile while whispering velvet phrases, or cowboys who spin their pious hokum with ham-fisted ordinariness are just plain silly—even if they were authentic expressions of the time (Rebel Without a Cause, Grand Hotel, any John Ford movie). Touch of Evil exhibits all three forms of datedness, before compressing them all together into one of the strangest accomplishments in the cinematic archives: the B movie masterpiece.
Touch of Evil is sometimes thought of as the greatest B movie ever made, and these deficits prove why. But the “greatest” is before that “B” for a reason, because the character at the center of the movie, Detective Hank Quinlan, is an inspired creation that aims straight for Shakespearean heights, and very nearly makes it. For Welles’ creation is climbing the black mountain of tragedy that history’s greatest cultures have repeatedly explored and that the American psyche has relentlessly ignored with the endless mirages of the American Dream redirecting the impulse to climb. The result is an A-level miss but a B-level success. If Quinlan’s sprawling corruption of justice and body does not quite reach the stature of Shakespeare’s Othello it’s because he’s imbedded in a movie surrounded by too much of that pulp and B to become a genuine tragedy, and stalls instead on a lower plateau of accomplishment.
How did this happen? Why is Quinlan so captivating, and why is the rest of the movie often so compromised?
It starts with the actors. Charlton Heston’s performance as Mexican narcotics officer Mike Vargas is admirably brave but inevitably ridiculous; we wonder when his Spanish accent will root and how long before his dark makeup will run off, or why he keeps moving his body as if it’s developing a dystrophy. Janet Leigh as his wife Susan floats off independently from a credible plotline and never really finds the way back; instead she is moored to silly decisions and surrounded by sillier bad boys in a desert motel and has a pointless conversation with a stammering halfwit before ending up drugged and unconscious in a fleabag hotel about to turn into a metaphorical cliff. And all these supporting detectives, politicians, gangsters, and whores angling in and out of believability—is it surrealism? Expressionism? 1958ism? The strangeness of geniusism? Studio re-editing another masterpieceism? Or is it just a low budget? What are we to make of this? Yes, the theme of goodness-gone-bad is intelligent, even grand, but the execution? Would a few million more dollars have purchased some more believability? Filled in some of those gaps and compromises of plot, allowed a little more time for the actors to ground their characters in details instead of clichés? Or was all of this already there, and destroyed by yet another example of a studio’s aesthetic incompetence? Was the original movie that has only partially been restored in fact a successful masterpiece, or was it just a more complete version of the same old pulp and B? We will never know. The original print is gone. Hollywood burnt it to ash. What remains is another example of how a movie made by Orson Welles could not be allowed to survive, and how what might have been a masterpiece was—yet again—lost to history. Instead, Hollywood recut and even partially redirected Touch of Evil against Welles’ intentions, then released the ruins on the B-side of distribution and banished his genius for good. Whether by ignorance or malice, the studios of the time had no idea what to do with all that creative gold in their hands; they preferred Doris Day. The result was a continuing descent from the summit of Citizen Kane, with Welles’ genius made to wander the financial wastelands for forty years searching for a windfall and a return to Hollywood glory that never would come.
And yet here is his Detective Quinlan, one result of that wandering, an inspired mixture of Macbeth and Othello wandering a psychological wasteland worthy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, roaming the fluctuating border between good and evil, sunlight and shadow, hero and villain, while still emotionally pursuing, we eventually find out, the killer of his long dead wife with a vengeance that has made him the corrupt but efficient cop that he is today. But tonight Quinlan has reached the end of his road. What began with a strangled wife and a killer he never did catch has just reached an impasse where his future and past are about to join hands around that hulking ruin of a body that used to be thin and presumably once was desirable.
And there are Marlene Dietrich’s eyes, gloomy and luminous at once, almost prophetic in their bland intensity, telling him so. “Your future is all used up,” her character Tana says when Quinlan staggers into her bordello, drunk for the first time in twelve years. She was once his lover, we infer, perhaps even his friend, who helped him onto the wagon and got him sober all those years ago. But more than sobriety is finished tonight, and Tana knows it, even if Quinlan doesn’t. Because Quinlan has just one scene left to live.
And so we enter an artist’s chase scene—charting not cars going crunch or bombs going boom or fists going bam but identity going out—as Vargas secretly follows Quinlan and his faithful partner of too many years with a wire and a tape recorder trying to elicit a confession for all the evil that Quinlan has done. Vargas goes through and around and between and aside and under and over and up, up, up the various metaphors of border town modernity, and finally down, down, down into a long descent through Quinlan’s words echoing his own guilt—also his sharp instincts, astute even when drunk—into the literal and metaphorical muck, where Quinlan’s last recourse is a gun. But this gun aims at more than the body, it aims at the soul. And so Quinlan kills the one thing that has most loved him while trying to kill the one thing he has most hated all of these years—the idealism that has brought his atrophied conscience to its end. Because there’s only one real target left now, and Quinlan finally knows it too. And yet even then he doesn’t care; the corpse of his conscience in that big bloated grave of his body hasn’t anything left to offer but death. The final bullet hits its mark, of course, with love killing what it loves before hate kills what it hates to save the day for the innocent Vargases, while Quinlan splashes into the muck with no one to grieve for his loss.
