Archives for April, 2011
[Part 2 of a 4-part series] In Part I, we looked at the Shadow as it turns up in our unlived lives. In our further exploration, we’re going to look at Shadow and our instincts. As Dr. Joe Burgo says, “Freud believed human beings were driven largely by instinct (the Id). As we become "civilized," the external restraints and limits imposed by society upon the gratification of those instincts are internalized as the Superego. The Ego must navigate between the two and constantly tries to reconcile their conflicting demands.” So what happens is much of our instinctive nature goes into “the long black bag we drag behind us,” where all of our rejected parts go.
[Part 1 of a 4-part series on the Shadow in film] In this series, we will be looking at four diverse films, illustrating various aspects of the Shadow. The Shadow is whatever is unconscious, repressed, unlived or hidden in our psyches. One of the purposes of depth psychology is to “bring to light” these aspects of ourselves so that we can digest and integrate them, and so become “whole.” Jung himself said that he’d rather be whole than good.
In Part One of this review, I discussed the ways that Veda Pierce is the carrier for all the frustrated ideals and aspirations her mother Mildred cannot achieve. From this point of view, we might say that there are some narcissistic aspects to Mildred's love for her daughter: if Veda were to rise in station and become someone of stature, Mildred would regard it both as a reflection upon herself and a fulfillment of her own frustrated longing to shine. Using different language, we might say that Mildred has some merger and separation issues and is unable to see Veda as a completely distinct and separate person. This dynamic becomes clearer as the story progresses. When 17-year-old Veda (Evan Rachel Wood), demonstrating all the features of narcissistic personality disorder, feigns pregnancy in order to extort money from the son of Mrs. Forrester, Veda and Mildred have a violent argument in which the daughter expresses all her pent-up scorn and contempt. "With enough money, I can get away from you. You, and your pie wagons and chickens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from Glendale and its Dollar Days and furniture factories and women that wear uniforms and men that wear smocks, from every stinking rotten thing that ever reminds me of this place or you."
As much as I love the original 1945 version of Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford, this new 5-part HBO series starring Kate Winslet offers a much more nuanced and accurate psychological portrait of a troubled mother-daughter relationship. While the cult classic gives us a relatively innocent, devoted mother-as-doormat, abused and manipulated by her ruthless daughter, this new mini-series shows that a bad seed like Veda is created not born. Joan Crawford's Mildred certainly over-indulged her daughter; but in Todd Hayne's faithful adaptation of the original novel by James M. Cain, Kate Winslet's character shares and supports many of Veda's grandiose fantasies and secretly craves the very aristocratic style of life that Veda feels is her due. This new Mildred also harbors a great deal of disowned rage and a ruthless will to have her own way, "carried" and enacted for her by daughter Veda.
The film Proof (2005) gives us a view into various aspects of the father-daughter relationship. The father, Robert Llewellyn, is played by Anthony Hopkins, and his daughter, Catherine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. As the film opens, we see a despondent Catherine having an interchange with her father. We realize within minutes that Robert has recently died, setting up a metaphor for how others can haunt us. In this case, we will be following the ways in which a daughter may be “haunted” by her father.
I decided to revisit this film from 1989 because of its acrimonious divorce: I've been wanting to write about a particular process that sometimes occurs when a marriage falls apart, where the couple seems to be trapped in a struggle over who will emerge the "winner" and who the "loser" (I've written about this dynamic more generally elsewhere). Although The War of the Roses portrayed this dynamic, I came away from my viewing more impressed by another issue: the way some people seek to find self-fulfillment through satisfying the needs of their partners, how this strategy inevitably fails, and the kind of hatred and destructiveness that often results.
There are many rich threads to follow in this Irish-American film, In America (2002), but this article will focus on how each member of a family has their own way of dealing (or not) with their grief. This is also a great companion piece to Joe Burgo’s analysis of Rabbit Hole in an earlier post on the theme of loss and mourning.
Although Limitless (2011) ultimately winds up as a cautionary tale about drug addiction, it begins with a revealing portrayal of the shame and self-loathing to be found in depression, as well as the manic flight into omnipotence of thought that characterizes bipolar disorder. Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a down-on-his-heels writer whose girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him during one of the opening scenes. He may have secured an advance from his publisher for a new novel but has been unable to write a single word of it. His apartment is a disaster and physically, Eddie looks a mess. Disgusted with himself, he believes Lindy has made the right decision. "Why stick it out? I'd clearly missed the on-ramp. We both knew what was beckoning: the lower bunk in my childhood bedroom in Jersey." In other words, he is filled with shame and feels like a total loser, a lost cause.
PART III (of 3 parts) Our third film, Woody Allen’s Alice, made in 1990, stars Mia Farrow. Unlike Darling or Madame Bovary, Alice becomes conscious and starts growing into her destiny with the help of her guide, Chinese herbalist Dr. Yang. Many women’s journeys end up in the same place, whether single, married, divorced, widowed, with or without children: a journey to find the particular meaning of their own life.