Saturday, June 20, 2015

Psychoanalytical notion of Aksharaya


The feeling that they are more important to mother than father makes them feel that they are wonderful, and since they are already grown up and need not do anything to establish their greatness because - and as long as - mother loves them ... Erich Fromm

By Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge  

Asoka Handagama's controversial movie Aksharaya discusses one of the bitter and hidden issues of the society which is generally termed as incest. Although the movie received a major criticism and viewed via Sinhala Buddhist and Victorian moral spectacles the incestuous relations were discussed in the Jathaka Stories as well as in the Holy Bible. Incest has been documented in most civilizations. As a matter of fact its prevailing in the contemporary society hidden inside the walls. Unfortunately this topic is not discussed scientifically or otherwise and many feel uncomfortable to talk about it.

Incest refers to any sexual activity between close relatives often within the immediate family irrespective of the ages of the participants and irrespective of their consent , that is illegally or socially taboo. Incest is considered as the oldest crime.

The Jathaka stories reveals an incestuous attempt in Seggu Jathaka. As the story goes a father takes his young and beautiful daughter to the forest to check his daughter's sexual purity. The Holy Bible describes father – daughter incest in the story of Lot and how his two daughters got their father drunk on wine and engaged in sexual intercourse.

Although incest aversion is normally adduced to a specialized cognitive module which regraded as imprinting mechanism incest could be found in most of the societies. Some studies show that incest between father and daughter is the most common kind of incest.

Asoka Handagama one of the outstanding film directors of our time boldly deals with this sensitive topic. As the film narrates the female magistrate who was deeply traumatized following the tragic death of her mother and the incestuous relationship between her father franticly attached to her 12 year old son. Both father and daughter are known for their outstanding manipulative skills, which contribute to their ability to keep their relationship inside the closet but confused, and self-blaming. Eventually the father becomes emotionally numbed and sexually non reactive towards his wife / daughter.

There have been many scientific studies based on incestuous relationships and its psychological repercussions. Based on the studies done by Joseph D. LaBarbera Vanderbilt University Nashville Tennessee, characteristic of families in which father-daughter incest occurs to women's sex-role functioning and attitudes toward heterosexual interactions changes drastically. The results show that a sexualized father-daughter relationship was correlated with negative male traits (e.g., arrogance), low levels of positive female traits (emotionality), and negative attitudes toward male sexuality and female competitiveness. The above mentioned features could be compared with the female magistrate of Aksharaya who was unhappily trapped in a traumatic relationship with her own father.

Aksharaya describes the incestuous relationship in a semi artistic form that could be compared with Sylvia Plath’s “The Beekeeper’s Daughter. The emotional relationship between the Supreme Court Judge (father ) and the Magistrate (daughter) is somewhat different from the Electra Complex which is depicted by the American female poet Sylvia Plath’s “The Beekeeper’s Daughter. But in the mean time both families carry their tormented memories. The relationship between the daughter and a father who occupy an important position in their traumatic childhood and has a profound influence on their present life owing to the intrusion of the father image . In other words it could be described as distorted Electra complex. ( according to Freudian Psychoanalytic theory female's psycho sexual development involves a sexual attachment to her father, and is analogous to a boy's attachment to his mother that forms the basis of the Oedipus complex). Hence Aksharaya narrates the distorted Electra complex that was never discussed in the history of Sinhala Cinema.

In psychoanalytic theory, the psychosexual development of children between the ages of three and five is characterized by incestuous desires toward the parent of the opposite sex. Aksharaya touches both father / daughter , mother / son incestuous connections. The work of John Bowlby on the development of the infant's attachment to his parents in the second half of the first year reflects the fruitfulness of an integration of psychoanalytic insights. The Magistrate's 12 year old son who is psycho sexually immature highly fascinated by his mothers breasts. Mothers extended breastfeeding and over attachment creates a pathological bonding.

