Saturn Square Neptune in On the Waterfront
As we approach the last of three direct squares between Saturn and Neptune this month, let’s take a look at the chart of Elia Kazan, whose natal Saturn-Neptune square infuses his brilliant and influential work. Born with Saturn in Aries square Neptune in Cancer, Kazan directed On the Waterfront, Streetcar Named Desire and Gentleman’s Agreement, and wrote four best-selling novels, among many other achievements. Kazan’s Saturn-Neptune square is dramatically enhanced in his chart as part of a Grand Cross formed between Saturn, Venus, Neptune and Uranus. He once described his mission as “to make poetry out of the common things in life.”
On the Waterfront was released on July 28, 1954, with transiting Neptune opposing his natal Saturn, triggering his Saturn-Neptune square (and Grand Cross – see chart). The film is permeated with Saturn-Neptune themes of disillusionment, sacrifice and redemption, so it makes for a great study of the archetypes. Let’s take a closer look.
With On the Waterfront, Kazan introduced a new kind of stark realism to filmmaking that is especially reflective of his natal Saturn-Neptune square. He revealed a slice of life that hadn’t been seen before – a kind of literal seeing-through (Saturn-Neptune) into a world that had been kept hidden. And it wasn’t just the subject matter that was new. It was also the way of looking. The film’s cinematography was stripped down to bare bones. The locations were not Hollywood sets – they were the real East Coast locations where the events would have transpired. Although this approach is common in films today, it wasn’t then, and Kazan broke new ground (Saturn in Aries), opening doors for future filmmakers to follow suit.
Kazan was especially equipped to depict blue collar life on the East Coast docks realistically because he was intimately familiar with it. But also, of course, because of his Saturn-Neptune square. The film made a huge impact – both on its audience as well as future generations of filmmakers. It won 8 Academy Awards, including best picture, and is currently on countless “Top 100 Best Films” lists.
Marlon Brando plays Terry, a dockworker and ex-boxer who works for a corrupt mobster union boss that controls the dockworkers through violence and intimidation. You’ll probably remember Brando’s famous line from the film, “I coulda been a contender,” which was part of a monologue in which he describes throwing a fight at the mob’s insistence.
At the start of the film, Terry sums up his world view to Edie (played by Eva Marie Saint) when he says, “You know my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you.” With this antagonistic outlook and a healthy dose of denial he fits in fine with the mobsters he runs with. But his growing love for Edie becomes a catalyst for his awakening (high Saturn-Neptune) and transformation. By the end of the film, he turns on his mob posse and fights them in court by revealing the truth that none of the other workers have the courage to speak. Interestingly, Brando’s natal Mars conjuncts Kazan’s Uranus and opposes Kazan’s Neptune, activating Kazan’s Grand Cross (see chart).
The Saturn-Neptune theme of disillusionment is woven through several threads in the film. We witness Terry’s disillusionment with his mob buddies as they commit acts he is uncomfortable with. And we see his fellow dockworkers disillusioned by the unfair and criminal system in which they feel trapped. Neptune express as lackadaisical and hyper-sensitive, and Saturnian obstacles can leave one feeling blocked and frustrated. Combined, the two can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness. In especially challenging situations, a weak response to Saturn-Neptune may find us giving up too easily, or unable to envision a way out of a tough predicament. But there often is a way out, even though it might require total surrender to what is, sobering up to “reality,” or piercing the delusion of one’s ungrounded beliefs.
On a more concrete level, we can see Saturn-Neptune in the film’s stark cinematography, which includes a pivotal scene of Brando and the priest talking in the fog (Neptune), as the priest tries to help him “wake up and smell the coffee” and take responsibility for his denial and apathy.
Much has been written about Kazan’s symbolic use of pigeons in the film, which serve as a visual metaphor for telling the truth and sacrifice as well as a bridge between heaven and earth (Neptune and Saturn). At the start of the film, Joey, a dockworker is murdered by being pushed off a rooftop. After Joeys’ murder, Terry takes over caring for some caged pigeons that live on the roof of Joey’s building. The rooftop becomes a place of contemplation, and the pigeons a symbol of his predicament. From Sparknotes.com: “On the rooftop, Terry can be a dreamer. He’s closer to the clouds, and he has a view of the city—and seeing the city from afar places him somehow outside it and above it.”
The pigeons also recall the phrase “stool pigeon,” which Terry ultimately becomes. As a result, the pigeons are brutally killed by a young man and mobster-in-training who idealized Terry and is then disillusioned by Terry “ratting out the mob.” As Terry discovers the tragic scene, the young man, sobbing, throws one of the dead pigeons at him with the line “a pigeon for a pigeon.”
In her book The Astrological Neptune, Liz Greene associates Neptune with the quest for redemption. In a documentary about Kazan, he says, “On the Waterfront is about redemption. Terry has done some terrible things and he wants to be redeemed.”
At the end of the film, Brando’s character Terry Malloy finds redemption by taking a beating (literally) for a just cause. In the film’s final images, Terry transcends his pain – in more ways than one – as he limps into the factory, claiming a victory for the exploited workers by standing up to the mob. Here we can see Saturn’s steely determination aligned with Neptune’s goal of transcendence, and something new that emerges from the two energies combining – the martyr or savior archetype. Terry’s sacrifice gives the dockworkers the strength they need to stand in unison and ultimately defeat their oppressors.
Speaking of redemption, the film is full of Christian iconography and crucifixion imagery. But in Karl Malden’s priest character we see that unique and endearing form of “get your hands dirty” spirituality that has the mark of Saturn-Neptune. Father Barry is a man of ethics who gets fired up about the dockworkers’ plight and offers his church as a place for them to organize. Recall MLK – another Saturn-Neptune figure whose grassroots, church-based organizing helped serve a disenfranchised group of people.
To learn more about Saturn-Neptune aspects in the birth chart, check out my webinar on the subject, where I also look at the charts of FDR, Oscar Wilde, Tom Cruise, John Coltrane, Marilyn Monroe and more.