Empire of the Sun: A Brief Analysis Using Jungian Archetypal Symbols

Empire of the Sun is a movie adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel about his experiences during World War II. The movie portrays the story of a young British boy, Jamie, who is separated from his parents and becomes a prisoner of war in Shanghai. The movie depicts Jamie’s journey of survival and his transformation from an innocent child to a mature and independent young man. This paper offer a brief analysis of the movie through the lens of Jungian archetypal symbols and explores how the archetypes are manifested in the characters, plot, and themes of the movie.

Archetypal Symbols

Jungian archetypes are universal symbols that are present in the collective unconscious of all human beings. They are fundamental to human experience and are found in myths, stories, and symbols throughout history. The archetypes are patterns of behavior and images that represent fundamental human experiences and emotions. In this analysis, we will focus on the following archetypes: the hero, the shadow, the mother, and the anima.


The Hero. The hero archetype represents the journey of transformation from an ordinary person to a higher state of consciousness. In Empire of the Sun, Jamie represents the hero archetype. He begins as an innocent child who is fascinated by planes and aviation, and he dreams of flying one day. When he is separated from his parents and becomes a prisoner of war, he has to face the challenges of survival and overcome his fears. He adapts to the harsh environment of the prison camp and learns to take care of himself. He also develops a relationship with Basie, an American prisoner who becomes his mentor and guide. Basie teaches Jamie how to survive in the prison camp and helps him find food and shelter. Jamie also learns how to barter and trade, and he becomes an expert in scavenging for items that he can trade for food and supplies. Through these experiences, Jamie transforms from an innocent child to a mature and independent young man.

The Shadow. The shadow archetype represents the darker aspects of the human psyche. In Empire of the Sun, the shadow is represented by the Japanese soldiers who are the captors of the prisoners of war. The soldiers are cruel and abusive, and they treat the prisoners with contempt and disdain. They use their power to humiliate and torture the prisoners, and they force them to perform hard labor. The shadow is also represented by Jim’s fear and anxiety. He is afraid of the soldiers and the dangers of the prison camp. He also experiences nightmares and flashbacks of his past life, which represent the repressed memories of his traumatic experiences.

The Mother. The mother archetype represents nurturing, protection, and unconditional love. In Empire of the Sun, the mother archetype is represented by Mrs. Victor, a wealthy woman who takes care of the orphaned children in the prison camp. She is kind and compassionate, and she provides the children with food, shelter, and protection. She becomes a mother figure for Jim, and he develops a close relationship with her. She teaches him about art and culture, and she encourages his love of aviation. She also provides him with emotional support and helps him deal with his traumatic experiences.

The Anima. The anima archetype represents the feminine aspect of the male psyche. In Empire of the Sun, the anima is represented by the image of the flying goddess that Jamie sees in his dreams. The flying goddess represents the idealized feminine figure that Jamie desires. She is beautiful, powerful, and free, and she represents Jamie’s yearning for independence and autonomy. Jamie’s fascination with aviation and his desire to fly represent his longing for freedom and his desire to escape from the constraints of his current situation.


Empire of the Sun is a powerful movie that depicts the human experience of survival and transformation during a time of war. It is rife with lessons focused on human transformation and growth.

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