Star Trek “Insurrection”: Archetypes in Cinema

The notion of “archetype” varies.   According to C.G. Jung, an archetype is an image inherited from the earliest human ancestors and is present in the collective unconscious. These archetypes are ongoing.  They may be suppressed or dormant but are not destroyed.

An archetype is difficult to specify definitively.  For example, the Devouring Mother is a commonly experienced archetype. However, the image of the archetype varies according to cultural context, historic moment, and personal predisposition.

In the Hindu tradition this image may be rendered as Kali with her necklace of severed heads. 


In the Classical Greek context, it looks like Medusa with her serpentine hair whose gaze turns the viewer to stone.


The artist’s mandate is to put fresh garments on the archetype so that it is more available to the modern world and yet contains the same potency.

To better prepare for this task, study of these archetypes and their representation across time and cultures in myth and art is highly recommended.

For Jung, James Hillman, and other prominent psychologists, any deity is a rendered image of an archetype.  In an essay listed below, I discuss the Apollo and Hermes archetypes in the film: Star Trek – Insurrection from this Jungian/archetypal psychological perspective as an example of this type of understanding of “archetype.”

Others see the notion of archetype as serving a dramatic function that furthers and deepens story.  Vogler’s Character Archetypes are examples of this perspective.  (see The Writers Journey for more detailed information.)

These two perspective of “archetype” are not mutually exclusive. By becoming familiar with both, you may find they are complementary; each deepening the understanding of the other.

Apollo and Hermes Archetypes in Insurrection

Star Trek – Insurrection is the ninth big screen feature film of the Star Trek franchise. In this Next Generation adventure, the android, Data, experiences a major malfunction. He attacks Federation partners and a Starfleet admiral. Captain Picard and crew are on a separate assignment when they learn of Admiral Dougherty’s problems with Data. The Enterprise immediately goes to Data’s location to assist in clearing up the incident. Picard tells the admiral that he will control Data or terminate him. Picard becomes a focused detective in his quest to identify the cause of Data’s malfunction. He uncovers a plot to forcibly relocate the whole of the planet’s population, the Ba’ku. The planet’s metaphasic radiation has a Fountain-of-Youth effect on the inhabitants who appear young, healthy and mentally alert but have been on the planet 309 years and were not young when they arrived. The Ba’ku are technologically knowledgeable with warp drive capability, but as Sojet, Artim’s father says, “Our technological abilities are not apparent because we have chosen not to employ them in our daily lives. We believe that when you create a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man.” Their society is a pastoral agrarian one with a high regard for artisans and their craftsmanship. It is peaceful and has a paradise-like quality. It is ironic that technology is what threatens their lives on this planet and it is technology that exposes the relocation conspiracy thereby preserving their way of life.

The people behind this plot are runaway Ba’ku, now calling themselves Son’a, who left the planet in search of “off-lander” worlds. But, without the metaphasic radiation, their bodies became “a plastic surgeon’s worst nightmare.” The reason behind removing the population is so that the metaphasic particles can be collected to make this extended youth available to all the people of the Federation. However the collection process will make the planet uninhabitable. Picard feels this forced diaspora is contrary to the Prime Directive which prevents any Starfleet expedition from interfering with the natural development of other civilizations. He risks his starship, his career and his life to lead an insurrection against this Federation sanctioned plan. One of the movie’s messages is that there is a price to pay for the benefits of technology, and any given society must raise to their consciousness as to what that cost is.

The movie opens panning a pastoral scene and children playing hide and seek in a field of haystacks. It appears to be a tranquil, simple society; even to the point of being archaic. Here Data is wearing an isolation suit that conceals him from the Ba’ku. He rips off his head piece and reveals a stunning image of a disembodied head. Data is an extreme illustration of the distant, logical thinker of the Apollonian archetype. The image of Data as a disembodied head emphasizes the Apollonian importance of the head, as the seat of the mind and thought. Another characteristic of Apollo, besides being detached and distant, is his prowess as an archer. In this scene, like Apollo the archer, Data armed with a phaser (a weapon of distance), shoots at those he opposes. Phoebus Apollo brings the light of day to the world and enhances the ability to see.  In this scene, Data, like Apollo, brings to light the hidden and secret Son’a and Federation observers for all the Ba’ku to see.