Or is there?
Vargas and his wife are long gone in their convertible, and everyone else that matters is dead. Who better, then, to close out the movie but Tana, with those eyes that look on so enigmatically, so perfectly flat and yet mournful, at Quinlan’s floating corpse, as she says to the last man standing, the American lawyer with the uncertain character slot, “He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?” and then walks away with the lawyer clearly impressed. And with a start we sit up and realize that Touch of Evil, made in 1958, almost two decades after Citizen Kane, was Orson Welles’ fictional autobiography for his own losses, his own compromises, his own misplaced genius, his own wrong turns, his own lost future—and we watch Marlene Dietrich walk into the dark with tears in our eyes.
II. THE MYTHOLOGY
The Shard of Euripides
Of course Quinlan is Hades, the God of the Underworld residing alone in the dark, trying to pull everything that lives above in the light down there with him. But is there anyone else? Is Hades the only archetype helming the movie? If so, is that why Touch of Evil is only a B movie? Is that in fact what makes for a B movie, when only one archetype takes charge of the theme? Without multiple archetypes in thematic conflict, does the complexity of a drama—regardless of the smaller complexities of character or plot—spring from a single source only, and shrink a conflict of several archetypal perspectives battling for supremacy to a soliloquy of just one archetypal perspective imploring the silence for a response? This would be the equivalent of archetypal melodrama. More sophisticated than emotional melodrama because an archetype is still giving thematic weight to a foreground emotion, archetypal melodrama conveys a single thematic expression moving in a narrowing dramatic direction. Is each shadow character in Touch of Evil, then, just a manifestation of Hades’ many faces in the dark—as gangster, as thug, as halfwit, as prostitute, as crime boss, as drug lord, as immoral politician, as corrupt detective—subverting all those fluttery bright upperworld faces with his many styles of underworld “evil”? The view from Hades’ underworld contracts Touch of Evil from a full-throated drama expressing multiple archetypes in thematic conflict to a complex soliloquy of Hades’ dark fantasies babbling to themselves about all the ways they intend to booby trap the upperworld—all the strategies they will use to sow darkness into light, all the places they will mark to pull upperworld innocence down into underworld corruption, all the schemes they will employ to abduct an innocent Persephone once again and make her his underworld queen. Is this Hades’ way of relieving his loneliness, by populating his underworld with proliferating self-reflections in endless “conversations” just so he can have someone to talk to? And are these conversations of Hades with himself the only creative expression Orson Welles was capable of at that moment in his career?
The question at the core of Touch of Evil is: What was the relationship between Orson Welles’ psyche and the Hades archetype during the movie’s creation in 1958?
More must be at work here than Hades’ agonized isolation. Loneliness cannot be all there is to the movie. It seems at best a partial expression, a piece of psychology, a fragment of something much more archetypally comprehensive. His soliloquy must have tapped a richer vein of mythology than mere underworld solitude. What if that solitude was only one aspect of a larger drama? His soliloquy would then be a single voice extracted from a much larger conversation. What would be that conversation? Which archetypes were at work? What was the myth that contained them? Can it be retrieved? Could Touch of Evil be a kind of living psychological shard from a myth that has been lost to history? Could this myth be one of the Greek dramas that burned in the Christian fire? Could it even be an atavistic echo from a lost drama of Euripides?
Once again we summon the Archetypal Eye, composed of all the gods combined into a collective point of view, this time to enter Touch of Evil’s inner topography, and plunge through every element of plot, character, style, metaphor, and theme, all the way to its lowest border, where the single shard of its incomplete mythology sinks into the aesthetic darkness of the collective unconscious sea. We will try, to the degree that it is possible, to discover the archetypes of the drama that is lost through the elements of the movie that exists, and retrieve the deeper form through its surface ripples.
And we have already completed Act One, with Hades’ Soliloquy in the Dark.
Act Two: Hades Baits Apollo
Who is narcotics officer Mike Vargas? His would appear to be an Apollonian psychology. Apollo, the God of the Sun who governs justice, aesthetics, philosophy, and the arts, commands the highest ideals of a culture. He is forever aiming culture toward the pursuit of utopia, that shining city on a hill, or lost civilization on an island, or unknown village in a secret valley, where all problems are resolved under the golden gleam of his perfected ideal—the exact opposite of Hades’ perpetually dark underworld. Wouldn’t a dark Hades hate a sunny Apollo most of all, even one wearing dark makeup? But Vargas does not lead any of the thematic energies of the movie; he is only one of its reacting elements. There is no Apollonian exploration to be found here; Apollo/Vargas is merely a foil to frame Welles’ portrait of Hades/Quinlan. At no point does Vargas carry his own thematic weight. His attempt to get to the bottom of Quinlan’s corruption and then to find his abducted wife—secretly arranged by Quinlan—never widens past mere plot mechanics to do more than support the drama of Quinlan’s corruption. From beginning to end, Quinlan remains Touch of Evil’s sole source of thematic energy.
