As much as I’ve enjoyed writing this blog the past year or so, I’ve decided that my interests lie more in the clinical realm than in cultural commentary. John Grohol and I agreed that readers here at PsychCentral would also be more engaged in posts that focused on psychotherapy issues, and as a result, we’ve inaugurated a new blog called “Therapy Case Notes” that does just that.
I put up my first post today and plan to continue adding material several times per week. I hope you’ll visit the new blog and send me your comments! And thank you for supporting ‘Movies and Mental Health.’
For years, I was a major Woody Allen fan, and to this day I adore many of his movies — Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Stardust Memories, to name but a few. But after his marriage to Mia Farrow blew up following the affair with Soon-Yi Previn, I stopped going to see his films, mostly due to a kind of moral loathing.
Long years have since passed, however, and I’d heard so many good things about Midnight in Paris that I decided to set my moral objections aside and take another look.
With an ensemble cast that includes Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody and Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen at his best. The opening montage is a kind of homage to Paris, in the way that the first few minutes of Manhattan express Allen’s love for New York City.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter from Los Angeles who considers himself a hack; he wishes he’d been born earlier and had lived in Paris of the 1920s, among literary and artistic giants such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein. The longing is so powerful that he’s actually transported back in time to that era and meets with all of his heroes, coming to know them on a first-name basis.
For Gil, it’s a dream come true, the fulfillment of his deepest fantasy wishes.
Most professionals who go to see films that fictionalize their own field often object to Hollywood’s blunders and distortions. I remember my first-year associate friends howling at the movie theater, many years ago, when Glenn Close in Jagged Edge told her senior partner that she “already had a case” — as if an associate at a law firm worked on only one case at a time!
As a psychoanalyst, I have some problems with David Cronenberg’s film A Dangerous Method, starring Viggo Mortenson as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein. Although the background history was clearly researched with great care, screenwriter Christopher Hampton and presumably director Cronenberg know little about how psychoanalysis actually proceeds.
What bothers me most is the absence of the notion of an unconscious mind. Although in their conversations, Freud suggests to Jung that he has murderous impulses toward him, presumably unconscious, when it comes to Jung’s work with patient Spielrein, the idea of unconscious memories, impulses or ideas is entirely absent.
In those early years, Freud and his followers believed symptom relief came from abreacting traumatic memories, either by recovering the lost memory and putting it into words, or working through that memory by bringing it into relation with other conscious thoughts, memories and feelings. Abreaction occurs as a normal part of our daily experience, but in trauma, the memory is not abreacted and instead remains unconscious.
According to LaPlanche and Pontalis, “The effect of an absence of abreaction is the persistence of the group of ideas which lie at the root of the neurotic symptoms; they remain unconscious and isolated from the normal course of thought” (emphasis added).
In an earlier post about Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video, I discussed her particular way of overcoming shame. Based on Sigmund Freud’s idea of the artist as someone who retreats from hated reality but finds a way back through his or her artistic gifts, I suggested that Lady Gaga “has managed to take profound shame and make it into something aesthetic and compelling. By putting her shame on display — she’s not afraid to make herself look ugly, or to expose herself in ways that other people might find ‘shameless’ — she has in a sense triumphed over that shame.” In Lady Gaga’s ‘Marry the Night’ video, she returns to this theme and elaborates upon it. Although her latest effort ostensibly deals with the issue of trauma, dig a little deeper and you’ll see it’s really about shame.
Lady Gaga begins the video with an explanatory monolog:
“When I look back on my life, it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened; it’s just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way. And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it. Clinical psychology tells us that trauma is arguably the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics. They can be lost forever. It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting, and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It’s not that I’ve been dishonest; it’s just that I loathe reality.”
A new 70th anniversary edition of Citizen Kane, first released in 1941, was recently issued. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss why I think this film is great. When film historians and critics write about Citizen Kane, they mention its innovative camera angles — the way director Orson Welles plays with shadow and perspective — or its groundbreaking departure from chronological narrative.
While I admire these features, what I appreciate most about the film is its psychological portrait of Charles Foster Kane. Long before the label narcissistic personality disorder entered our lexicon and people routinely discussed the narcissistic behavior of their friends and family, Orson Welles gave us a character unable to feel empathy for other people; who craves, even demands attention from the entire world, and who becomes enraged when he can’t have what he wants. These are the features we have come to associate with the narcissist.
Charles Foster Kane — or Charlie, as he is known to his friends — was born to parents who operate a simple boarding house in Colorado. When mining stock given in lieu of payment by a boarder makes his mother (Agnes Moorehead) wealthy, she consigns Charlie to the care of a wealthy banker for his education.
In the scene when she signs the necessary papers, Mrs. Kane at first appears emotionally detached; but when her husband threatens to beat Charlie for pushing the banker into the snow, she says, “That’s why he’s going to be brought up where you can’t get at him.” This scene, with an emotionally remote mother and an abusive father, offer the only clues to the origins of Charlie’s personality and later difficulties.
Although Jim Carrey’s films are usually pretty zany, in some of them he tackles psychological themes. Yes Man (2008) is one of those. In it, he plays Carl, despondent over his divorce. He automatically says “no” to any question, request or offer that comes his way. A former co-worker tells him about a “YES” seminar in which participants are urged to make a covenant to agree to whatever is proposed to them.
Carl becomes a “yes man” for a time with both pleasant and unpleasant results. When his new girlfriend, Allison (Zooey Deschanel), asks if he wants to live with her, Carl says yes, but not whole-heartedly. Here he comes to the crossroads where he finally learns discernment: to be free to answer either yes or no, depending on what he really wants or doesn’t want.
In The Upside of Anger (2005), Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is described by her youngest daughter, Popeye (Rachel Evan Wood), as having been “the nicest person I ever knew. She was the nicest, sweetest woman that anyone who knew her ever knew.” Terry’s husband disappears one night and she jumps to the conclusion (unconfirmed) that he has run off with his Swedish secretary and left her and their four daughters without a word.
Terry goes from being the nicest woman in the world to becoming angry, bitter and cynical. The pendulum swings from seeming Stepford Wife behavior to uncensored rage fueled and abetted by alcohol. We can guess that Terry was really not all that nice and that she was covering up all her “darker” emotions, until events triggered and released her fury. Although the characters don’t show particularly mature or skillful ways of expressing their anger, in my classes I’ve found this film to be a powerful way to start talking about anger.
In Rachel Getting Married (2008), Anne Hathaway plays Kym, who is released from rehab in order to go to her sister Rachel’s wedding, which takes place at the home of her father, Paul and step-mother, Carol.
The particular scene I’ve chosen illustrates what happens when a parent doesn’t or won’t acknowledge her feelings and/or proper share of accountability and responsibility, in today’s terms “owning her own stuff.” The child is then left holding the bag, so to speak, of the parent’s unowned emotions.
Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, comes out this week on DVD. Beginning with its opening quotation from The Book of Job, through its 15-minute visual history of the universe, to its cryptic ending, this is a film that invites questions about “meaning” as well as the writer/director’s intent.
Admirers and critics have written extensively about the film’s “message” — search the Internet and you’ll find hundreds of comments that describe particular scenes and discuss their symbolism. While many viewers seem perplexed by this movie, to me it offers a fairly straight-forward New Age message about life, death and the source of true consolation during the grieving process.
The main storyline in the film The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) has to do with the relationship between mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) and daughter Sidda (Sandra Bullock). I want to focus on one particular scene here [click to watch] which gives an insight into Vivi’s relationship with her own parents (Sidda’s maternal grandparents).