Jung, Synchronicity, and The Eagle Has Landed

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain"; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16)
There is a key scene at the beginning of The Eagle Has Landed, John Sturges' 1976 WWII thriller. Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, has handed Oberst Radl the task of doing a study into the feasibility of kidnapping Winston Churchill. No sooner has he been given the project than he receives a report that Churchill will soon be staying at a secluded village on the north Norfolk coast. Sitting opposite his aide, Radl gives voice to a theory.

RADL: Are you familiar with the works of Jung, Karl?

KARL: I am aware of the works of Jung, not familiar, Herr Oberst

RADL: He is a very great thinker, a rational man. And yet, he speaks of something called "synchronicity". Events having a coincidence in time. Because of this the feeling that some much deeper motivation is involved.

KARL: Yeah, yeah, I understand that, Sir.

RADL: Take this affair: The Führer comes up with an absurd suggestion that we emulate Skorzeny by abducting Churchill. Now, for political reasons we're plotted into making a worthless report of the prospects, and then suddenly synchronicity rears its disturbing head.

KARL: Yeah, yeah, I see that.

RADL: We receive a routine report with a brief notation that next month, after visiting a local bomber command, Churchill will spend a weekend in a country manor less than seven miles from a deserted coastline. At any other time this report would mean nothing. At this particular time, and in that particular file...it becomes a circumstance which titillates - a coincidence to tease us.

KARL: Surely Herr Oberst doesn't really believe this thing could be carried off.

RADL: A wink from a pretty girl at a party results rarely in climax, Karl, but a man is a fool not to push a suggestion as far as it will go.

It is with this theory in mind that Radl keeps pushing the operation on to the next stage - from a mere study in logistics, to actionable mission. It has become an experiment to test out this theory of synchronicity. In Radl's mind, everything is slotting remarkably into place: They quickly find a willing participant in the mercenary Irishman, Liam Devlin; their contact in England has no difficulty in gaining employment for Devlin; his papers and passport are sanctioned; recently disgraced, Kurt Steiner is the perfect candidate to lead the operation, and he comes complete with an attachment of curiously loyal men who enthusiastically accept the adventure. Even minor details are too titillating to ignore: Is the pilot of the E-boat commissioned to help them escape from their mission familiar with the east coast of England? "I have been there. Five years I was first mate on a cargo ship out of there." In reply to Devlin's rascally inquiry about a cyanide pill, Radl replies, "I couldn't conceive of a situation which would force you to take one."

However, Radl's growing certainty with the theory of synchronicity has lead him to be impulsive. He quickly exceeds his authority. Admiral Canaris, happens to compare the absurdity of going through with such a mission to the Charge of the Light Brigade, a comparison which turns out to be uncannily accurate.

When Reichsführer Himmler jokes using the same metaphor, Radl is momentarily caught off guard, but he chooses to overlook this particular coincidence. Later, he rashly reports to Himmler that the troops have arrived in England, as if that somehow confirmed the mission's success, and asks for the news to be conveyed to the Führer - at which point the film takes a disturbing down-turn, and we begin to wonder whether it really is Churchill's kidnapping that is meant to be the climax of this particular series of coincidences. "We are all in the hands of Oberst Steiner now," says Himmler, ominously.

There comes a point where even Steiner gets caught up in the coincidence. When US ranger Captain Clark tells him "there is no death with honour. Only death," Steiner replies, "If I'm going to die, allow me to choose where and how." Yet moments later, when Devlin questions the sense in continuing to go after Churchill, Steiner says, "The time has come, Mr Devlin, when I no longer control events - they control me." Things quickly declined after one of his men dived into the watermill to save a little girl from drowning and was himself killed on the wheel. The US rangers cornered his men in the church with apparently no escape, and suddenly, Devlin is there with car keys and news of a concealed exit at the rear. What other conclusion could a "romantic fool" like Steiner reach?

And what of Mr Devlin? Perhaps he is the only character to be true to himself. The whole experience could be looked back upon as a series of coincidences to lead him to the love of a woman who would forgive anything. A love he denies himself simply because, "I came to Norfolk to do a job, not to fall in love." And, yet...a moment of chaos, a random accidental shotgun blast momentarily keeps the mission on track, but more importantly it permanently binds Molly to Liam. Is this what synchronicity was leading to all along? The wink from a pretty girl? Devlin has already playfully revealed his passing interest in astrology. Their star signs align. Surely that's just synchronicity in another guise. Devlin is no fool. He is willing to wait for the dust to settle, and then he will see how far the suggestion can be pushed.

James' interpretation of life (quoted at the outset) does not fare much better than the theory of synchronicity. Is life a mist, or is God involved? He acknowledges the chaotic nature of life by mentioning the unknown, but then he confuses the matter by implicating God in those unknowns. Was it God's will, or was it "time and unforeseen occurrence"? One could almost draw more comfort from the notion that life comes and goes based on a random set of coincidences, rather than agonising over whether God's will had anything to do with it - especially when the death of a loved one is involved. Parents are left to struggle either with the thought that God took their child, or that their faith is being tested - anything to find some meaning in "God's will."

