Archives for March, 2011


A Look at Women’s Arc of Individuation through Three Films: Madame Bovary

PART II (of 3 parts)
Our second film, Madame Bovary (c.1950), is based on Flaubert’s classic 1857 novel.

Jennifer Jones plays our heroine, Emma, whose overriding dream is to live out the myth of romantic love. Flaubert presents her in a compassionate light, believing her plight could be that of many women of that time, if they only had more courage to try to break free of their dissatisfaction.

Emma goes through many steps in trying to find her happiness: marriage, a home, a child,  self-value through her husband’s accomplishments, being attractive, having affairs and material possessions.

From a young age, she had been exposed to many romantic books of the time, which fed her very active fantasy life. When Dr. Charles Bovary arrives at the family farm to tend to her father, her imagination is galvanized. She sees him as someone to rescue her, just like in the stories she grew up with. Charles assesses himself accurately as "just a country doctor, and not a particularly good one", but her need to idealize him blinds her.
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Bowing to Fate, Growing into Destiny: A Look at Women’s Arc of Individuation through Three Films

PART I (of a 3-part series)

Jungian analyst and author James Hollis says we can bow to our fate—acknowledge and accept what cannot be changed, our “givens” such as parents, background, conditioning, early wounding and so forth. Beyond that, we can grow into our destiny and become all that we can become.

Today, long after the advent of the liberation movement, women are still seeking their destinies, both personally and in the larger world. This series of films (to be presented in three parts) describes a certain arc of female psychological evolution, mapping a part of the territory of both the individual and cultural journeys some of us may take.

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Notions of Justice in ‘True Grit’

From her opening voice-over in True Grit (2010), Mattie Ross of Yell County (Hailee Steinfeld) lets us know she aims to "avenge her father's blood."  She may frame later arguments for her actions with reference to the law, and justice being done, but these words place a veneer of civilization over primitive notions of  retribution.

Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) killed her father; she wants him hanged in Fort Smith for that crime, but if that's not possible, she wants him shot.  She doesn't care that Chaney also murdered a state senator from Texas, or that Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) has been tracking the outlaw for months, to bring him back to stand trial in Waco.   Mattie wants Chaney put to death in such a manner that he will know he is dying as retribution for killing her father.  The idea that families of other victims might also want to see justice done, and in some sense have a prior claim, means nothing to Mattie.  Her "justice" is the only justice that matters.
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Love and Romance

The Adjustment Bureau: True Love Conquers All, After All

The film, The Adjustment Bureau, operates under the metaphysical idea that “The Chairman” has a life plan for each of us, employing angels who make sure we stay on our pre-ordained track. Even though the film lightly touches on questions of free will, fate and destiny, what is especially noteworthy is it concludes that true love conquers all, and furthermore trumps anything else in life worth living.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming political hopeful who runs into dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) on the eve of losing the election for a Senate seat. (We come to find out this chance meeting has been arranged by “up above” to inspire David to deliver a memorable defeat speech). Their fateful encounter has an other-worldly feel to it, a feeling of already knowing the other, which many of us recognize as love at first sight.
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“Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” (Conclusion)

There remains a deeply embedded social resistance to viewing the battered woman who kills as an issue of gender equality (Schneider, 2000.) This resistance is prevalent in public opinion, media representations and in the weak legal representation and disproportionately harsh judicial treatment of abused women who kill. Battered women are still required to meet the standard of the “pre-retreat duty” (Stark, 2007) while men are excused from this duty. This is a deeply entrenched gender bias that is based on the unrealistic societal presumptions about how women should behave when faced with imminent danger (Baker, 2005.)
The “special reasonableness” (Blackman, 1984) of BW is largely ignored in courtrooms as a logical form of self-defense, both by defense attorneys and through a woman’s lack of resources to hire expert testimony. The benefit of an expert witness for an abused woman on trial for killing her abuser is not only a fair point of leverage for her, but it educates the judges and juries who will decide her fate (Blackman & Brickman, 1984.)
For some women their abuse begins with their fathers and ends with a trial attorney who treats them as if they were “pond scum” (Hempel, 2004), refusing to address the abuse in the woman’s defense and allowing the trial focus to remain on the sexual practices with her abuser.
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Anger and Hatred