As a Starfleet officer, Data is required to obey orders from a superior officer.  He knowingly disobeys a direct command from his superior officer. He appears to be out of control and out of his mind. These characteristics are not part of the Apollonian archetype. This is a trick by the filmmaker however and we will see later that he in fact is acting rationally. Also there is a brief but obvious connection between the young boy, Artim, and Data. Artim cannot take his eyes off Data. The way Data is revealed is both compelling and repulsive to Artim. Data, too, sees the boy and holds him in his gaze. The Apollo-Hermes connection is strengthened throughout the movie, but here is their first meeting in the movie.

In the Star Trek television series, Data is continually trying to understand what it is about humans that make them human. A major stumbling block in this endeavor was his inability to feel emotion. The script writers expanded the character by providing an “emotion chip” created specifically by his father to enhance his development. Because of Data’s aberrant behavior, the question of his emotion chip is raised. However Geordi confirms that Data left his emotion chip behind when he went on this mission. Frequently Apollo is placed in opposition to Dionysus, known for his abandon to sensual pleasures. Commenting on the secrets of Eleusis, Ginette Paris says in Pagan Grace, ” … we sense the difference between Dionysian consciousness, emotional and experiential, and Apollonian consciousness, which is abstract and formal.” The comment that Data is not operating under the influence of his emotion chip leads the viewer away from a possible Dionysian explanation of his behavior and reestablishes the rational behavior of an Apollo archetype. The possibility that Data is acting emotionally is removed. Geordi and Picard now proceed to solve the mystery of Data’s bizarre behavior knowing that Data is responding logically to circumstances. They try to uncover what those circumstances might be, but first Data must be captured.

Data appears to have become a renegade. He has appropriated the mission scout ship and uses its weaponry to attack the Son’a spacecraft with a Starfleet admiral on board. He even fires on Picard and Worf when they attempt to capture him. Karl Kerenyi, in his book Apollo says that Apollo is the God from afar in that his arrows strike from a distance with inevitable death. Like Apollo, Data, throughout the whole movie, is never portrayed in open proximity to those he opposes, Admiral Dougherty and the leader of the So’na, Ru’afo. Although Data does not directly kill these two leaders of the Ba’ku relocation program, both of them are dead by the end of the film.

Since threats and force are not successful, Picard tries a different tack. When Picard sings, “come out, come out, wherever you are,” Data materializes as if summoned by the song. Picard continues using music to successfully approach and neutralize Data. Music and Apollo are closely linked. Kerenyi quotes the Hymn to Apollo by Callimachus (Apollo),

None is so versatile in skill as Apollo/He watches over the archer; he watches over the bard;/Phoebus’s are both the bow and song.

The use of music to get through to Data is another example of the archetype of Apollo in this film. Hermes meets Apollo’s anger and the judgment of Zeus with such a disarming impertinence that his brother’s affection was now entirely regained, purchased by the gift of the lyre. Data likewise is disarmed by engagement in singing with Worf and Picard.

In this sequence the film clarifies that Data had been shot by these opponents and this is what blew his circuits. He was shot because he chanced upon a secret Federation vessel with a holographic image of the Ba’ku village. When he was shot, he lost his memory and failsafe systems were activated to protect him from being taken advantage of. These systems allow him to defend himself against attack, which he does in a logical and orderly fashion. The holodeck and transporter beams were the intended means to forcibly and secretly relocate the whole Ba’ku settlement. Apollo’s light illuminates. In order to maintain a deception Apollo must be removed. The Son’a fear that because Data has seen the device he will expose (illuminate) the plan. They try to destroy Data, but like Apollo, Data is a formidable opponent and they are not successful. This scene also confirms that Data’s apparent bizarre behavior was actually rational and logical when the facts of the situation are known.

