Archives for January, 2011
Ree Dolly, heroine of Debra Granik's bleak and moving 'Winter's Bone' (2010), lives at the end of the road, without a car or truck, on the bottom rung of a world where cooking methamphetamine offers one of the few means to earn money and in which even the values of kin and clan have begun to decay. Personal survival, often ruthless in execution, represents the most universal "value," if we can give it that name, redeemed at moments by muted concern for one's nearest relations. A hollow code of shame and reputation dominates the men of this world, motivating them to acts of revenge and cruelty. The women may display more communitarian values, more concern for one another, but they live in constant fear of their violent men, generally controlled and dominated by them. At the film's opening, we learn that Ree's father Jessup has put up the family home and surrounding lands as collateral for a bail bond, following his arrest (yet again) on suspicion of cooking meth. A local police officer informs Ree that Jessup has disappeared; if he doesn't return in time for his next court hearing, the collateral will be forfeit.
In the opening scene of David Fincher's 'The Social Network' (2010) Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend Erika scathingly dumps him after he insults and belittles her. Not only does she cut him loose, she does so in an intelligent and clever way, playing upon his insecurities in order to wound as deeply as possible. A close look at this scene, Mark's insecurities and the results of Erika's rejection of him offers some useful insights into the power of narcissistic injury and typical defenses against it.
If you're searching for a vivid cinematic portrayal of enmeshed and dysfunctional family dynamics, look no further than David O. Russell's The Fighter (2010), with Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo in a knock-out performance as Alice, matriarch of a large Irish-American clan. Early in the movie, we meet the entire family at a bar in Lowell, Massachusetts. In addition to the two brothers, Dickie and Micky, there's a large number of sisters; I was never clear on the exact number or their names. While at times, there appear to be five of them, bringing the total number of siblings to seven, Alice later says she has given birth to nine children. And although this scene supposedly explains the family geneology (children by two different fathers), the exact relationships and identities remain confusing -- an effective symbol for the "undifferentiated family ego mass," as Murray Bowen would have described it. Apart from Alice, no one has a significant other; Dickie and Micky are both divorced while the single daughters function almost as one unit.
In The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky gave us a protagonist so addicted to the narcissistic feed of public adoration that he destroyed relationships with both his estranged daughter and new girlfriend, eventually putting his own life at risk to get his fix. Now in The Fighter, David O. Russell shows us a dysfunctional family mired in pathological narcissism, with mother Alice and favorite son Dicky ruthless in their pursuit of attention and admiration. A passel of obedient, undifferentiated daughters serves as Alice's mirror, mostly echoing her opinions and taking her side in family disputes. Poor Micky, her other son, is desperately hungry for someone to care about him. At the opening, it appears that a film crew is making a documentary about Dicky's "comeback" as a boxer (though we later learn the film actually concerns crack addiction, with Dicky in the leading role of self-destructive loser). Unable to bear the truth about his failed life, Dicky conceals the actual subject of this documentary and Alice buys into his lies, showing up to one film session at the gym all dolled up and carrying her scrapbooks.
At the opening of the movie Avatar, Jake Sully has suffered a severe spinal chord injury that leaves him a paraplegic. No longer able to perform as a combat marine, and because the military won't pay for an operation to restore the use of his legs -- that is, to return him to his former self -- Jake volunteers for a specialized military mission to the planet Pandora.