The Enneagram in the Movies (and a little TV)

I recently taught an Enneagram workshop (something I love to do) and, as a way to get my mind working w the information again, I watched movies, looking for patterns evident in the characters. I posted these observations on Facebook and it seemed to be a helpful tool for people. So, here are all the posts in one place.

What surprised me as I wrote them was how I’m beginning to integrate another learning – the 5 Rhythms. 5 Rhythms is not a personality typing tool but a way to understand the states of movement through life itself – Flow (love, connection, groundededness), Staccato (articulation, manifestation, production), Chaos (release, climax, letting go), Flow (sweetness, return, rest), Stillness (breath, peace, being). You’ll note that I don’t talk about Flow and Stillness in any of these because the ego/personality doesn’t appear there. They are states that don’t occur without letting go (a part of Chaos) of the story on some level so we can move beyond personality/ego/story.  However, each Enneatype definitely has a journey with Flow-Staccato-Chaos. The story returns, of course, because it always does. But as we work, we become more able to let go of parts of it and find ourselves more and more in the dance that is Truth.

Anyway, here’s what I observed.  I start with the 8 because that’s where my teachers always start (Russ Hudson and the late Don Riso).  I’d love to hear your thoughts!


8: The ChallengerHarrer

Brad Pitt gives us our Enneatype 8 in his portrayal of Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer in Seven Years in Tibet.  There are many movies about the 8 – most, however, expose the unhealthier side of 8’s who spin out of control as megalomaniacs and sociopaths (Aviator, Wolf of Wall Street, Departed, Last King of Scotland).  Seven Years in Tibet offers us a more balanced and nuanced character in Heinrich who displays the 8’s classic need for autonomy and pursuit of accomplishment – seeing both as his birthright, mistaking leadership and greatness for Flow or Love.  It has to do with survival.  Heinrich is a survivor, as all 8’s are, and when circumstances don’t give them struggle, they will often create it for themselves, creating goal after goal and feeling compelled to lead others through the struggle to achieve that goal.  They need to (quite literally) climb the mountain, taking others with them (my people) or taking them down should they get in the way of the 8’s leadership vision.  This is not Flow/Love but ungrounded Staccato resulting in an overflow of Chaos.  Heinrich’s salvation comes in the form of release as he learns to trust another enough to open his heart to them in a love that is free of goals and the need to be in charge arising, instead, out of gratitude and mutual respect.  This release is the 8’s surrender to Flow, to Love – finally realizing that who they are resides in their heart, not in their deeds of survival.   The 8’s dance is not an easy one.  Often experienced as hard, they are really the softest of all the Enneatypes.  Perhaps this is why it’s so hard for them to rest in their heart for very long.  They know how tender it is. There are very few clips online, but I’ve also included the link to a video that shows the Heinrich Harrer museum in Austria – a clue that Harrer is an 8.  Who else but an 8 would name a museum about a whole other culture after themselves as if they owned it?


9: The PeacemakerBurnham1

Lester Burnham wakes up to his life and decides to take up space.  Staccato reaches for the edge through aliveness and vitality and as it spills over the edge, Chaos arrives.  This is one of my favorite movies about the 9 Enneatype.  When you watch this movie, you’ll watch Lester arrive to this space-taking vitality through a period of anxiety.  Anxiety, for a 9, isn’t something that lasts long because it’s hard to tolerate, but its arrival actually signals something positive because it can allow transformative energy that wasn’t previously available.  A strength arrives and empowers a “no” to something, which is a “yes” to life.  It feels like Chaos because of the discomfort involved in upsetting the status quo and being willing to risk the things you have come to hold dear.  And, as Lester demonstrates, the Chaos can get out of hand when we’re not practiced at dancing with it.  Lester breeches a couple of problematic boundaries, but he comes home in the end to pure gratitude and mercy.Burnham 2

There’s also the Color Purple, where the character of Celie wakes up and figures out how to say “no.”  But here’s Lester, gettin his “no” on w the people who matter most to him – very hard because to risk those connections is like risking the umbilical cord… again and again and again.


1: The ReformerGranger1

Hermione Granger is our Enneatype 1.  Played by Emma Watson for 8 movies, Hermione Granger grows up in front of us and we watch her unending love for rules go out the window time and again when she comes into contact with her own instinctual drive, her connection to Flow.  Hermione’s Staccato is sharp and defined – always on the edge of anger, but witty and crystal clear.  Helpful, capable, and always trying to reform people and systems (we don’t get to experience her heading up SPEW in the movies – where she works hard to defend the house elves by attempting to reform the unquestioned system of slavery that’s always been in place), Hermione is ever the responsible person.  Her interactions with those she loves sometimes take on a judgmental tone because her high standards and adherence to the rules sometimes get in the way of true wisdom.  We watch her intelligence grow into wisdom as she learns how to trust her own intuition, her instinctual energy and learns what is truly right is sometimes found in the grey area of Chaos.