Perhaps if the Apollonian point of view had been given a genuine creative center the tension between Apollo and Hades could have been more vividly explored, creating a second source of thematic energy. Perhaps Hades’ Quinlan baiting Apollo’s Vargas to turn dark, to turn illegal, to turn corrupt, to turn “evil” to save the one he loves—just like him—and failing to do so—just like him—could have been wedded more purposefully into the plot rather than hanging like a loose strand from an unfinished tapestry. Perhaps we could have seen a portrait of the limits of Apollonian psychology when confronted with injustice not just on an abstract level of social principle but on the most personal level possible, a violation of the one whom he loves, and then watched the conflict between Apollo’s light and Hades’ darkness play itself out to dramatic conclusion. We see a hint of this when Vargas fights his wife’s kidnappers in a bar after he sees what they have done to her, breaking their bodies as well as the furniture; but this scene is a thematic knot in the larger narrative rather than a consistent strand weaving its way through multiple scenes toward a fully realized climax. We do not see the piling temptations of Apollo/Vargas to turn corrupt play out over the full span of the narrative while he searches frantically for his wife, in contrapuntal development with Hades/Quinlan’s attempt to bait him into evil and then set him up for murder. Perhaps this missed opportunity is what first exposes Touch of Evil as a two-hour soliloquy of Hades talking to himself in the dark, which accounts for the movie’s strange claustrophobia—strange because it is almost exhilarating. But the wider conflict of Hades baiting Apollo doesn’t exist in Touch of Evil because the movie maintains only one archetypal voice. What might have been is never really begun.
What about the lost drama? The Archetypal Eye follows the shard of the myth down to a tangle of vertical currents rising and falling deep inside the collective unconscious sea. The shard slips into one of them, and the Archetypal Eye follows.
Is this a drama about Hades mounting a major offensive against the upperworld? And is his baiting of Apollo only the first front of an attempted conquest of Olympus, the regulating center of the psychological universe? By removing the principle of justice from the upperworld, civilization would degenerate into the brutalities of self-interest and power. The higher aspirations of psychology would weaken against humanity’s darker impulses. Apollo of the golden sun would transform to Apollo of the black sun and the Zeus psychology that uses the sun to unify the world would lose control of consciousness to the Hades psychology that would now use it to undermine the world. Is conversion of Apollo to the black sun Hades’ way of attempting to change the conditions of the Olympian universe, and thus, since the gods are metaphors for different styles of psychology, of the fundamental structure of human consciousness? Is Hades aiming to take control of all styles of psychology across the entire span of human consciousness and form a kind of dictatorship of underworld consciousness? If so, the sun that shines over everything would be an indispensable part of his plan. Quinlan after all wants Vargas to be just like him, wants Apollonian psychology to be just like him, wants everyone to be just like him. His goal would be the underworld everywhere, including Olympus—in effect to replace Olympus with Tartarus as the new capital of human consciousness. But the lost drama does not stop there. Hades Baits Apollo is only Act Two of an epic about Hades’ attempt to flip the balance of power from Olympus to Tartarus.
What then would be Act Three?
Act Three: Hades Abducts Athena
The abduction of Susan Vargas. Susan’s is an Athena psychology. Athena, the Goddess of Practical Wisdom who governs all forms of social strategy, possesses the best problem-solving skills among the gods. She weaves together the frayed strands of a divided world into a unified whole, which shows in her greatest accomplishment at the end of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, where she finds a way to weave the raging Furies back into society and transform them into the kindly Eumenides. Susan is no hysterical damsel in distress. She is too strong-willed to implode into Persephone’s scream, too sober to lash out into Artemis’s vengeance, too analytical to hide her fear behind Hera’s haughty pride, and too keenly observant to soften into Aphrodite’s pliant carnality—four alternate possibilities for her archetypal background in this particular situation. Susan retains her clear-eyed strength of character throughout her ordeal, looking at the situation head-on without flinching, signature hallmarks of an Athena psychology. In the end drugs will break that clarity down, but not her fundamental psychology.
Susan’s abduction drives half the plot of Touch of Evil, but to what thematic purpose? Like her husband, her ordeal never really widens from the moment-to-moment mechanics of plot to the wider articulation of theme, which remains imprisoned within Quinlan’s identity. Had she, too, become a genuine creative center of the movie rather than a side element her abduction might have created a third source of thematic energy. (We are recapitulating here the origin of Greek drama, from a single voice onstage to the invention of a second voice, and then a third, into a complex polyphony of several archetypal voices and a chorus speaking through and to several foreground characters exploring a great theme from the highest and lowest layers of human consciousness.) Instead, Susan’s thematic purpose remains as vague as her husband’s, both defined more by Quinlan’s thematic weight than by their own. In the end they are swirling satellites to his gorging black hole.
What would be her thematic weight in the lost drama? The shard spirals down the vertical current, the Archetypal Eye following close behind.