The Magistrate and her son posses introverted pathological attachment which could be explained by Melanie Klein's Object Relation Theory. The Object relations theory emphasizes interpersonal relations, primarily in the family and especially between mother and child. The"object-relations" refers to the self-structure that is internalized in early childhood, which functions as a blueprint for establishing and maintaining future relationships. The Magistrate's 12 year old boy was in a stage which could be expressed as relationship seeking rather than pleasure seeking. His psychological dysfunction is an expression of being stuck at a stage of development and unable to mature further evolves in to aggression.

As the theory of Object Relations explains dysfunctional and symptomatic behaviors are really an immature attempt to resolve early traumas. The child lacks emotional maturity, he is in a state of "identity diffusion" and lacks the ego strength necessary to form and maintain healthy relationships. His maladaptive relational pattern leads to a deep insecurity. In the movie the child repeatedly asks his mother's permission to play rugby. This could be an attempt to seek of masculine identity. The killing of the prostitute is the metaphor , a dramatic transformation and establishing his masculine footprint.

Freud wrote that every boy has an Oedipus Complex - every boy represses his sexual desire for his mother and his jealousy toward his father and experiences emotional conflicts. But the magistrate's son goes a few steps further. He is a victim of a condition so called “Mother fixation” and obsess about his mother ,demands devotion - not just love , shows jealousy, anxiety and insecurity and acts like a narcissist.

The infant-mother relationship is pivotal to the child's emerging personality. Freud stated that for the baby, his mother is "unique, without parallel, laid down unalterably for a whole lifetime, as the first and strongest love object and as the prototype of all later love relations for both sexes." The early care giving relationship influences the child's developing cognitive ability, shapes his capacity to modulate affect, teaches him to empathize with the feelings of others, and even determines the shape and functioning of his brain. As Dr Peter Fonagy writes (Pathological attachments and Therapeutic Action ) There is overwhelming pressure on the child to develop a representation for internal states. Within the bio-psycho-social attachment system the child seeks out aspects of the environment contingently related to his self-expressions. Failing to find his current state mirrored, the child is likely to internalize the mother’s actual state as part of his or her own self structure. The child incorporates into his nascent self-structure a representation of the other.

Mother-son incest may be involved in the pathogenesis of a particular subtype of narcissistic personality disorder. Male patients with this disorder have a grandiose view of themselves as entitled to occupy a special position with others, combined with a paranoid tendency to anticipate imminent betrayal. The enormous guilt related to perceived oedipal transgressions leads these patients to fear retaliation from an enraged, vindictive, and castrating father at any moment. (Glen O. Gabbard – The Role of Mother Son Incest in the Pathogenesis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder)

Through out the movie , Aksharaya implies the erogenous erotic component for the mother during breast-feeding. The maternal seduction which occurred through breastfeeding reverberates. A traumatized woman who was trapped in an incestuous relationship does not want to consider her son as an independent unit. A woman who was deprived of a healthy sexual relationship derives psycho sexual satisfaction via her biological unit – the son.

This caused a paradox. A dichotomy has always existed between the breast as a nourishing object and the breast as an erotic object. In 1900 Freud wrote that "at the woman's breast love and hunger meet." For the breast satisfies both the alimentary and the sexual impulses. The nipple is a sexual object throughout Freudian meta psychology. So Aksharaya is no exception.

The film portrays psycho-sexual traumas within an upper middle class Sri Lankan family who were tormented by their past present and future. Father , mother and the son are affected by the extreme experiences of victimization and are associated with maladaptive and inflexible personality traits. The family members have enduring patterns of instability in relationships, goals, values, and mood which eventually leads to a catastrophe.


  1. Do you remember 1990 Sinhala film "Guru Gedara"? It was neither complex nor descriptive as Handagama's but was one of the few Sinhala films discussing an incestuous relationship.

    1. Guru Gedara , yes I think I remember that Ashoka Peris did the main role ?

    2. Yes. Ashoka Peris, Ravindra and Anoja portrayed the main characters and the incestuous relationship was not the main theme.

