Literary Tryptichs: ‘Trapped in Paradise’

The last time I spoke about Harry Potter to a large group of younger people I stumbled when looking for a great ‘pop’ example of a trio much like Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The three leads, as explained in Unlocking Harry Potter, are a moving-picture of the soul’s three faculties or powers as they are in themselves and as they relate to one another. I have called this a literary or psychological “triptych” after the three-in-one fold-out panel paintings. The model for literary triptychs is Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, arguably the finest novel ever written, in which the three brothers represent Spirit (Alyosha), Mind or Calculation (Ivan), and the Desires (Dmitri), not to mention Pavel Smerdyakov, the illegitimate, epileptic brother whose faculties are all distorted and in reverse hierarchy.

The Lord of the Rings has a similar triptych in the three hobbits on Mt. Doom. The first Star Trek (Kirk, Spock, ‘Bones’) and the ‘first’ Star Wars movie set (Luke, Leia, Hans) also have excellent examples of a three dimensional psychological trio acting out how “body, mind, and spirit,’ to use popular formulation, relate and what they are individually.

But these examples are rather dated, even if Tolkien’s epic has enjoyed a renaissance in the popular imagination because of the movies made from it. I saw some young, blank faces looking me when I tried to explain how Captain Kirk and Harry work in many of the same ways in their respective stories. To them, William Shatner is PriceLine.

Last week my family watched a 1994 comedy called ‘Trapped in Paradise,’ starring Nicolas Cage. Don’t watch this film with your family unless your children have grown up or you like blushing when even an old lady curses like an angry jarhead. But, if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you and if you haven’t seen it already, I urge you to rent this film. What a hoot — and what a transparent triptych and tale of redemption. Not knowing how to read a movie’s artistry (lighting, shots, etc.), I like it when the meaning is as subtle as a kick in the head. This is one of those films. And very funny.

A quick internet search found one or two reviews that picked up on the “redemption” and “forgiveness” themes in the film (Roger Ebert hated it…), but nobody talked about the three brothers as a soul-trinity. Dana Carvey as the kleptomaniac “do and take what you want” character is simultaneously disturbing and hilarious. Jon Lovitz as the calculating bad boy is equally well-cast. And Cage… Oh, well, forgive me. His equine facial features for whatever reason seem perfect for the not-quite-human part of the human psyche. Cage is in charge at first of the black and white horse pulling his Platonic chariot but eventually joins them in a bank robbery.

Fortunately, the good people of Paradise (I told you this was meant to be transparent) overwhelm Cage/Spirit with goodness and he repents. Great stuff. And a great help in explaining how Harry, Hermione, and Ron work as characters in Ms. Rowling’s novels. Of course, the movie being almost 15 years old, maybe my younger audience is as likely to have seen it as they are to have read The Brothers Karamazov.

Anybody seen ‘Trapped in Paradise’? Or am I the only person here who hasn’t seen this movie many times? Lemmeno below!


  1. John…would you believe the first examples springing to mind are Beaver (Spirit), Larry (Desires), and Whitey(Mind) and Wally(Spirit), Lumpy(Desires), and Eddie(Mind) from the Leave It To Beaver show!!!! Good Grief!…or should I say, “Gee, Professor!” 🙂

    The Bonanza brothers went from four to three as well…and today we have Hannah Montana with her two friends, Oliver(?) and Lily and at other times with her dad and brother. On Deal Or No Deal, Howie works with the Dealer and the Contestant or the Contestant and the Case-Girl. (This example is probably a stretch.)

    More examples of Triptych: Three judges each on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars (all with distinct personalities) and host-guest-other on the design shows.

    Hope your days are triple-ly wonderful! PJ

  2. Arabella Figg says

    PJ, that was hilarious.

    For contemporary shows, one might consider “Lost”–Jack (mind), Locke (spirt) and Kate or Sawyer (desire). These characters conflict and also work together. Other characters also reflect these qualities, but the above are the most prominent.

    Or, we used to watch Smallville–Clark (spirit), Chloe (mind) and Lex (desire). (Lana could also be desire.) This would be in the early years. For the adults, Martha (spirit), Jonathan (desire) and Lionel (mind). In current shows I’ve caught, you could put Clark (spirit), Chloe/Lex (mind) and Lois (desire).

    Kitties don’t split the difference, they embody all three…

  3. Thanks, Arabella 🙂

    My grandson has me reading *Artemis Fowl*, so I suppose the main characters can be grouped into threes but I haven’t taken time to analyze them and assign corresponding triptychal markers. I welcome any and all HogPro input on the matter.

    I wonder how we could label the animals from the movie, *Homeward Bound*? Cassie the cat (mind), a young rambunctious American bulldog (Michael J. Fox was the voice)(desire), and an aged Golden Retriever(spirit)? And of course, we can’t forget the most famous trio of our time: Larry (spirit), Moe (mind), and Curly or Shemp (desire)!

    Sorry, John, I couldn’t resist! Be careful what you ask for….you never know how the answer(s) may come back!

  4. Don’t give up, John! Just Friday I was telling some English students I was substitute teaching about t.f. (one of them had _Deathly Hallows_ out) and was mentioning the characters in Dostoyevsky and Star Wars, and Star Trek. Soon one of the teens spoke up, “Ah, like Frodo, Samwise, and Gollum?” 🙂

  5. Arabella Figg says

    Enchanted fits here too–Giselle (spirit), Robert (mind–if not strongly used) and Prince Edward (desire) work together to defeat the evil Queen Narissa.

    And Narnia–Lucy (spirit), Peter (mind), Susan/Edmund (desire).

    This is fun!