Data’s effort to connect with Artim are openly displayed mid-way through the film. It is his fascination with this young Hermes, Artim, that leads Data to discover the holodeck. The mercurial aspect of science frequently results in “brilliant” discoveries. This point is a subtle one in the movie: Data is following Artim when he “chances” upon the Son’a plot. Without this mercurial turn of events, the Son’a plan would have been successfully executed. Apollo and Hermes together are the creative force which frustrates this forced relocation scheme.

In the scene where the Ba’ku are evacuating their settlement trying to reach the safety of caves in the nearby mountains where they can hide from the Son’a, the bond between Data and Artim is clearly demonstrated in their conversation. Data’s “specifications” are rigid and static. This is in direct contrast to Artim’s constantly changing body as a child experiences growth. It is hard, if not impossible, to pin Hermes down. He is ever changing; mercurial, where with Apollo, “what you see is what you get.”

Artim questions Data about play and fun. Data explains that play means playing the violin (another reference to music) or playing chess; a very structured game requiring a high degree of logical thought. This type of Apollonian expression of playing is not what Artim means. He is instead talking about the child-like quality of playing without structure for no other reason than the pleasure of having fun. Hermes is well known for his playfulness and fun. Paris, in Pagan Grace, quotes the Hymn to Hermes which says,

There/he found a turtle/and it brought/lots of fun …/The son of Zeus,/ the helper,/looked at it,/then burst out laughing, and said this:/”What a great sign,/what a help this is for me!/I won’t ignore it./Hello there,/little creature,/dancing up and down,/companion at festivals,/how exciting it is/to see you.

The reader of this hymn also can sense the fun of this extraordinary little animal. Apollo might see the same creature but, instead of experiencing fun, he would weigh it, measure it and observe its behavior. He might even experience pleasure, for there is pleasure in gaining Apollonian knowledge. But it would not be fun. The charisma of Hermes’s charm won Apollo over, but Apollo will forever be challenged to learn how to play and have fun. His association with Hermes might be as close as he will come.

This closing scene ends like the movie began with the disembodied head of Data. This time, though, he is in the act of play with Artim. Apollo is trying to find the Hermes in himself. Data speaks like a child would by saying, “I have to go home now;” a common expression of children when their play is interrupted by demands of adults. Data and Artim have become fast friends just as Apollo and Hermes did in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes

Even though Data is unable to experience emotion, there is an inkling by this viewer that these two have developed an authentic affection for each other.

Data rejoins the Enterprise crew, but before he departs, Artim admonished him by saying, “Don’t forget! You have to have fun every day.” There is a subtle reference here about Data’s loss of memory earlier in the film. Apollo has an incredible faculty for facts and figures. But maybe, buried in his memory, there exists the potential capacity for Hermes-like play; a capacity that must be remembered before it can be employed. Data plays a Hermes-like trick on Riker which demonstrates to Artim that Data will take to heart his command to have fun every day.

Confession to the reader: My attraction to this film when it first came out was significantly due to my own tendency to be dry and analytic. I sense an incompleteness in me through my own inability to play and have fun. By working through the archetypal images of Apollo and Hermes, I feel I too can learn from Hermes similar to the way Data does in this film. The Hermes in my life is my daughter, who I believe I have, in some ways, failed because of this inability. This Apollo-Hermes theme encouraged me to balance my Apollo-like tendency with the play of Hermes.

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Replenish the Well

Imagination is mediated by, arises out of, and/or is informed by the psyche.  It is difficult to separate imagination, creativity, and the psyche.  C. G. Jung stated that psyche is image.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron reminds the creative person (who is all of us) to nurture the imagination; tend it; give it space to play; take it on a date.  When you have need to dip into the well of your imagination, ensure that it has not become dust.

I am currently reading Philosophies of India by Heinrich Zimmer.  The Indian mythologies are teeming with images: literary, visual, poetic. It occurs to me as I am reading it that the expanse of the images of Indian mythology is as broad as the subcontinent of India itself which supports these rich mythologies.

By delving into mythology you may hit the mother lode of images.

I do not want to “should” on you (see Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, “The Three Metamorphoses”, i.e. kill the dragon “thou shalt.”).  What I do is offer is a pearl of wisdom.  You choose to accept, reject, or revisit it at a later date.

Replenish your well.

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And, mythology is not a bad place to start.