Id and Superego: Spreading Fear During the Cold War

The film Seven Days in May, directed by John Frankenheimer in 1964 is a Cold War conspiracy thriller centered on a secret coup d’etat plot on fictitious President George Lyman. Lyman, played by Fredric March, has just signed a disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union in hopes of preventing full scale nuclear war. The leader of the coup, General James Mattoon Scott, played by Burt Lancaster, wishes to overthrow Lyman and take sole control of the United States’ nuclear weapons in an attempt to hold a position of power over the Soviets. General Scott finds Lyman weak and wishes to take power into his own hands. The plot is only foiled when Scott’s aid, Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey, played by Kirk Douglas, learns of Scott’s plans and warns President Lyman. 

Cover of the movie taken from a site designed to help teach teachers explain the movie to students

Cover of the movie taken from a site designed to help teachers explain the movie to students

Frankenheimer’s film is a metaphor for Freud’s analysis of the struggle between the id and the superego. Both President Lyman and General Scott are taken over by the id, while Colonel Casey serves as a personification of the superego. 

President Lyman’s decision to act contrary to public opinion and sign the disarmament agreement leads the viewer to believe that he is driven by immediate gratification and is controlled by the id.

Similar to Lyman, General Scott’s decision to stage a potential coup d’etat represents a triumph of the primal id over the regulating superego.

Colonel Casey, contrary to President Lyman and General Scott, is driven by a strict adherence to the Constitution in order decipher right from wrong. By serving as the regulative police officer between Lyman and Scott, Casey acts under the control of the superego.

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