At least it could be said that Radl's calm composure in the face of death is the product of a man willing to embrace synchronicity, and see it through to the bitter end. He ignored a direct order from his superior officer, Admiral Canaris, a man with eminently more sense than many. He was no doubt a pawn in the petty personal antagonism that Himmler had for Canaris. He became intoxicated with authority, and blinded by the titillation of coincidence. He unhesitatingly handed over a crucial piece of evidence that could at least have stayed his execution. No doubt Radl believed that by doing all of these things, he somehow became instrumental in orchestrating the events that led inevitably to his own death. In the end, Oberst Radl is able to face his execution with calm dignity.

However, what we can glean from James is the exhortation not to live life as if we are untouchable. Not to let arrogance and pride confound us. Colonel Clarence Pitts, commander of the nearby US base, is a gung-ho hot-head motivated by a wounded pride. We first meet him ranting about not being allowed to see any action.

On no less than three occasions he was offered advice that could have altered the course of his own life, and the lives of his men - opportunities scattered like seed in the course of one day - but his heart was hard with indignation over his perceived ill-treatment. This was also the trap Radl fell into. With the letter in his pocket he briefly found himself second only to the Führer himself. It filled him with a dangerous pride, an invincibility. He was blinded by it until he handed it over and watched it get torn up right before his eyes.

Synchronicity implies that certain events will positively occur in time, and that coincidental happenings are leading inexorably toward that event. The point already exists, and there is nothing to stop it happening. Perhaps this is why Radl tells Canaris not that the mission "could be done," but, "In my opinion, it should be done." There had already been enough coincidences to convince him of the mission's success. In the end, however, the only inexorable conclusion to our lives is our deaths. We cannot look to particular events being inevitable because there are too many variables attached. Life is a little more chaotic than that. At the very least we can only look back from certain events and entertain ourselves with the apparently inevitable connections that were made. We draw the line and plot the points in retrospect, and we nod sagely, and smile. We make our own moves, we don't wait for synchronicity to make them for us. "This is the way things were meant to be," is a harmless fantasy we can keep to ourselves.

The moral of this story? Forget Jung, you're better off sticking with Homer.
HOMER: Save a guy's life, and what do you get? Nothing! Worse than nothing! Just a big, scary rock!

BART: Hey, don't knock the head, man.

MARGE: Homer, you don't do things like that to be rewarded! The moral of the story is that a good deed is its own reward!

BART: But we got a reward, the head is cool!

MARGE: Well, then maybe the moral is, no good deed goes unrewarded.

HOMER: Wait a minute! If I hadn't written that nasty letter we wouldn't have gotten anything.

MARGE: Mmmm... then I guess the moral is, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

LISA: Maybe there is no moral, Mom.

HOMER: Exactly! It's just a bunch of stuff that happened.

MARGE: But it certainly was a memorable few days.

HOMER: Amen to that.

The Simpsons - Blood Feud (1991)
Synchronicity? Not likely. Life's "just a bunch of stuff that happened." We deal with that stuff in the best way that we know how, and at the same time, try at least to make life memorable.

AMENDMENT, Friday, February 24, 2012, 00:24am:
Although we might not know what lies ahead, the fact is that things are going to lie ahead. Your life is going to unfold, map out in a particular way, and eventually become a continuous line from birth to death, with significant events along the way.

Now, imagine having the ability to lift yourself up like an eagle, and view it all from above, being able to see events that will inevitably lie ahead - the ability to take in the whole. Think of it like the zoom-out feature on Google Maps. You plot a journey from one destination to another, then you start at a local point and zoom out to take in all the interconnecting roads, until you can see your whole journey. We see the weave and pattern of life's rich tapestry.

Sometimes we are so living in the moment that we become aware of an event that could lie ahead; we have a notion of what we might be leading up to - what lies just around the corner, so to speak. In that heightened state of awareness we begin to notice what is taking place around us, connecting steps that could take us to that possible event. It might only last for a short while before we settle back into mundane existence, but briefly we experienced synchronicity - being aware of the coincidences taking our lives to a given happening.

It must not be confused with fate or predestination, as if our lives have already been mapped out, and we are simply living whatever has been prescribed. When we are born, who knows what course your life will take, but it will take a course. Synchronicity is the moments we become aware of what that course is.

A tiny example: A couple of days ago, I became determined that I was going to call in and visit with an old friend. I often pass her house, but for various reasons I had put off giving her a knock. This particular day, I told myself not to be such a fool, and just do it. I hardly ever see her about town, but that afternoon we bumped into each other in the supermarket. I told her that I had been thinking about her, and that I was determined to call in. She told me she hardly ever goes to the supermarket on that day. To her it was a little bit chilling; for me, I found it a little bit thrilling. "At any other time this encounter would mean nothing. At this particular time, and in that particular supermarket...it becomes a circumstance which titillates - a coincidence to tease us..."