“Professor Charles Xavier: You know, I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.”
Within the greater discipline of psychology, there is a branch known as humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology is special, as it deals with more than the physical world. Humanistic psychology is a discipline that borrows ideas from all over the world and incorporates them into a greater understanding of the human experience.
One of the ideas borrowed is an idea that is familiar, though barely understood, to Western culture: the yin yang symbol. Most people associate the yin yang symbol with the new age movement (hippy stuff, as my dad would call it). In humanistic psychology, the symbol is used as a tool to understand dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking is about blending and change, but change that takes place through conflict and opposition. So how does this relate to the yin-yang symbol, which is often used as a symbol of peace?
There are three main ideas behind the yin yang symbol as it relates to humanistic psychology:
1) The interdependence of opposites: There is no light without darkness
2) The interpenetration of opposites: There are bits of light within darkness, and vice versa
3) The unity of opposites: we cannot understand darkness without light, and vice versa
The writers among you will recognise that these principles also relate to storytelling. I believe that every story should be utilizing these principles, for both plot and character. A story without darkness is boring, but a story without light is just as devoid of life. No light should be pure, and no darkness should be absolute. You should always be able to see the darkness of the hero reflected in the villain, and vice versa.
Magneto might be my favourite character of all time.
He is one of the single most complex characters of any medium, a holocaust survivor devoting his life to the protection of his people by any means necessary.
I used a quote from the film X-men: First Class to begin my post. This is because Magneto represents the culmination between the two opposites, rage and serenity, illustrating the nature of dialectical thinking.
How can you tell? He wears purple.
Bear with me.
Just like white and black, red and blue, the colours that make up purple, are opposites. I won’t bore you with the grade school explanations of the colour wheel. In the human consciousness, red and blue represent two opposites as well. Red is associated with rage and fire, whereas blue is associated with calm and water. When mixed together, purple is created.
A place between rage and serenity.
Magneto himself is a mix between these two things. On one hand, he’s a classy villain, who has definite air of the Shakespearean about him: he soliloquizes, uses proper nouns, doesn’t curse and has full control over his power. On the other hand, he’s prone to fits of rage against the human race, and occasionally his foes. In his determination to keep mutantkind safe, he ruthlessly kills regular humans.
A lot of fans, myself included, have to wonder if he’s right on some level. The members of the X-men frequently wonder this too, and often find themselves working with Magneto towards a common goal.
How does this relate to the above?
Magneto and the X-men are opposites of each other at first glance, but they need each other. There are shared philosophies between the groups. Their motivations are understood by their status as opposites.
This is a prime example of using the yin-yang idea in writing.
And it makes stories better.
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On another note, for more of Magneto check out the trailer for X-men: Days of Future Past: