The Descent: A Moon Pluto Story
[Please note: this article contains spoilers throughout for the 2005 movie The Descent. However, it contains no spoilers for The Descent Part Two which is released in early December 2009 ]
Watching the British horror movie The Descent recently, I was struck by just how perfect a metaphor for the Moon-Pluto dynamic this movie is. The story line goes like this: the lead character, Sarah (played by actress Shauna Macdonald), is grieving for her husband and most particularly for her young daughter. Both died violently after their car was struck by a truck on the way back from a white water rafting trip Sarah took with four female friends. A year later, as part of her healing process, Sarah travels to America’s Appalachian mountains to meet up again with the friends from the rafting trip, including Juno (played by Natalie Mendoza). A sixth woman joins them, the fearless Holly (played by Nora-Jane Noone). The women embark on a caving expedition in a remote part of the national park, but from the start there is tension between Sarah and Juno, who haven’t seen each other since the fatal accident. The implication is that something had been going on between Juno and Sarah’s late husband. (1)
Already, strong Pluto themes are creeping into the movie: the violent deaths; the suggestion of betrayal; the caving trip; the raw feelings and the simmering grief, not just of Sarah, but of all the women, who find themselves emotionally bound together by the tragedy of Sarah’s family, reflecting the intense, often dark relationships with women that are typically experienced by those with strong Moon-Pluto natal or moving aspects.
In Planets in Transit, Robert Hand writes of transiting Pluto square Moon, “This transit produces very intense experiences in your emotional and personal life, and it will test your innermost psychological workings. You may be forced to dig down deeper inside yourself than you have ever done before to get the answers you need at this time”. (2) So, the women begin their descent into the cave. Predictably, it is deeper than expected, much deeper and also much darker. Even at this point in the film we know from our experience of the horror genre that not all of the women will get out of this cave alive. Some of them will be unable to survive their journey to the depths, destined to find their answers only in death. We also understand that those that do survive, if any, will emerge from the real and symbolic depths of hell as transformed women, psychological survivors of the ‘Moon-Pluto’ energies.
After an unexpected rock fall, the women become trapped underground. It then becomes clear that Juno has lied to them. Instead of taking them to the popular, well mapped cave they’d intended to visit, she has taken them to an unknown, unexplored cave system. Juno justifies this reckless decision by telling the group, “It's a new system. I wanted us all to discover it! No one's ever been down here before”. The women find themselves, in the spirit of Pluto, trapped in dangerous, uncharted territory. The group, just like anyone going through a difficult Pluto transit or working through a tense natal aspect, must do something. They cannot sit simply sit tight and wait to be rescued. Nobody knows they are there so nobody will be coming to rescue them any time soon.
They are forced to move even deeper into the cave system to try and find a way out, but before long, Sarah thinks she has caught a glimpse of something in the tunnel up ahead. Juno assures her that it’s just the dark playing tricks on her. We know we can’t trust Juno’s word and Sarah is quickly proved right, the caves are home to the Crawlers, a colony of predatory, carnivorous humanoids, expertly adapted to living in the pitch black. They begin to stalk and violently pick off the trapped women one by one and the women must push themselves physically and emotionally to the very limits in order to survive.
From start to finish, the Moon-Pluto themes running through The Descent are strikingly clear. A group of strong, powerful, even fearless (Pluto) women (Moon) get trapped in a dark underground cave (Pluto). Sarah is grieving for her dead (Pluto) child (Moon). One of the women, Juno, has betrayed Sarah sexually and now, when the group has put their trust in her for the expedition she betrays them all, putting them in mortal danger (Pluto). In a kind of grim irony, the Juno of mythology and astrology is the protector of women and the sanctity of marriage. (3) This particular Juno however has been seriously Pluto-ed. She becomes the shadow incarnation of the goddess, espousing selfish infidelity and destructive betrayal (4) . Even The Crawlers, mere monsters lacking any kind of sympathetic personality, are given their own Moon-Pluto theme, when, in one scene, a gore spattered Sarah beats a small, child-like Crawler to a pulp, only to be challenged by what must be its protective mother, a long haired, heavy breasted creature.
