a psychological interpretation of the movie









“What I liked about Ichabod is that he was written very much as somebody who’s just living too much up here –

inside of his own head.   And  that,  juxtaposed against  a character  with no head, was a really good dynamic.”

~  Tim Burton


        Yes, Tim Burton always says the most important things as if he just wants to make a witty remark. But when I             was reading the one up here it suddenly hit me: what a delightful psychological script we have here!! I took the             challenge and started to organize everything on the impulse I had: characters, themes, conflicts bursting and             releasing. Although the game of understanding them gave me some wonderful hours, I’ll present here only two             ways of reading the story: the first one is a new chronology of Ichabod’s story, counting the facts and the             conflicts as they evolved in his real life; the second one (characters and symbols) focuses on concepts which             represent the characters and the main objects in the movie. Well – the rest of the game is yours!







Ichabod as a young child

Ichabod was a happy child when his mother was alive. There was a time full of warmth, love and magic. Those memories are forgotten and revealed only by the dreams.

Ichabod’s dreams with his mother alone.

Ichabod as a traumatised child

When the maternal presence was gone (the details of her absence are little relevant – death, abandon, etc), the enbittered father took the chance to mutate the image of the mother in his child. We assume here that the father himself has a lot of personal feelings to reprimand regarding his wife and that’s why he uses his son for putting down her memory. The wounds on Ichabod’s palm mean the love for his mother turned in prosecutional images by the authority of his father.

All the dreams about Ichabod’s mother being tortured and killed by the father and the men around him.

Ichabod as a cop (in New York)

Ichabod’s mentality is similar to his father’s: even if the father was a religious man and the son believes in science and reasoning, they both despise and accuse the misterious forces of the psyche, represented by women (mother and Katrina, with their blind dance). With this mentality, Ichabod cannot make a free choice in love. He is isolated like the cardinal bird.

Ichabod’s demos as a brain man in NY court;

Ichabod’s dialogs with Katrina about his believes;

The demo with the bird and the cage which is “optics”;


Ichabod sent in the mission

The danger of Ichabod’s state is relevant for some men around him, like the Burgomaster. His reasoning starts to fail and to be useless.

The sending in the mission;

Ichabod accusing Katrina’s father;

The number of the bodies growing in Sleepy Hollow

Ichabod’s Shadow

The trauma in Ichabod’s childhood burried under his rational mask generated a complex negative side portrayed by a ferocious murder. The choice of a Headless Horseman is not aleatory: the headless quality is the opposite of the over-rational Ichabod. The shadow is the rest of his herritage, of his feelings and intuitions, but also the deposit of his vindicative impulses.

When the Horseman appears, a murder takes place: Ichabod must attend the scene, confront the characters, solve the situation. All the victims the Horseman chooses are essential for Ichabod’s story.

Ichabod and Katrina

As a grown up man, Ichabod falls in love with Katrina, the perfect girl to be his wife. This event puts in conflict his need for fulfilment and his old fears of women and irational. A lot of opposite forces enter the stage: Lady Van Tassel is related to Katrina, she is her “mother”, she is the negative image of the woman (the dark Anima); the Horseman, originated and directed by her, begins his revenge with specific victims: imoral women (the pregnant widow, the adulterine maid), then apparently happy families (mother-father-child), the reverend (a corrupt church man reminding of his father), some fathers in the village (Baltus and Masbeth).

The witch dance scene, when Katrina “sees” him blindfolded better than he understands her, even if he has a strong reaction toward her;


The murder scenes.


Ichabod’s victims

Meeting Katrina, Ichabod tends to burry again the awakening original image of his mother. That’s why the Horseman kills those women with kind of imoral behaviour (father-like acts) or the three persons family (another resemblance with his childhood). But there is another tendency, oposed to the first one, revealing hard feelings toward the father and his unforgetable action: this is a superior level of Ichabod’s awakening, when he tries to express the disaproval for his father’s acts ( the Horseman killing the fathers).


The different stages of Ichabod’s evolution

There are some new characters, after Katrina, who suggest and encourage his evolution: the young Masbeth incarnates his purpose of understanding his childhood (Masbeth will never leave Ichabod from now on); the visit at the crone suggests that Ichabod tends to rely not only on his rationality, but also on magic and intuition. Suddenly, his problem (“the murders”) becomes very clear; he discoveres his unconscious (the dead tree and the Horseman’s grave). By finding the body without a head, Ichabod understands that the problem is hidden somewhere inside him, where the mind is helpless.


The battle

Even revealed, the dark forces are not easy to defeat. They start to react violently against those who jeopardize their long lasting domination: Katrina, young Masbeth and the crone. The two elements desintegrated from Anima (the two witch-sisters) will disappear in the process as their effects are consumed. Katrina is the target for the last attempted murder; she is mistaken with the negative witchcraft, abandoned by Ichabod (even if he realises he is loosing his last chance to be free) and chased by the Horseman (the dark conservative force).


