King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, written by American Jungian analysts Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, was first published in 1990. The book claims the four eponymous archetypes constitute the male psyche. Gillette and Moore derive these archetypes from tropes found in myths, legends, and modern stories. The authors note these four psychic constituents are what help a man become well-rounded and a mature human being. So what does that have to do with the titular Malayalam movie?
Kumbalangi Nights is a 2019 movie directed by Madhu C Narayanan and written by Syam Pushkaran. It has been watched and discussed at great lengths for its brilliant filmmaking and progressive themes. The movie's male protagonists are four brothers, Saji, Bonny, Bobby, and Frankie, who will be the subjects of this discussion. The brothers exhibit similarities to Gillette's and Moore's four archetypes and stand in contrast to the antagonist Shammi, the ultimate dysfunctional male.
Frankie, 'the Warrior', is the fiercest of the bunch. The young boy has been betrayed by life too often but it hasn't worn him down. When we meet first meet him, Frankie has football, friends and a future. He has taken the responsibility for his life at a young age. Much like a knight, Frankie is chivalrous, brave, and optimistic. His greatest mission remains to build a family, a battle he can't win alone. Frankie is caught in the crossfire of his warring brothers and he has no choice but to stay. Frankie is the caretaker of the household and remains headstrong and committed in his mission.
Bonny exemplifies 'the Magician'. He lives for music, dance, harmony, and love. Bonny has friends who understand and appreciate him, but his brothers fail him. When the story starts, Bonny is seen approaching his house then turning back after hearing Bobby and Saji fight. Bonny longs to be with his family, but they aren't ready for his warmth. Bonny is a kind soul guided by compassion and bravery. When Saji violently beats Frankie, Bonny rightfully steps in to remind Saji of the limits he's crossed. Bonny's actions make Saji introspect about his life. After Saji attempts suicide, Bonny comes back home and becomes the healing rock of the family. Secure in his skin, Bonny exudes a Zen-like aura befitting wise masters. Bonny is a selfless giver and the architect of the new home order.
When we meet Bobby, he's a boy pretending to be a man. His dysfunctional understanding of what it means to be masculine gets in the way of his ability to love. This 'shadow self' is expressed in the disrespect he expresses towards his friends, brothers and partner. Yet Bobby has an honest yearning for love and affection. He wants to care for his loved ones but he actively repels them out of shame and fear. In the scene where he explains his family tree to Baby, we see Bobby becoming truly vulnerable. Beneath his carefree attitude was an inability to process his broken family. After accepting who he truly is, Bobby has a newfound capacity for love. When he calls Sati his sister, Bobby lets go of his prejudices and embraces empathy. He finally embodies the Lover archetype.
The King archetype is closely tied to that of God. When we meet him, Saji is the furthest person from God. He is in a dark, desolate palace and his 'subjects' do not recognise his authority. This changes when Saji confronts death and even Death rejects him. He is then reborn as a new man. After much struggle, Saji realises his fulfilment when he brings Sati and her newborn into his family. Divinity is quite literally brought home, with the frames evoking Mother Mary and the infant Jesus. It's striking how Saji is Joseph in this instance, a biblical character descended from Kings. Saji is an unlikely king but he cares for the people of his 'kingdom' and accepts his responsibility as the benevolent brother.
Saji is clearly mirrored with Shammi, the ruthless patriarch, revelling in power for the sake of it. According to Gillette and Moore, Shammi is the 'Shadow King', a weak man hiding behind oppressive power, but his authority is not righteous. The 'true king' is to rule over a 'divine right order'. By the end of the movie, the Napoleon household is a safe space, marked by equality, freedom, and love. Meanwhile, Shammi comes completely undone when his subjects question his authority. He lashes out at them and Shammi's demonic tyranny is foiled when the four brothers, fully realised in their archetypal energies, join together.
These similarities serve to point out how archetypes are persistent regardless of time and place. All our stories are the same (as Joseph Campbell says in The Hero with a Thousand Faces) because we're all human, and good stories will always resonate with us.