Ultimately, Sarah is the only survivor (Pluto) as the rest of the women are killed either by the terrifying cave Crawlers (Pluto), or by each other, as they give in to their primal (Pluto) self-protective instincts (Moon). Above all else, The Descent is a metaphor for Sarah’s journey through the darkest depths of her grief. She is the ‘bad mother’ who let her child die and the ‘bad wife’ who let her husband stray and who must therefore go to the very limits to purge herself of her guilt and her pain before the healing process can begin. An opportunity to exact violent revenge on Juno arises and she takes it, something we know she would never have contemplated before the start of her horrific journey. As she realises that she herself must be prepared to kill in order to survive and escape the caves, the metaphor is complete, because when Pluto transits our personal planets, including the Moon, he requires us to ‘kill’ or purge something dark within our self, psychologically speaking, in order to let go of the past and transform ourselves into something new. Sarah has been bloodied and will never be the same again, whatever happens next.
At the end of the movie Sarah sees a glimmer of light above her. She scrambles up through the rocks and the blood and the bones, finally emerging above ground into daylight. Driving away in her 4x4, as fast as she can, a truck approaches on a course to hit her head on. For a long second, it seems as if she is destined for the same fate as her family, but the truck swerves and avoids her. She has survived her torment, faced her deepest, darkest fears and is finally free.
However, of Moon-Pluto aspects, Sue Tompkins writes, “Perhaps the most difficult thing for a Moon-Pluto person to do is to let go of their feelings. The urge to purge the self of all the destructive emotions of rage, hurt, suspicion and jealousy is strong but with the hard aspects the fear of letting go seems even stronger”. (5) So it is with the final twist of The Descent. The film leaves us with an image of Sarah waking up back in the cave, haunted by the ghosts of her dead daughter and her dead friends, implying that on one level at least, she will always be trapped in that dark, dangerous place, that the grief and the guilt will never completely leave her.
The Descent was written and directed by Neil Marshall. It is unsurprising to find a Moon-Pluto aspect in Marshall’s horoscope. However, it should be noted that in the absence of a birth time, a noon time has been used, giving a creative trine aspect. A late evening birth gives a tense Moon-Pluto sesquiquadrate (135 degree) aspect, but a late afternoon/early evening birth does not give a Moon-Pluto aspect. What is certain is that Marshall’s Sun in early Gemini (the ego urge to communicate) opposes Neptune (movies) in late Scorpio (horror). A tight Mars square Pluto aspect clearly echoes the film’s subject matter: fighting to the death; battling for survival; bloody violence and the release of buried rage and formidable power.
If the character of Juno is represented by her namesake asteroid in Marshall’s chart, then a symbol for Sarah must be Ceres. Ceres is the great mother of mythology, who out of grief for her daughter, who was abducted to the Underworld by Pluto, lets the world die all around her.(6) The tension and eventual outright aggression between the two women is mirrored in Marshall’s chart by a Ceres-Juno conjunction in Aries.
Mitchell’s Mercury, in close conjunction with Saturn, forms an intense quindecile with Neptune, a little used but powerful 165 degree aspect so often signifying compulsive behaviour patterns. However, of this combination of planets, Noel Tyl writes, “a sad spirit looking for a ray of hope” (7) an image reminiscent of Sarah’s tiny moment of relief at the end of The Descent, before she is mercilessly plunged back into the darkness. It is interesting to note that the US version of the movie ends with Sarah free of the caves, in the daylight, although still traumatized. The final scene of the UK version, where she is back in the cave is cut. This aspect pattern also suggests the darkness of Mitchell’s creative mind, which he channels through The Descent and through his other movies, which include the acclaimed werewolf horror Dog Soldiers (tagline: Six soldiers. Full moon. No chance.) and the apocalyptic zombie thriller Doomsday (tagline: The End is Nigh).(8)
The Descent was released in the UK on 8th July 2005. In a piece of unfortunate cosmic synchronicity, this release date fell the day after the London tube bombings of 7th July. I do not wish to dwell too much on that terrible event, but it should be noted that in Mundane Astrology, acts of terrorism also fall under the symbolism of Pluto.