  2. සෙග්ගු ජාතකය
    තවද මාගේ ස්වාමි දරුවූ සර්වඥයන් වහන්සේ ජේතවනාරාමයෙහි වැඩ වසන සමයෙහි පණ්ණක නම්
    උපාසකයකු අරභයා මේ ජාතකය දක්වන ලද. මෙහි වර්ථතමාන කථාව එකාදසනිපාතයෙහි වූ පණ්ඩිත
    ජාතකයෙහි විස්තර වශයෙන් බස්නේය. මෙහි පණ්ණකනම් උපාසකයෝ කීපදවසක් බුදුන් කරා ගොස් බුදුන්
    දකින්ට ගියහ, ස්වාමින් ඇයි තා මෙතෙක්දා පමාවූයේ ඇයිදැයි විචාළ සේක. ස්වාමිනි මාගේ දුව විමසා
    නිදොස් නියාව දැන ඔබ්බකට විවාහමගුල් කරවා මගුල් කෙරෙමි ඒ නිසා පමාවිම් කිහ. සර්වඥයෝත් තොප
    පළමුත් නිද්දෝෂ තැනැත්තිය විමසුයේ වේදැයි වදාරා ඒ කෙසේදැයි ආරාධිත වූ සර්වඥයන් වහන්සේ ඉකුත්
    වත් දක්වා වදාළසේකි.
    ඒ කෙසේද යත්.
    යටගිය දවස බරණැස් නුවර බ‍්‍රහ්මදත්ත නම් රජ්ජුරුකෙණෙකුන් රාජ්‍යය කරණ සමයෙහි බෝධිසත්වයන්
    වහන්සේ වෘක්‍ෂදේවතාව ඉපිද වනයේ වාසය කරණ සේක. එක්තරා කෙළඹිපුත‍්‍රයෙක් තමාගේ දුව විශිෂ්ටවූ
    රූ ඇත ි සඳහාත ් භාවභාවලලී ාකටාක්‍ෂයෙන ් තමාට සැක උපන ් හෙයනි ් මේ කන්‍යාසත් යී‍්‍ර නොවේදොේ හාය් ි
    පරීක්ෂාකරන්නට උවමැනවයි සිතා දුව අත අල්වාගෙණ වනාන්තරයට ගොස් කෙලෙස් වසඟව අත
    ඇල්ලූවාසේ ඇඟවිය. එවිට භයින්ම අඬන්නට වන, එවිට පියා මේ වංචාවෙන් අඬති සිතා කුමක්ද
    පංචකාම විෂය නම් කාටත ් සරිය එසෙේ හයනි ් තොප ි කන්‍යාසත් යි‍්‍ර නොවනු ම් අඬනේ න ් ඇයදැි ය ි කහී . එබස්
    අසා පියානන් වහන්ස මම එසේවූ පංචකාම රසවිඳිනා සැටියක අනහ්‍යසයෙහි. අඬන්නී මම දුක්ඛයක්
    පැමිණිවේලේ ප‍්‍රතිෂ්ඨාව සිටිනාවූ දෙමව්පියන් විසින් පැමිණි දුක්ඛය කාටකියම්ද කියා ඇඬුහ. එවිට පියාත්
    තමාගේ දුව නිද්දෝෂ නියාව දැන ඒ නියාවට සුදුසු මගුල් කොට ඔබෙම සරණ පාවා දුන්නාහයි වදාරා මේ
    සෙග්ගු ජාතකය නිමවා වදාළසේක. එසමයෙහි ඒ දුනම් මේ දුමය. කෙළෙඹි පුත‍්‍රයා නම් පණ්ණක නම්
    උපාසකය, වෘක්‍ෂ දේවතාව උපන්නෙම් බුදුවූ මම්මයයි තමන් වහන්සේ දක්වා වදාළසේකී

    It is high time to break this so called social norms and get the people to a forum where they can freely exchange their ideas.



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