Is Hades intending to make Athena rather than Persephone his underworld queen? Wouldn’t the capture of Athena psychology by Hades psychology be a subject worthy of high drama? Wouldn’t Hades’ targeting of Athena’s competence rather than Persephone’s innocence for his underworld throne have been a powerful archetypal exploration? For Athena is not easily taken. What would Hades have to do not just to take Athena’s body but to break her will? Could it be done? Even if captured, would Athena ever allow herself to be psychologically broken? Watching this dynamic play out in the narrative foreground while Apollo searches frantically for her in the background would have been fascinating. And it would have been illuminating. Because this is a genuine question for psychology. Can an Athena psychology be broken by a Hades psychology? If so, how? If not, why not? What would Hades do, and how would Athena counter? What would be their dialogue? Where would the weaknesses and strengths of each be exposed? Are drugs really the only way to break Athena down? But that’s not really a willing submission—is it, Hades?—just a clouding confusion. Only Athena’s body has submitted, but her will remains intact—and it is Athena’s will and not her body that Hades wants for his throne. The result is a stalemate. What would Hades do now? Alas, Touch of Evil gives us no answers because it never sets up the question. Athena’s dilemma is another loose strand dangling from the movie-that-is over the lost possibilities of the movie-that-might-have-been.
Hades Abducts Athena comprises Act Three of the lost drama, and sets up the decisive conflict of Act Five. Hades has baited Apollo to turn evil in the attempt to remove justice from the upperworld and has now stolen Athena, the best day-to-day regulator of the upperworld, into his underworld, where he plans to force her to become his queen. Without Apollo’s justice and Athena’s regulation the upperworld will unravel into chaos and Hades will be able to complete his corruption of everyday life to set up his real goal, the conquest of Olympus and overthrow of Zeus to take complete control of human consciousness.
This raises the question of how effectively Zeus, the God of the All-Encompassing Sky, can lead the upperworld without Apollo’s principled justice and Athena’s competent regulation. Zeus may be the unifying force binding the whole of the Olympian universe, but he still needs Apollo to set the standard and Athena to manage the details, and Hades, knowing this, has contaminated the one and removed the other and then watched the upperworld spiral into chaos. But the direct conflict between Zeus and Hades is not yet in play, only the preliminary corruption, and so the conquest of Olympus has not yet moved to the main stage of action. For the moment, Zeus remains in the background while the drama of Apollo’s search and Athena’s abduction plays out in the foreground. Unless Athena submits, and Apollo turns evil, the basic structure of the Olympian universe, however damaged, still holds. Zeus watches this conflict of psychologies play out from his view in the all-encompassing sky, and waits for resolution. He wants to know which psychologies will win, and learn something more about the strengths and weaknesses of the universe that he leads. What will Apollo be willing to do while he searches? How far do the principles of justice from the high-minded God of Justice go? And what will Athena be willing to yield while she resists Hades? Which will is stronger, the one that is most competent or the one that is most corrupt? And finally, how far will Hades go to further his purpose? Would he be willing to risk the destruction of everything, including himself, to gain absolute power? Zeus watches, and waits. The fate of human consciousness hangs in the balance.
To know this, we must rediscover the backstory of how Apollo and Athena have fallen in love in the first place to see exactly what it is that Hades has put into play.
Prologue: The Marriage of Apollo and Athena
Apollo and Athena…the gods governing justice and competence, beauty and practicality, the ideal and the real. They are the two indispensable components of Zeus’s leadership in the Olympian universe, without which civilization will either turn brutal or degenerate into chaos. Their similarities of skill in society may explain their marriage to each other. For it is an unlikely marriage: Athena is an archetype who retains her power by never coupling, and Apollo is an archetype who has difficulties with carnal love. She easily evades whatever chases her, and everything he chases tries to evade him. How then have they fallen in love? What constitutes the glue of their marriage? Mind. Theirs is a marriage of brains, not bodies. His admiration for her competence draws the intellectual idealist who can turn bitter cynic when confronted with all the imperfections of the world toward the committed strategist who almost always finds a way to solve the problem at hand. The Apollo who lives on the mountaintop of human emotions and social values loves to watch how the Athena who lives in the middle of the polis regulates it toward civic harmony. He admires how she does not bother with the unattainable—the utopia to end history, the philosophy to fulfill a movement, the art piece to crown a summit, the epiphany to exalt a behavior—because she can accept what he finds it so difficult to accept: that imperfection is inevitable, even natural, that the world is meant to be imperfect, that perfection freezes and stills and ultimately kills, that the dissonance of incorporated imperfection is what makes every harmony dynamic. The marriage of their two points of view is the marriage of the high and the middle of civilization. The remote outsider at the top and the engaged insider at the very center of the action. The vision-setter of the farsighted goal of utopia and the problem-solver of the lived-in actuality of the city. The idealist and the realist working the city toward a just society. When they each reach the center of their epiphany and then combine them into a marriage the society that they jointly direct achieves the perfect balance between the real and the ideal, and, in combination with the unifying leadership of Zeus, culture reaches that rare peak in civilization called a Golden Age.
