Archetypes at Sea: The Poseidon Adventure

| Lucas Vonasek |

Pictured from left to right: Stella Stevens, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Eric Shea, Carol Lynley, and Pamela Sue Martin.

The Poseidon Adventure plays at the Trylon Cinema from Sunday, April 30 through Tuesday, May 2. Visit for tickets and more information.

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1972. You find yourself on a luxurious cruise ship steaming somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean. The chandelier in the ballroom swings over your head in concert with the blue and heaving water that’s turning more and more brumous as the night goes on. The cheese fondue is flowing, your turtleneck is thick, and you feel good. As you finish your second glass of champagne, you catch eyes with someone across the room. They’re cute and they’re smiling at you. You feel your stomach turn. It’s probably just from the back and forth of the ship; or it could be due to their dimples. Surely, they must be looking at someone else. This type of thing never happens to you. But it is happening now. You grab another champagne flute and suddenly, you’re walking toward them. You can’t believe yourself. You never do this. But you do now. After all, you are on vacation. On your way across the parquet dancefloor, you notice that you seem to be walking quicker than usual. Suddenly, you lose your balance and fall into the arms of that well-dimpled someone. You both laugh and you stare into each other’s eyes. It is indeed your very first meet-cute. You feel like your entire world is about to turn upside down. And then it does. Your ship has abruptly capsized.

What are you going to do? Or rather, who are you going to become?

Whether it’s yelling at the screen and calling a character an idiot, or seeing if you could hold your breath for as long as a character can, it’s natural to put yourself in the same scenario the characters are going through onscreen, especially in disaster movies. With any luck, you will never have to go through an actual disaster in your life, but if you do, maybe you’ll identify with one or two of the character archetypes that are represented in The Poseidon Adventure.

So, which character do you align with the most?

Gene Hackman as Reverend Scott scales a ladder with Ernest Borgnine as Mike Rogo in the background.

THE LEADER (Gene Hackman)

The only thing greater than your confidence is the thickness of your turtleneck. You have struggled to lead and inspire people in the past, but with the ship slowly sinking to its watery grave, this may be your chance to prove once and for all that you can lead a group of believers and non-believers to a common goal. You’re stubborn and you’re more of a yeller than a conversationalist, but you’re decisive in a disaster like this. After all, someone needs to make decisions around here. You may be a believer in something bigger than yourself, but even with all your confident barking, deep down you know that you’re really just making it up as you go along, just like everyone else.

THE EMPATH (Red Buttons)

While The Leader barks out orders, you choose a different route that’s just as important. You’re rational, keeping everyone calm and reassuring them that they can make it to the surface. You’re excellent at reading the room and you don’t miss an empathetic beat even when you’re trying to climb an upside-down smokestack with rising water and an impromptu sex symbol, The Borgnine, nipping at your heels.

THE BORGNINE (Ernest Borgnine)

You are a well-browed contrarian and you always find a way to contend with The Leader’s plan. However, you’re still dependable and the group looks to you for guidance. You can handle almost anything except that you’re deeply in love with your new partner and you badly want to show it to the world. You even got seats at the captain’s table, baby. Not just anyone gets that honor, except you—because you’re The Borgnine.

THE CAN-DOER (Shelley Winters)

You share a lot of qualities with The Empath. You may experience fear throughout this whole ordeal, but it is understandable; THE ENTIRE SHIP IS UPSIDE DOWN. SORRY FOR HAVING A COUPLE MOMENTS OF REALIZATION. Anyway, no one seems to believe that you were the underwater swimming champ of New York City even though you still carry your medallion around your neck after all these years. People have long wondered why you still wear it, but you’re proud of your accomplishments even if they were back in high school. You know to an absolute certainty that you’re a better swimmer than some cocksure, two-bit preacher. You’ll prove them wrong, and you’ll die trying.

THE BABYSITTER (Pamela Sue Martin)

You’re on an old ship surrounded by even older people on New Year’s Eve. To make matters worse, you’ve been tasked with babysitting your little brother across the Atlantic. You find yourself drawn to The Leader because he represents your best shot at surviving, even if he is a total drag.

THE KID (Eric Shea)

You know a lot about the ship and you tell everyone about it. To be honest, you don’t shut up about it. No one really believes you because you’re just a rambunctious scamp with cherubic qualities, but, to be fair, you do know your stuff. However, you’re still a kid, so you do stupid stuff like walking away from the group without telling anybody to take a dump and wind up almost getting killed.

THE ARTIST (Carol Lynley)

You’re a part of a hip folk band and you’ve got the matching orange tunics to prove it. Stuffy old ballrooms aren’t really your vibe, but a gig’s a gig and when things go belly-up, you can adapt well. Although ladders can throw you for a loop, with a little patience for those around you, your wits and creative perseverance pay off.

THE DOCTOR (Jan Arvan)

You’re the only doctor on the ship, so a lot of people assume that you know what you’re doing. Hours before this disaster, you were prescribing suppositories in bulk (all without patient examination), knowing full well that one small motion sickness pill taken orally would do the trick. With that very same hubris, you’re now leading people with anal cavities filled with Dramamine in the wrong direction. Good luck.

GRANDPA JOE (Jack Albertson)

You are Grandpa Joe. You’ve made a career of being sedentary, but when you have to move it’s either because your grandson won the lottery to tour an eclectic candy tycoon’s chocolate facility or the ship you’re on has capsized. While you may or may not be a freeloader, you have a heart of gold and will do anything for your loved ones.

A promotional illustration for "The Poseidon Adventure," featuring drawings of various characters and scenes in the movie.

Excerpt from original poster for The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Any of these archetypes are normal responses to an unforeseen chaotic event. Some of them may be problematic in some way, shape, or form. The lasting psychological impact of any disaster is difficult to calculate. So, it may behoove you to keep this list of archetypes handy if/when you find yourself inside an upturned cruise ship in 1972. Believe in yourself, communicate as clearly and calmly as you can, and help each other through the obstacles ahead. And if somehow you make it to the surface, you’ll know whether that well-dimpled someone is a keeper or if they’re just dead weight.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon and Matt Levine

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