2: The HelperMoreno

Our Enneatype 2 is Flor Moreno from the movie Spanglish played beautifully by Paz Vega.  Flor is such a committed mother that she puts herself on hold and even steps out of her own cultural comfort zone to go and work for Anglos to protect her daughter – something many mothers do.  The difference is that the 2 does not trust those she loves to handle the Flow so she over-manages others.  She attends to others’ Flow more than she attends to her own and this attentiveness manifests as a supportive, loving nature that extends to anyone she meets, including the most insufferable, unless they step over the line regarding her daughter – when the 2 is most articulate in their Staccato.  Only when Flor attends to her own Flow (the hardest thing a 2 can do), discovering that it’s not as scary as she thinks it is to confront and to own her own desires, does she learn to really trust others in their connection to it and lets go of controlling her daughter, trusting her to manage the Chaos that life and all its influences can bring.  At the end of the story, Flor makes protective decisions again, but we can see it’s less about control and much more about trusting her daughter to take responsibility for who she is.  Here are a few clips:


3: The Achiever

Steve Jobs.  With wisps of both 7 and 8, Steve is an Enneatype 3.  Everything is about image and that image is defended viciously as if it’s his very soul – because he believes it is.  Played by Ashton Kutcher in the movie Jobs, Steve is a player who takes advantage of everyone in his life, manipulating them in various ways so he can build the image he seeks.  His best friend (if he, in fact, ever has one) says it best, “It’s not about people anymore for you.  It’s about the product.  Worst of all, it’s about yourself.  You’re the beginning and end of your own world, Steve.  And it’s so small.”  The consummate salesperson, Steve takes on the role of guru, waxing philosophic and speaking in aphorisms to inspire people – his Staccato mimics Flow/Love, but it’s all Staccato/Articulation… ungrounded and far from authentic.  And because of this, Chaos/Release is dangerous so everything must be controlled and attended to.  His personal image is carefully crafted – Dylanesque (his idol) and anti-corporate.  He’s a master at motivation, projection, and marketing… “What the world cares about is what we produce.”  And this is how he drives his team… needing everyone to be on board with the image of the product, which has the result of driving innovation.  He knows good design and he knows ability and drive when he sees it.  But he runs into conflict again and again when his team doesn’t understand the “what” behind the image.  When you look back on the history of Apple products, you can see that sometimes fad won out over actual innovation because of the over-focus on image.  This is all because Enneatype 3 unconsciously fears they are empty, that they have nothing real to offer, that they are a hollow “tinman.”  And so they offer image, an approximation of authenticity, because of the tremendous unconscious shame that’s driving the ego.  They offer design that’s surface-deep and sellable and they demand to be seen for their efforts.  But what they are really selling, is themselves.  They demand attention in the most vicious and manipulative ways because without that recognition, they don’t exist.  Their very identity is at stake.  For without the recognition, they are the empty shell they fear they are in their most hidden places.  And so they keep producing the image, as if it’s their lifeblood.  The movie Jobs explores the range of Enneatype 3 by telling the story of how Steve reconciles with the shame of his past (his daughter Lisa) and grows up a bit, finally realizing that his identity isn’t completely bound to his company.  When he returns to the company he starts by working with the design team, inspiring them by asking them to take the day to design “something they care about.”  But despite the realization and the maturity, Jobs shows us that our egos always come back to run the show because, like a viper, Steve quietly takes out the people who oppose him when he returns.  Does he become great?  Yes.  Is he an inspiration for entrepreneurs?  Yes.  Has he secured his place in history?  Yes.  Did he live an authentic life?  Well, that’s hard to know because the projected image is so incredibly attractive.  The Enneatype 3 is an object lesson for us all.

Here are a few good character clips from the movie as well as some clips of Steve Jobs himself.


4: The IndividualistGreenslade

Judi Dench offers a gorgeous portrayal of an awakening Enneatype 4 in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies. The 4 loves the Flow and can get attached to it; the emotional content, the connection to unconscious and subconscious layers, the thoughts that enhance the swirling space of the Flow. To risk articulating a Staccato in the world means to risk leaving what is comforting to this type’s ego – a sort of fantasy world where emotion reigns. For Judi’s character Evelyn Greenslade, Staccato means striking out on her own – leaving the dependency of what she’s known in her 40-year marriage after becoming widowed and stepping into a world of color, responsibility, and adventure. Poetic in her approach to life, Evelyn blogs as a way to process her new experience and she learns she has so much to offer – teaching about culture, connecting to younger folks in an authentic way, deep appreciation for beautiful fabrics. In Part 2, we watch her become her own person, moving into Staccato from the Flow. Still shy, however, she hides on many occasions and in many ways from the love that seeks her out.

Here are a few clips:


5: The Observer

Robin Williams’ portrayal of the Oliver Sacks-like character (Malcolm Sayer) in the movie Awakenings is a perfect rendition of Enneatype 5. Overwhelmed by the world and the emotional response to it, the 5 focuses on details and concepts to cope, maintaining a sense of safety. He senses the Flow but is frightened of it. So he attempts to control his connection with Flow by piecing it apart and observing it bit by bit – as if Flow could be broken down into individual frames. This creates an awkward Staccato, an odd articulation that has trouble finding ground in everyday reality. But as he allows his own life to fully connect with another, trusting his own belly to guide his decisions rather than his head, the Sacks’ character’s unique way of seeing things opens up to a broader pattern and he moves right into the Chaos of Love – a fabulous, full dance filled w the paradox of life. The trailer gets at this a bit, but the movie is much more complete, of course.

Oliver Sacks, an Enneatype 5 himself, describes the process of meeting Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, and Penny Marshall. For a great example of the 5, check out this link of Oliver’s matter-of-fact description of his interactions with Robin Williams. The best part – he isn’t really sure what “hanging out” means.;jsessionid=92D414C399E6FE0BE2F542BE51B80003


6: The Loyalist

Erin Brockovich is a beautiful story about the courage of Enneatype 6.  The 6, who tends to feel unclear and acts this out by chaotically seeking security in a world that seems to be filled with Chaos, lives in anxiety most of the time.  She has trouble grounding herself in the Flow of reality because there is a misperception that the Flow is untrustworthy, because it feels unknown and a little bit wild.  But Erin becomes crystal clear when she allows her heart to open to the families she comes to know.  She begins to trust herself and her own guidance.  She becomes connected to the Flow, connected to grounded Love and allows herself to become swept up in it.  Her vocation and sense of purpose shine brilliantly as her courage leads her, instead of her anxiety.  Her Staccato is luminous in its clarity.  Her heart breaks but she begins to trust it and the world as she opens to Flow, to Love.  Take a look at this undying courage.Brokovich 2




7: The Enthusiast

One of the best Enneatype 7’s on any screen is “Hawkeye” Pierce.  Played by both Donald Sutherland and Alan Alda, Hawkeye’s character offers the range found in the 7, which can be hard to find in movies.  Hawkeye demonstrates the amazing ability 7’s bring to the things they find most interesting.  Quick learners with a buoyant personality, 7’s offer quick wit, profoundly unmatched skill, and an almost scattered approach as they skim the surface of most things in their lives – touching briefly enough to get a taste before they move on to the next.  They touch on the surface of Flow/Love, refusing to commit to it, which makes their Staccato and Chaos hard to tell apart.  The challenge for the 7 is much like the 8 in that spending time in the heart is difficult.  The difference is the 7 fears pain and deprivation if they rest too long in any experience so they never engage the heart, preferring to stay on the surface with the head where life is easy and they can look forward to the next party, while the 8 blocks potential happiness in order to protect themselves.  This tendency to stay on the surface is exactly why it’s hard to find the 7’s range in the movies because we love to see that surface – it’s mesmerizing.  Whether it’s the stunning intellectual abilities in superhero characters like Tony Stark or the baser, noncommittal behavior in characters like Alfie or the hilarious, non-stop humor of comedians like Robin Williams, the “7 party” is a fun escape from our everyday lives.  We get to enjoy their party and don’t like to stick around for the ugly aftermath, which can get mighty ugly indeed.  However, Hawkeye gives us a 7 who displays the party tendency while also living into the depth of his experience – the pain and deprivation that is the senseless death of war.  He narcotizes with alcohol, makes light of stupidity, loses himself in meaningless sex, refuses to conform, and leads through intelligence and charisma – all typical 7 behaviors.  But he is committed to life itself, which can be exceptionally hard for the 7 when there is so much pain all around.  And, through it all, he remains.  The 7’s struggle is best summed in the lyrics of MASH’s theme song – Suicide is Painless.  Lyrics and TV show clips below:

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say

Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin, but…

Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be or not to be
And I replied ‘oh why ask me?’

And suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please
And you can do the same thing if you please


About Michelle Meech

I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere, because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue. -Rilke (photo: sdean7855)
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