But Athena and Apollo don’t just work the high and middle of collective social behavior, they work the high and middle of individual personal behavior too. With the possible exception of Hermes the Trickster, they are the two most eloquent of gods. Communication is their strength, and so they communicate the ideal and the real to the interior civilization of psychology. Their forms of communication are different. Athena’s communication is humane, not judging imperfections but steering them toward better versions of themselves. Apollo’s communication is visionary, seeking perfection in all arenas of human aspiration. Her communication navigates; his enlightens. By starting in the center, she establishes immediate contact with what she is addressing, and then by means of that contact motivates all actions toward self-improvement. By starting from the heights, he illuminates an ideal that all can strive for but that few can near and none can ever reach. Both inspire. Apollo is the glamour god gleaming from an aristocratic distance, radiating a cultural ideal for all who seek self-improvement of values, principles, tastes, and behaviors. Athena inspires from up close, by leading self-improvement through the practical actions of daily decision-making toward a personal harmony that weaves into the larger civic harmony, resulting in the polis as extended family.
The civic family is the connecting point of their marriage. They meet in the center of the city at the agora. Athena of the involved center, who makes a social space for all members of the civic family in a way that Apollo of the detached heights never can, also creates a space for Apollo to enter the agora without compromising his ideals. Athena’s city keeps sight of Apollo’s utopia in the distance, using it as one of her tools to inspire the civic family toward greater accomplishment, but not as a goal that must be factually achieved. She uses utopia as a compass needle, and Apollo’s fascination with her ability to do this is one of the glues of their marriage. Through their marriage, the City in History aligns with the City at the End of History to move the experiment of democratic civilization forward toward its goal of full inclusion functioning at the highest level of cultural achievement. Apollo loves to watch Athena’s practical competence work the gears of society, and Athena admires how Apollo’s mental agility illuminates the ideals of culture. Weaving those gears and ideals of society and culture together is what Athena and Apollo have done in city after city throughout history. Their marriage plays the music of cities over and over again, from the walls of Jericho to the columns of Rome to the skyscrapers of New York to the golden mirage of utopia inspiring them all across the ten thousand years of human history called civilization.
Act Four: The Villain’s Journey
All of that gold. All of that shine. All of that success and light and competence and luminosity—repudiating Hades’ darkness and enraging him to the core. How can Hades break that marriage of the real and the ideal down? By baiting one half of the marriage to become as dark as himself and imprisoning the other half to live in the dark with himself, that’s how. Hades simmers, and plots, and waits for his moment. And waits. And waits. And waits. And then the moment appears.
The Archetypal Eye follows the shard to an amorphous rippling at the bottom of the collective unconscious sea. The shard enters the rippling, and disappears. The Archetypal Eye enters the rippling, and winds through the folds of a diaphanous curtain opening to…
Tana. The eye in the shadows. Tana. The view from the dark. Tana. There at the beginning and now here at the end. Tana. Who sees all. Hers is the Fates’ vision, of course, but to what thematic purpose? The Fates are always to the side of the narrative action, never in the main current; they are the ones who watch from beginning to end. Whether as Necessity’s eye, Macbeth’s witches, or Quinlan’s ex-lover, they speak ominously about a future that no one else in the plot can see from a past that few in the plot can ever remember. But in Touch of Evil there is a difference. These Fates were once a part of the plot—an erotic part of the plot. The Fates, here, care. And they care about the Villain, not the Hero. They have touched the evil of the Villain. Is that what brings the Fates out from the archetypal background and into the narrative foreground? Is it only a Villain that the Fates can love? Why?
The Archetypal Eye trails the shard into the backrooms of Tana’s bordello, past the scenes of the movie, and enters the realm of Greek mythic consciousness.
What would the Fates love in a Villain that they cannot love in a Hero? His darkness? Like the darkness left in the wake of their shared eye passed from hand to hand to hand? Or is it because the Villain, by residing in the dark of life, is the embodiment of everyone’s fate, which is the absolute darkness of death? Does death eroticize fate? Are Villains more erotic than Heroes because they live in the shadows, closer to the darkness of death? But why would shadows be more erotic than sunlight? Is darkness more erotic than light, and evil more erotic than goodness, and death more erotic than life, because they are all outsiders? Are outsiders more erotic than insiders because they need what insiders take for granted, entrance? Is the wound of exclusion more erotic than the seal of inclusion because it is more vulnerable, and thus more in need of contact? And is Hades, the archetypal outsider, the one excluded from the upperworld entirely, ultimately the most erotic of the gods because he governs all those outcast emotions that seek inclusion? How then would Hades seek entrance into the upperworld? By what means?
Images ripple in and out of visibility. Images of Hades’ isolation, images of Hades’ rage, images of Hades’ face…becoming Quinlan’s face…
By means of the Villain. The Villain is Hades. Hades enters the upperworld as the Villain. The Villain is one of Hades’ personae in the upperworld. The Villain in the shadows, the Villain in the dark, the Villain as corrupt, illegal, dangerous, sinister, fiendish, murderous, diabolical, the Villain as evil. The Villain who would bring everything in the upperworld down to the underworld, especially the Hero. The Villain who seeks out the Hero most of all. The Villain who hates the Hero and his demand for light most of all. The Villain who must kill the Hero, most of all.
Images of Quinlan young, images of Quinlan idealistic, images of Quinlan and his wife, images of Quinlan drunk, images of Quinlan’s first corruption…
The Fates watch the Villain, as Tana watches Quinlan, who once was her lover, and who might once have been a Hero, proceed with his plan in the dark to make everything else dark, to bring everything down to the underworld. They watch what the transformation of light into darkness will do to the human psyche, to the archetypes of psychology, to the fundamentals of human consciousness, to the capacity of human consciousness to enter and survive and even expand itself in the darkness. For as the Hero expands the light, it is the Villain who expands the darkness, and the Fates are watching to see what is possible.
Images of Quinlan’s many corruptions, images of Quinlan’s first murder…
The Fates watching the Villain and even caretaking him so that he can proceed to the end of his journey in the dark is a kind of love. But they will only go so far. Their love will provide respite, but not salvation. The Villain cannot be saved. The Villain’s journey is down. The Fates’ part of the plot is in keeping the Villain alive long enough for him to become strong enough to enter the darkest part of the underworld. Their coupling comes at the beginning of the Villain’s journey, with his initiation into darkness, and rescues him only for the purpose of allowing him to become what he is today at the end of his journey, the Villain in his prime.
Images of Quinlan’s face twisting and distorting until it becomes the deformed face that it is today…
What is produced by the coupling of a Villain with the Fates? Theological depth? Existential rebellion? Shadow heroism? Philosophical eroticism? Aesthetic malevolence? Ontological exploration? Is this what the Fates have nurtured? What they have protected? What they love? And which of the Fates has the Villain coupled with? Clotho who spins the thread of life, Lachesis who measures the thread of life, or Atropos who cuts the thread of life? Or is it all three? Does the Villain mate with each of their skills at the beginning of his journey and then spend his apprenticeship perfecting them until he becomes a master of all three? What does this mastery produce? The ability to lower even further into the dark? What would he find?
Quinlan staggers into Tana’s bordello…
The Fates watch the Villain push lower into the darkness, push through the most outcast of human behaviors, push through the current limits of human psychology, push toward the underworld that defines the lowest territory of human consciousness. It is the underworld that is the new frontier of human exploration. The route is no longer outward and across but inward and down. If the Hero rises, the Villain falls. It is the Villain and not the Hero who can explore the darkest regions of human identity. It is the Villain and not the Hero who can, if anyone can, find a way for the psyche to absorb the shadow. If the upward heroic aim of consciousness builds the outer territory of society, it is the downward villainous aim of consciousness that builds the inner territory of psychology, and together they comprise the totality of the human condition. It is the Villain, then, the one loved by the Fates rather than the gods, who leads the urge to see in the dark. The Fates are orchestrating a grand alchemy to watch the Villain push lower into darkness, deeper into the underworld, to the very bottom of human consciousness, until he reaches its last stop at Erebus and stands before the pitch-black void of the ontological frontier.
The Villain stands before the void in Erebus below.
Quinlan stands before the void in Tana’s bordello above.
Below and above are the same.
Quinlan and the Villain are the same.
The Fates’ alchemy has succeeded.
Now they can watch the result.
What are the Fates watching for now? To see if the Villain enters? To see if something comes out? For a new psychological action to appear in the ontological blackness? As the ones who watch the full span of human consciousness, from its forgotten past to its unknown future, what do the Fates hope to see? Or is the Villain something even more than the one they watch? Is he the way they watch? Is the Villain the Fates’ shared eye itself, pushing all the way into the ontological frontier? Are the Fates attempting to see inside the ontological frontier through the Villain? Are they watching to see what comes of a psyche that enters the void? To see if the Villain who enters the void can integrate the underworld and the upperworld into a new structure of consciousness? Are they watching for some sign of transition in the evolution of human consciousness? Is the Villain the means by which the Fates look into the future of human potential? What might this future look like?
Quinlan stands before the void.
The Villain expands the underworld as the Hero expands the upperworld. Both attack each other. And if consciousness is to be expanded this attack must somehow be fused into a single form of consciousness. But it is the Villain who leads the fusion, because while the Hero expands the known the Villain expands the unknown, and the unknown is the only place where newness can be born. Whatever that newness is will have to occur in the ontological frontier. In archetypal terms, Hades uses the Villain to eliminate Apollo’s sunlight, remove Zeus’s leadership, replace Olympus with Tartarus, and make Athena his underworld queen. Hades has left Apollo’s sun blackening in the upperworld and now aims to make Athena, the social strategist who regulates the upperworld, into his co-equal in power. Queen Athena is the way Hades wins. He will use the goddess who weaves the outside with the center into a larger whole to weave the upperworld’s light into his underworld darkness into an even larger whole. His grand goal of absorbing the upperworld into his underworld is so close he can almost touch it. Apollo has already turned violent and is on the threshold of breaking, so much for the vaunted strength of his “justice.” All Hades needs now is Athena’s submission and the new universe is his.
Quinlan stands before the void.