“Why Doesn’t She Leave?” Part II – Battered Women in the Media


The persona of “the good girl vs. the bad girl” has a long tradition in the film industry.  This is exceptionally easy to recognize in the passive “good” women of the old Westerns in stark contrast to the bold and outspoken “bad girls” at the local cathouse.

These “bad girls” also tended to get the short end of the stick, reinforcing the old folksongs that warn women to repress their sexuality or pay the consequences.  The film High Noon (United Artists,1952) is worth mentioning here because ironically the situation Gary Cooper’s character, Will Kane is in is almost directly parallel to that of a battered woman (BW).  The difference is that in the end Will Kane is made a hero for not running away, where women tend to be punished for not running away.  At almost every twist and turn of this film Will Kane is using the same tactics as a battered woman who is trying to end her abuse.
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“Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” Battered Women in the Media

[In Part I of her extended essay, guest blogger Kimberly Greyson discusses public misconceptions about battered women; Part II (to follow) will provide cinematic examples that perpetuate these myths.]

Many times we see images in the media that are based in fantasy, yet we tend to absorb them as if they were real.  Unless an individual makes a conscious decision to learn more or teach others about the reality of situations presented by the media, myths and stereotypes will continue to exist.

Sometimes these Hollywood “prototypes” cause real harm to the individuals who don’t fit the role.  In an age of reality TV, where half-hearted attempts are made to disclose the secret side of human lives, the distortion of battered women (hereafter "BW") who fight back with deadly force lingers.
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Family Dynamics

Blue Valentine: What is Love?

The movie Blue Valentine is like a Zen koan, a paradoxical riddle with no answer which encourages us to ponder things in new ways. Ostensibly this particular koan asks us to wonder about what goes wrong in love, but perhaps a more fundamental question is what is love in the first place?

Some of the themes Blue Valentine explores is how much of what we call romantic love is about the reenactment of unmet needs, trauma and role modeling in our family of origin, and the possibility of growing beyond these patterns.

The film moves back and forth through time, showing the beginning and ending of a relationship, inviting us to look closely at our own ideas about love.
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Bipolar Disorder

Charlie Sheen and the Allure of Manic Flight

In a post on my blog, After Psychotherapy, I've discussed how Charlie Sheen's behavior and comments in recent interviews illustrate the defenses against shame I've written about in detail.

In yet another interview, this one on ABC's 20/20,  Sheen continues in the same grandiose and contemptuous vein; eventually, however, he gives us some insight into his mania.

The interviewer asks if he ever feels that his wild lifestyle gets "too close" to his kids and might hurt them, referencing the out-of-control party in a New York hotel room last year, with his girls asleep just across the hall.

"You don't normally think about that in the middle of it," he replies.  "Then people remind you of it and of it's 'Oh. SHAME. Oops. Move on.'  I mean, what are you going to do, change it?  Move their room?  Can I go back in time and move their room?  No!"

Because he has no sense of how to make up for what he's done, he can't bear to think or feel anything about it.  In a manner characteristic of
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Grief and Mourning

Unbearable Grief in Rabbit Hole (2010)

Rabbit Hole' (2010), starring Aaron Eckhart (Howie Corbett) and Nicole Kidman (Becca Corbett) in her Academy Award-nominated role, tells a story of  devastating grief and the ways we attempt to escape from such unbearable emotions.

Eight months before the film opens, Becca and Howie's young son Danny was killed when he chased their dog into the street and a teenage driver ran him down.   As a couple, Howie and Becca have not yet come to emotional terms with the death of their only child; one of the sobering messages of this film is that there are certain kinds of loss from which one never truly recovers.
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