How G.W. Pabst and David Lynch Were Influenced by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud

The great Austrian director G.W. Pabst graced the film world with some of the most thought-provoking movies to hit the silver screen. Among some of his most intriguing works featured sophisticated inclusion of the kind of psychoanalytical thought that was prevalent at the time. Here’s what connoisseurs of silent films with a penchant for the intellectual should know about Pabst’s use of figures like Sigmund Freud. We will also visit the influence of Carl Jung in David Lynch’s work.


‘Secrets of the Soul’

There is, perhaps, no other film in Pabst’s portfolio that borrows so heavily from the psychoanalytical thinking of the times than ‘Secrets of the Soul.’ What Pabst left us with this film is an insightful glimpse at early Western psychology and how it became adapted and interpreted in film.


Psychoanalytic Elements

Perhaps some of the most recognizable elements from the field of psychology that were present in both G.W. Pabst and David Lynch’s films is the notion of unconscious yet irrepressible desires. These unconscious desires present themselves most prominently in Pabst’s ‘Secrets of the Soul’ when the protagonist finds himself nearly unable to resist the urge to pick up knives and murder his wife.

These dark undertones are recurring throughout the film as he continuously struggles with these homicidal urges directed primarily towards his wife. The knife comes to represent the object of his irrepressible desire and his plight is unresolved until speaking with a psychoanalyst.


Dream Sequence Scene in ‘Secrets of the Soul’

One of the most striking scenes in ‘Secrets of the Soul’ is when the protagonist finds himself in a disturbing dream sequence in which he is hunted by his wife’s cousin using a rifle and in uniform. At the time of the dream, the protagonist is aware that his cousin-in-law will be returning from Sumatra and abroad. He had sent him a dagger and a miniature statue from his travels in the military, and a photograph of himself in uniform.

In the dream, while being fired upon by his cousin-in-law, he leaps from the ground and proceeds to fly into the air. Later on, he finds himself near a statue resembling the one his wife’s cousin sent to them.


Filmmaker David Lynch’s Interpretations of Carl Jung

The dream sequence from Pabst’s, ‘Secrets of the Soul,’ features certain parallels with a dream scene in David Lynch’s film, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.’ These parallels, in turn, borrow from the psychological thought of Carl Jung.


‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,’ and its Relation to Carl Jung’s Dream Theory

The movie surrounds the events leading up to the murder of a character named Laura Palmer. Much of the film follows the investigative efforts of agent Dale Cooper. As far as the plot goes, the dream is simple and acts as a clue in solving his investigation. The other undertones of the dream sequence, however, remain a mystery worthy of debate.

One of the most iconic of David Lynch’s dream sequences is lead character Dale Cooper’s dream in, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’. In the dream, Dale Cooper encounters a woman who may be the elusive Laura Palmer herself. There is also a mysterious man in red who is known as, the man from another place. The voices of the man from another place and the woman, ostensibly Laura Palmer, are distorted, making the dream-like effect more palpable. The man from another place says a series of seemingly unrelated statements before rising and proceeding to dance. Laura Palmer then approaches Cooper somewhat seductively.

There have been many interpretations of this scene. Some have said that the man from another place represents Dale Cooper as a child. The silhouette of a bird is seen gliding across the background. One interpretation of this is that the bird’s shadow represents a hidden version of Dale Cooper’s ego. While none of these are definitive, the speculation that this one scene has provoked is quite extraordinary.


Freud V. Jung, Two Distinct Interpretations of the Meaning of Dreams

With G.W. Pabst’s psychoanalytical influences coming from Sigmund Freud, David Lynch’s films draw on Carl Jung. While there are certain undeniable parallels between the two, there are also some stark differences.

The similarities in dream theory are shared mostly due to Carl Jung having begun as a student of Sigmund Freud. Later on, Jung grew into his own distinct line of psychoanalytical thought.

Freud maintained that there were two primary methods of interpreting dreams. The first method had ancient origins and is comprised of semiotic, or symbolic interpretation. The use of symbols thus became one of the major themes when representing dreams in film, especially in earlier films such as Pabst’s where symbolism was plentiful. Freud’s second method of interpretation relied on a cipher. The dreamer would relay their dream and then make use of a cipher or dream dictionary of sorts to identify the meaning of the most important parts of the dream.

One thing that Freud and Jung agreed upon on dream interpretation was that it required a form of analysis. It was on that form of analysis that the psychoanalysts disagreed on.

Freud believed that dreams represented wish fulfillment and had to be blurred to hide the unacceptable contents of one’s wishes. He insisted that the dreamer must confront these hidden meanings.

For his part, Jung had a much different interpretation. He surmised that dreams were a form of language of sorts.


The Takeaway, What Can Be Learned from All This?

Once we’ve watched these films in their entirety, we can see how the inferences from psychoanalysis come in. They are easily discernible when watching the films of Pabst and Lynch. Both of these directors are arguably among some of the most artistic and daring men to have worked in film. Like Freud and Jung, the approaches and themes of Pabst and Lynch’s work diverge, each pioneering into a different direction, some similarities still remain.

Film enthusiasts are fortunate to have the works of Pabst and Lynch available. These films touch on some of the most intriguing and artistic concepts. As movies, they are self-contained worlds, each offering a different view into the shadows. As such, the movies take viewers on a walk down some of the darker corridors of conciseness.


Influence of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud on filmmakers G.W. Pabst and David Lynch

“Perhaps some of the most recognizable elements from the field of psychology that were present in both G.W. Pabst and David Lynch’s films is the notion of unconscious yet irrepressible desires.”