Is Hades attacking, or is he counterattacking? Is his assault on the upperworld a response to what he considered an earlier assault by Zeus on his underworld? Hadn’t Zeus already attempted the reverse of what Hades is attempting now when he plotted the elimination of Tartarus through its absorption into Olympus? And worse, hadn’t Zeus attempted this absorption through his coupling with Persephone—that affair that so enraged Hades, with Hades’ own wife, the only thing that Hades had ever won and the one thing, however imperfectly, that had ever relieved his underworld loneliness—to produce a new god in whom upperworld light and underworld darkness could be fused to create a new foundation of consciousness, and to whom he had intended to bequeath leadership of a revised Olympian universe? It didn’t work though, did it, Zeus? When the new god was born he was lured too close to the Titans imprisoned in Erebus and was torn to shreds and reborn in a reduced form, as Dionysus, who could only personify the contradictions of light and dark in human identity but not their fusion, and Zeus’s new potential for consciousness was gone forever. Now Hades is returning the favor. He is reversing Zeus’s assault with his own plot against the upperworld. He wants to steal Athena from Zeus to weave the upperworld’s light into the underworld’s darkness and create a new psychological universe ruled from Tartarus rather than Olympus. But for all of this to happen Apollo must first turn black and Athena must finally submit.
Quinlan enters the void.
The Villain’s Journey completes Act Four of the lost drama. All the elements are now in place for the decisive conflict of Act Five.
Act Five: Apollo Baits Hades
Athena has escaped!
And Hades is too drunk to notice.
Hades had lost her while getting drunk on his own underworld behavior, killing what he thought was the last person who could implicate him in his plot—the crime boss whom he had enlisted to abduct Athena—and in doing so has allowed Athena to escape. The strategy was sound, but Hades could not keep control of the means. With the last proof of his involvement gone Hades had assumed that he would be safe from prosecution and could complete the rest of his plan, but in his drunken disorder he has lost the very key to the plan, and, even worse, left proof that he was the one who killed the crime boss.
The war is already lost.
With Athena free, Apollo will not turn evil. In the persona of Vargas he has beaten up Athena’s kidnappers and destroyed a lot of furniture, but his high-minded sense of justice is back in place with the return of his wife, who is already recovering in a scene outside of the movie. And now Apollo is free to exact justice from Hades. He will do it the Apollonian way, with precision subtlety looking for a way to let Hades entrap himself. His means will be the use of Hades’ own Shadow, Quinlan’s partner of thirty years, Detective Pete Menzies, who has faithfully followed Quinlan every step of the way from his innocence to his corruption not just as a necessary evil but as a kind of adoring love, until now. Apollo shows the Shadow indisputable proof of Hades’ guilt, and the Shadow collapses. He knows what this means. Hades must be stopped. Hades has gone too far even for his own Shadow. Too much is at risk, the totality of a universe itself—whether that universe be a border town in Mexico or the control of human consciousness from Olympus—and Hades’ Shadow agrees with Apollo that something must be done. Apollo sets up his sun behind the dark of Hades’ Shadow, and waits.
In his relapsed drunkenness Hades doesn’t yet know that he has lost, but the Fates do. As Hades in the persona of Quinlan stumbles through their lair, the perfected Villain that they launched twelve years ago now becomes the dissolving Villain emerging from the ontological frontier. This is it. The moment the Fates have been waiting for. What do they see? An expansion of human identity? A new wrinkle in the human condition? A useful mutation in ontological evolution? A hint of greater possibilities to come? Nothing. They see nothing. Nothing once again. Humanity is exactly the same. The Villain reveals only what is already known. The Fates nod to themselves and back away. They will have to try it all over again with someone else. They take a last look at the Villain in the persona of Quinlan dissolving back into Hades and his inevitable return to underworld isolation. The shared eye comes back to them.
Hades flinches, startled. His vision suddenly changes from pitch-black to murky dark. His ontological view is now a normal underworld view again. Hades as the Villain never even knew that he had been carrying the Fates’ ontological eye in his own eyes all along. But he sees it now as the Fates pass the eye from socket to socket to socket while backing away. They see what the eye has seen, and the eye shows them what Hades has seen. The Fates exchange views of the ontological eye’s blackness, the blackness that Hades has just entered, the blackness beneath the lowest part of the underworld, the blackness at the bottom of human consciousness, the blackness of all actions made in the ontological frontier, while Hades watches them back away, another living thing backing away, even the Fates…are backing away. The Fates raise the eye for a final view. And now Hades sees what it shows of himself. He sees his own future of isolation once again returning to the dark.
And then the Fates are gone.