    The kitties wouldl like to get their paws on some of the marginalized vermin in the tale…

  6. Arabella Figg says

    Actually, I think I’d amend my Enchanted tryptich. with Andalasians Giselle as spirit, Pip the chipmunk as mind and Nathanel as desire, finally turned good. The three defeat the queen.

    The New York trio would be Morgan (spirit), Robert (mind), Nancy (desire).

    The kitties still are jonesing for some marginalized vermin…

  7. Arabella–I loved Enchanted. And I agree with your tryptichs, especially dividing them by their locations.

    Sorry, John, I can’t comment on Trapped in Paradise–I’m not a huge Nicholas Cage fan. Though I have watched both National Treasure movies, and don’t those also fit? Hmmm, I’d have to look up the characters’ names to say how.


  8. A note from Joel:

    I was listening to a DVD commentary by Screenwriter David Koepp and he said something which reminded me of your “heart, mind and body” chart which you had in your book. He said…..

    The love triangle is the best possible thing to hang your movie on. A triangle is the most stable plane in geomatry. You can deconstruct the great movies and if its not a love triangle is a triangle of some type or another. Three is a number that really works. David Koepp

    David Koepp has written my favirot movie “Jurassic Park” and he wrote the upcoming Indiana Jones film. The commentary track in which he stated this was on his Edgar Allen Poe type thriller “Secret Window” with Johnny Depp. However, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of Triangle Jurassic Park is hung on. 🙂

  9. I’m not a Jurassic Park fan, but I would offer up the possibilities of Past/Present/Future or Science/Mankind/Animalkind. I’m sure the issues of Genetic engineering/Ethical responsibility/Tragic outcome could be mixed in as well…so another tweek, perhaps: Evolutionary oddity/Human Interference/Divine retribution???

    PJ, not a fan of reptilian anything unless a pane of glass is between us.

  10. Pat….in National Treasure, the triptycal combinations are varied in terms of Desire/Spirit/Mind. Hence these characters: Ben/Abigail/Riley; Ben/Riley/Mr.Gates; FBI agent/Ben/Bad Guys; Ben/Mr.Gates/Grandfather Gates; Riley/Abigail/Bad Guys; Good Guys/Bad Guys/FreeMasons’ Caverns….do you see where I’m heading with this? At any given moment in the film, the triptych construct shifts with the combos. There are times when I think Riley is the Mind and Ben the Desire…then they switch! I find Abigail is pretty constant as Spirit…she is such an encourager after committing to the hunt, albeit at first by force.

    Of course in the second film, we get to see Ben’s mother and another “non-Gates-family treasure-seeker”….what can I say? Great fun!

  11. Arabella Figg says

    Hmm… Jurassic Park isn’t a favorite, but there’s certainly a triangle. Both Drs. Grant (Sam Neill) and Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) could be desire/emotion–Grant doesn’t like kids but ends up being their fierce protector, Malcom desires Dr. Satler (Laura Dern) and loves dinos.

    Yet either could be mind—Grant is a paleontologist withdrawn from his emotions; Malcolm is intelligently opposes Hammond’s plans.

    Sattler is spirit (and, given her education, incredibly dumb, to boot).

    Yet, we have another desire character here, who could replace Grant or Malcolm—the T-Rex who kills the kitchen raptors and saves the kids!

    Let’s look at The Princess Bride, definitely a favorite of mine.

    Commoners: Wesley (mind), Buttercup (spirit), Montoya (desire)

    Royals: Count Rugen (mind), Miracle Max or the Clergyman (spirit), Prince Humperdinck (desire),

    The kitties get “twoo wuv” around here…

  12. “Twoo wuv….” Oh my, I’d forgotten all about *The Princess Bride*. I’ve been laughing so hard, my eyes are tearing and my abs hurt! We had a pastor who used “wuv, twoo wuv” during a tense wedding rehearsal and brought the house down. I don’t think anyone in the wedding party had a straight face during the actual ceremony next day!!!!!

    Where are you, Professor? Care to bring us back to earth?

    PJ, just having a great time coasting on the Triptych-tangent!

  13. Arabella Figg says

    Oh, dear Professor, don’t reign us in yet; this is too, too fun in bleak March (it’s snowing for the umpteenth time).

    The Wizard of Oz–The Scarecrow (mind), Tin Man (heart) and Cowardly Lion (spirit, if found a bit late) help Dorothy get home.

    Signs–I can’t remember the names, but Graham, the priest (spirit broken then healed), his brother (desire–thwarted ambition, consumed by invasion) and son (mind, working to understand and defeat invaders) together defeat the alien and their own familial alienation.

    Shrek–Shrek (mind), Donkey (desire), Fiona (spirit)

    Monsters, Inc.–Sully (desire), Mike (mind), little girl (spirit).

    Cleverpuss (mind), Fullatricks (desire) and Madame LaScrawny (spirit) now demand all three from me…

  14. Arabella Figg says

    More triads for Jurassic Park:

    Age: child/adult/elderly
    Predators: animals/humans/lawyers 😉
    Times: contemporary/ancient/blended–approaching from a different angle, Pat.
    Agendas: make the dinos/destroy the dinos/pet the dinos

    Finding Nemo: Marlin (mind), Nemo (desire), Dory (spirit). There’s a case for swapping Dory and Nemo.

    Professor, I will always be looking for tryptichs in books and films, now–I’m ‘a gittin’ eddicated.

    Four inches of snow, still the flu…thankfully there are kitties…

  15. Arabella Figg says

    Peanuts: Charlie Brown (desire), Linus (mind) and Snoopy (spirit).

    Still snowing–now officially our 5th snowiest season on record.

    Fullatricks watches the flakes, then chases little Flako…

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