G.W. Pabst: One of Austria’s Greatest Directors

In the blur of the sands of time, certain ghosts from the silver screen rise and fall in and out of obscurity. For those with the gumption to delve into the past, the greats of the silent film world can impart priceless insights. Whether for the sake of filmography research or out of genuine interest in the people themselves, there is always something to discover.

Every now and again we like to knock the dust off of the giants of the silver screen and bring them back to life. One such individual, is the mysterious and prolific director, G.W. Pabst.


The Great Mr. Pabst

Hailing from the heavily forested and mountainous nation of Austria, Georg Wilhelm Pabst was arguably one of the brightest and most forward-thinking directors of his time.

Mr. Pabst got his start in film after World War I as an assistant director. His first film was introduced in 1923 in the form of, ‘The Treasure’ or ‘Der Schatz’. The first decade of his film subsequent film career was in the heart of German Expressionism in cinema.

One of the inherent themes associated with his work is women in adversity oppressed by a malignant social order. The end results in these films were either imprisonment or abandonment, making for a unique perspective in film at the time.

For movies of the silver screen, these themes are especially significant as his films were, sometimes, considered rather controversial in nature. The controversy is also a key part of what gave Pabst’s films such power, and that power still sends echoes into the modern world, hearkening to a very different time in cinematography.


His Greatest Films, Lost Worlds of the Silver Screen

All of the films mentioned below carry the same undertones of the oppressed woman faced by a hostile society that confined her.


‘Pandora’s Box’

One of the most compelling films from the last 90 years, ‘Pandora’s Box’ was released auspiciously on the eve of destruction, shortly before the stock market crash of 1929. It was the end of the party, one that had filled a decade with some of the most excessive displays of opulence the world has ever seen.

The film itself is an artistic tragedy that will haunt the imagination for years to come and is arguably one of Pabst’s most important works. The protagonist, Lulu, convinces a middle-aged newspaper publisher into marriage. Not long afterward he puts his bride at gunpoint in a fit of jealousy. In the struggle, she shoots him and subsequently goes on the lam with the publisher’s son who is enamored with her. As the story continues she leaves a trail of men whose lives have been devastated in the wake of her innocent yet seductive charms.

The concept of Pandora’s Box as we are familiar with from ancient Greek mythology is embodied in the character of Lulu. Tragedy befalls all who interact with her.

As such, the character comes to symbolize the destructive effects of Pandora’s Box whilst despite a flair for the amoral, retains some manner of intrinsic innocence. With many violent twists, the film carries dark undertones that are made even more intriguing as a silent film.

After narrowly escaping capture, she lives with her adopted father and descends into the squalid life of a courtesan, reduced to walking the streets. Her social descent leads to tragedy as she meets a frightful end on the dank streets of London at the hands of Jack the Ripper.


‘Diary of a Lost Girl’

Both ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ and ‘Pandora’s Box’ take a sharp turn towards the sensual and delaminates a significant progression in Pabst’s cinematic style. As both of these films feature the legendary actress Louise Brooks, who plays Thymian in this film, they represent some of his finest work.

Curiously, ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ happens to share some characteristics with the novel, ‘Lolita’. Themes that are arguably shared by the two are prostitution, pregnancy, and prejudice. These similarities are also easily spotted in Adrian Lyne’s film adaptation of the novel, ‘Lolita’ which borrows from ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’ quite heavily. In this way, the work of Pabst and Lyne are somewhat similar in their use of these themes.

Not only do the themes of prostitution, pregnancy, and prejudice characterize these two works, there are some arguable connections between characters as well. Humbert, the perverse protagonist of ‘Lolita’ who hungers for his wife’s daughter and winds up in prison has much in common with Meinert. In ‘Diary of a Lost Girl,’ Meinert plays Thymian’s father’s assistant who lusts after the young Thymian and ultimately impregnates her.

One thing that Thymian and Humbert have in common, is that they both kept diaries through times of adversity. Humbert wrote his diary from prison while Thymian wrote from the horrors of her hellish life.

In ‘Diary of a Lost Girl‘ the protagonist, portrayed by Louise Brooks, is thrown out of her home by family after becoming pregnant with a pharmacist’s child. Matters were made more complicated when she refused to marry him, which led to great conflict in the film. The theme is just as valid today as it was nearly a century ago in 1929.


‘The Joyless Street’

Set in the storied city of Vienna during one of the most dreadful periods of economic depression, occurring shortly after the close of the First World War, the film is a tale of money, intrigue, and romance.

Full of ambition, Egon Stirner vies to manipulate the stock market and falls in love with Regina Rosenow, the daughter of an elite. His love is unrequited however and he embarks on an affair with Lia Leid, the wife of a prosperous doctor. As the film progresses murder and scandal ensue as characters struggle with desperation. The film evokes a powerful message in that the viewer’s sense of the character’s plight and despair is remarkably palpable.

As such, ‘The Joyless Street,’ is another of Pabst’s successes in imparting strong emotional currents through film.


A Career to Learn From, the Filmography of G.W. Pabst Lives on

Reaching out from the depths of the past, Mr. Pabst’s unique filmography continues to teach those working in or interested in film to this day. With a firm grip on certain minds, his work lives on and serves as a most extraordinary example of human creativity and cinematic mastery.


Louise Brooks and G.W. Pabst

“One of the inherent themes associated with his work is women in adversity oppressed by a malignant social order. The end results in these films were either imprisonment or abandonment, making for a unique perspective in film at the time.”