Hades stands alone in his drunken isolation, pretending not to have seen what the Fates have shown, pretending not to know that his dream of conquering Olympus, that seemed so close to being grasped, is already gone. He staggers out of the bordello toward his final encounter with Apollo, who is waiting for him at the border between the underworld and the upperworld, his crusading light concealed behind Hades’ Shadow. The Shadow will betray Hades, him the ultimate betrayer, and force the last of Hades’ grand dream of darkness replacing light back to the underworld. The attempt to take control of the psychological universe is over. Hades approaches his Shadow reeling with the knowledge of his impending doom, but he keeps it to himself while going through the motions of his plan. What else can he do? Then he senses something. Something…Something’s wrong. He senses…Apollo’s presence!—and turns suddenly to find him concealed behind his own Shadow. His own Shadow. The guns are raised, but only one bullet makes it out of the chamber, and Hades’ Shadow drops to the ground. That’s what happens to those who betray. Even the dead can kill the dead. And now Hades aims his gun at Apollo, who has no gun. Maybe the Fates were wrong. Maybe he can win after all. Maybe Zeus is already shaking in his Olympian boots. What about you, Apollo? Are you shaking too? And then the bullet from behind rips through his body. Hades’ Shadow was not quite dead yet, was he? Now he is. But so is Hades, who falls with a splash into the muck as Quinlan’s corpse. The Villain is dead. The Hero has won. The upperworld is safe once again. Apollo walks away from the corpses toward his wife Athena, who is waiting for him in the chariot of the sun at the near edge of dawn. He jumps inside and they ride away. Back at the corpses, the Fates reappear to assess their effort. Two corpses, and no advance made into the ontological frontier. They bless the bodies and disappear for good.
Apollo Baits Hades completes Act Five of the lost drama. Euripides’ reimagined masterpiece has come to its end.
Epilogue: The Hero of Tartarus
The Archetypal Eye emerges from the muck, back in the upperworld.
Hades’ offensive is finished. His takeover has failed. The God of the Underworld has lost. Hades withdraws from the Villain’s corpse and returns to his underworld throne while Zeus retains control of the upperworld through Olympus. Psychology will remain as it is. What psychology would have looked like if Hades had won and transferred its control to Tartarus remains an open question. The Dark Ages? The Black Death? Torquemada’s dungeon? The Middle Passage? The Bedlam insane asylum? Auschwitz? Any war zone in history? Robben Island? The Favela ghetto? Stalin’s purges? The Watts Riots? Aleppo’s rubble? Only the emotions allowed in those places, broadened to be the only emotions allowed anywhere? Or is it found in more intimate settings? Freud’s couch? Janice Joplin’s overdose? Timothy Leary’s hallucination? Vladimir Putin’s conscience? Any shaman’s dreamtime? The first third of the Tibetan bardo? Or is it outside of “reality” entirely? Do we find the expansion of psychology through Tartarus attempted in Proust’s memories? Kafka’s bureaucracy? Rilke’s rose? Celan’s anguish? Shakespeare’s tragedies? The last third of 2001: A Space Odyssey? More will need to be investigated. For the moment all we know is that Hades has lost and Zeus has won and what has been still is. The Olympian universe has held. But one can’t help wondering if something important has been lost while everything important has been saved.
The Archetypal Eye lifts out of the muck and floats up to a view over the bridge for an assessment of the aftermath.
We see now that the lost drama is really the first work of a trilogy. The Corruption of the Upperworld would be followed by The Siege of Olympus and then by The Peace of Olympus, or perhaps Olympus Rebuilt, or even Tartarus Rises. But their forms remain unclear, and exploring their possibilities, of what psychology would have looked like if Hades had won and what the drama would have read like if it had been preserved, will have to be put aside for another day. The trilogy of The War Between Hades and Zeus remains lost in the collective unconscious sea.
The Archetypal Eye lowers onto the bridge for the last scene of the movie. Once again Tana is walking away into the dark.
How close might Orson Welles have gotten to the mythic power of the lost drama if he had been allowed to complete Touch of Evil on his own? It is possible that the original print of the movie actively explored many of these possibilities and was every bit the update of Euripides that this reimagined lost drama suggests. Welles’ 58-page memo to his producers detailed a complex intercutting between Susan’s story and Vargas’s to give them equal weight in the overall narrative, suggesting a deeper layer of thematic meaning, and the subtle orchestration of Menzies’ love for Quinlan came down to a single close-up that Welles decided to omit from the final print to confirm that it is love’s anguish and not justice’s coercion that makes Menzies act. Whatever else Welles was probing for can only be guessed at. Welles’ final intentions, along with the Greek drama and the film negative, are gone for good. What we do know is that the extant print of Touch of Evil only grazes these possibilities.
Tana disappears into the dark. The Fates and their eye of the Villain are gone. Touch of Evil is over. The Archetypal Eye watches the credits roll.
What remains is a strange, nocturnal self-portrait of the heroic artist broken by his own recklessness and hubris and by the ignorance and indifference of Hollywood. As Orson Welles descended from the archetypal constellation of his early wunderkind days commandeering the artistic triumph of Citizen Kane with brio to an underworld Hades reaching out desperately from the psychological darkness of Touch of Evil for some handle back to the light, we can see the crippling of an Oedipus, the freefall of a Bellerophon, the confinement of a Theseus once again. We add Orson Welles to the list of tragic heroes, and approach his tombstone in the imaginal graveyard of aesthetic memory with reverence. Let us place a stone, and collectively bow our heads.
And mark, once again, the summit of Citizen Kane.
H. A. Sappho is native Angeleno with expat time spent in Prague, Berlin, and Hanoi. His baseline interest is archetypal psychology. He has self-published nine books of poetry and prose collectively named the Puer Cycle. “Touch of Evil” is from his recently completed book, Hermes and Apollo at the Movies: A Cinematic Portrait of the Western Psyche at the Crossroads. Currently he is at work on Faust, Part 3.