The issue

Ichabod putting the head on the Horseman means that he is now fully conscious of both parts of his psyche: the burried, forgotten one, and the helpless, rigid one he created. He manages to reconcile them and the shadow is exposed, harmless and set free. All the intermediate characters are resorbed and the tree closes after them.








Ichabod Crane


Ichabod is the consciousness, expressed by a very rational, logical way of judging the world. As a “rational” man, he is the “head” by excelence, who, as the script follows, is missing the rest of his being (“the body”).

Headless Horseman


H.H. is the product of the unconsciousness: Ichabod’s own shadow. He incarnates the refulations of the traumatised child Ichabod. Hence, he throws the dilemma to the “Ego”, he puts in danger the integrity of our hero and he acts as the vicious character, unrecognizable by Ichabod himself.

Ichabod’s mother

The original image of Ichabod’s mother, as he perceived her in his early childhood.

She is benigne, femminile, loving and cherished by the child, surrounded by light, fancies and positive magic. She determines the image of “Anima” – another unconscient product, later to be projected to someone similar – like Katrina.

Ichabod’s father

The image of the father perceived as an authority.

He is apparently tough, rational and just, but he’s also cruel, limited and scared by women, and consequently by his wife’s nature and gifts. He chooses to punish what he does not understand, putting in his son a similar reaction toward women.

Lady Van Tassel

The image of the mother as seen from his father’s perspective

As a consequence of demonising his wife, Ichabod’s father describes the mother as evil, so Ichabod develops this malefic image of his mother, forgetting the real loved one. This evil character becomes the main accomplice of the Shadow (the Horseman), practically originating him and his course.

The crone

The forgotten memory of the mother

Unlike the original image of the mother, the crone is not a pleasant one. She holds the truth, she gives Ichabod the idea of researching the proper place / the right problem, but she is covered by veils, meaning past times, forgotten memories, dificulty of revealing the refulated feelings of the childhood.


The Anima

Katrina is the girl who matches Ichabod’s inner image of love interest. By no coincidence, Katrina has strong resemblence with his mother as he originally knew her. Meeting Katrina is the plot of his awakening process. In order to be with Katrina, he has to solve his old problem regarding mother-women.

Baltus Van Tassel, Masbeth’s father

Guilty father’s images

All those father images revitalise Ichabod’s doubts about his father judging and punishing his mother – actions logically understood by the child Ichabod, but deeply questioned by his feelings. He has to punish the father in his turn both in a rational way (see Ichabod’s hypothesis that Mr. Baltus is the murderer in the village) and on an uncounscious level (Horseman killing the fathers).

Young Masbeth

The child Ichabod

Masbeth is always aside Ichabod in the key points. He has no mother, his father is also punished by the Horseman, he acompanies Ichabod in the wood, to the crone’s cave. Young Masbeth is Ichabod himself digging the childhood, the truth, the memories. Ichabod needs to recuperate the child within (Masbeth) in order to go back in New York as a new, healed person.



Brom looks like the desirable young man – he is the fiance of the beautiful Katrina. Ichabod might substitute this kind of boy in his way of getting a wife. Brom is also helpful when it comes to fight the shadow.

The Burgomaster

The adviser

He is the man who puts in front of Ichabod the two alternatives: going to solve his problem or remainig forever a prisoner of his own complexes (a cardinal in a cage).

The villagers from Sleepy Hollow

The witnesses and victims of Ichabod’s mental state


The Tree of the Dead

The gate to the unconsciousness

This strange tree opens the way to the refulated feelings and images, and it is also the location for all the characters produced by them.

The Windmill

The confrontation place

It is the scene for the final battle between the evil splitted parts in Ichabod and the fulfilled man he has to become.

The Cardinal and the cage

The conscious and the uncounscious

It is a general metaphor of the emprisoned soul; it is also a new connection between Katrina and Ichabod’s mother. The release of the cardinal from his appartment, as connected to the Sleepy Hollow mission, is symbolic of Ichabod beginnig his liberatory journey.

The signs on Ichabod’s hand

The trauma in Ichabod’s childhood

Ichabod bares the signs on his palm, although he does not immediately remember where he got them from. Only the dream reveals their meaning – the traumatised memory of the killing of his mother. The murder acts metaphorically – father might not be the physical killer of the mother, but he definitely destroyes a dear image in his child – from which the scarces in Ichabod’s palm reminding the needles in his mother’s body.

The location of the story

The valley of the unconscious

Ichabod, the city man, has to travel far away, in a strange land, with no logical rules, lost in woods, fog, with complicated paths, in order to fight his shadow and move further in his life. He enters a territory where his rational methods fail – the territory of unconscious.

Ichabod’s instruments

Rational weapons

Ichabod invented all those bizarre instruments in order to locate the guilt in the logical aspects of reality. The more he works on his inventory, the more his reasoning fails. 


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