The poster advertising campaign for the film, which appeared all over London’s public transport system, including the Underground system and the bus that was blown up, featured a picture of a terrified woman screaming in a tunnel, accompanied by the quote “outright terror”. Due to the obvious correlations between that event and the film’s subject matter, the posters were recalled, and the word terror omitted from all subsequent advertising and PR. The imagery of the single, terrified woman was replaced by a more positive image of a group of women defiantly fighting back. However, the film distributor made the decision to go ahead with the release of the film as planned, despite the fact that, in reality, people may have still been trapped underground by the bombings. (9)
Reflecting Marshall’s natal chart, the chart for the UK film release (set at noon) (10) has Moon sesquiquadrate Pluto and Mars trine Pluto. Mars, conjunct North Node, is powerful in Aries, the warrior archetype and squares a feminised Sun in Cancer, an aspect clearly suggestive of the film’s female characters. In fact, the cast of this movie includes no male characters at all, other than Sarah’s husband who is killed off in the opening sequence. In a further echo of Marshall’s chart, Ceres and Juno are again stressfully connected, this time facing each other off in an opposition which closely aspects Marshall’s natal Mercury-Saturn conjunction.
Moon, Mercury and Venus, conjunct in attention seeking Leo, oppose Neptune and sextile Jupiter in Libra, a creative and idealistic combination of planets which suggests the popular appeal and success the movie was set to enjoy, despite its release coinciding with those similarly themed tragic events in the real world. Received well by critics and film fans alike, it eventually earned more than 57 million US$ in worldwide box office receipts.
For Marshall, the release date coincided with a Pluto transit to his natal Mars, as well as with his transiting Pluto square Pluto, ‘rite of passage’ transit. Additionally, transiting Neptune was squaring Marshall’s natal Mercury-Saturn conjunction, a powerful echo of and trigger for the quindecile aspect pattern that these three planets form in his natal chart. It is also possible that transiting Jupiter in Libra was forming a grand trine with his natal Sun and Moon, suggesting a time of popularity, good fortune and success. By Solar Arc, Jupiter was conjunct his Neptune, a very creative connection.
As for me, I wondered why I felt so moved by this film to write about it and my own horoscope gives a few clues as to why this film struck such a chord with me. Marshall’s Sun in Gemini falls exactly conjunct my Ascendant and Nodal axis and his Moon in Aquarius (in his noon chart) falls exactly conjunct my MC, Moon, Mars conjunction, triggering the sesquiquadrate aspect my Moon-Mars makes with my natal Pluto in my 5th house. His Venus in Cancer, exactly opposite my 8th house Capricorn Sun, also indicates that I am likely to enjoy Marshall’s dark creative output, despite that fact that it also scares me silly!
The Descent: Part 2, opens in the UK on 4th December 2009.(11)
(1) For a full summary of the plot see: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0435625/
(2) Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living by Robert Hand. Whitford Press. 2002. Pg. 492.
(3) Asteroid Goddesses: The Mythology, Psychology, and Astrology of the RE-Emerging Feminine by Demetra George. Hays (Nicolas) Ltd. 2004. Pg.150
(4) Ibid. P.167.
(5) Aspects in Astrology: A Comprehensive Guide to Interpretation by Sue Tompkins. Rider & Co. 2001. Pg. 159.
(6) Asteroid Goddesses: The Mythology, Psychology, and Astrology of the Re-emerging Feminine by Demetra George. Hays (Nicolas) Ltd. 2004. Pg.41
(7) Synthesis and Counselling in Astrology: Professional Manual by Noel Tyl. Llewellyn Publications. 2005. Pg. 809.
(8) For more information see: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0551076/
(9) According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Descent
(10) Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0435625/