Archives for Anger and Hatred
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 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.
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).
Further exploring various dynamics of the mother and daughter relationship [For the first part in this series click here], we’ll have a look at a scene from Postcards from the Edge (1990). This film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher (daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds). Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) plays the addiction-prone actress daughter of movie star Doris Mann (Shirley Maclaine). Doris is portrayed as overbearing, controlling, manipulative, competitive, narcissistic and self-absorbed; Suzanne is very much in her shadow. In a particular scene towards the end of the film [click here to watch], Suzanne is doing a voice-over for a film she’s just made. She has a heart-to-heart conversation with her director, fatherly Lowell (Gene Hackman):
Rebecca Miller’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) presents an intimate look at how father-daughter relationships can cross the line into covert or emotional incest. Rose (Camilla Belle) is the 16-year old daughter of terminally ill Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis). They have been living in isolation, just the two of them, on a small island, the site of a failed commune; Rose’s mother had long since left. From the start, we get the feeling of a complicit, intimate, and closed system between father and daughter. Not only has Rose taken the role of “wife” in the household, but having home-schooled her, Jack has shut her off from developing relationships with others.
If you're a fan of 19th century fiction like me, you've no doubt read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and seen one of the many fine film and TV adaptations. The first such version was a silent film released in 1910, with eight or nine more to follow before the classic Orson Welles - Joan Fontaine film from 1944. Many other movie and TV adaptations have been made since then, some memorable, others not so much; but this latest version with Mia Wasikowska in the title role is a superb rendition of the classic tale. Both Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Rochester give stand-out performances; the direction by Cary Fukunaga is superb. Many important themes run throughout the novel Jane Eyre, and some of them make it onto the large or small screen: atonement and forgiveness, feminism, the search for home and family. The story also includes many vivid psychological portraits, rich in insight; I could discuss any one of them, but instead, I'd like to talk about its view of mental illness. It's a small part of the story but fascinating from a historical perspective. We live in an age where people commonly discuss the roots of emotional difficulties in childhood, and how family patterns of communication shape our psychology; it's easy to forget that 150 years ago, people thought quite differently.
Adolescence is a tricky time for fathers and daughters. The film My First Mister (2001) presents some ideas of how to skillfully traverse this territory. Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski), who goes by the name of “J,” has just graduated from high school. She self-mutilates, is a “goth,” and is alone, lonely and nihilistic. Her parents are divorced. Her mother (Carol Kane) is Pollyanna-ish; the mother and daughter are polar opposites who can’t relate. Her father (John Goodman) is a pothead with whom she has very little contact.
In Part I, we saw big changes in Pleasantville, now: the Mayor tries to regain control of the situation by organizing a town hall meeting. He represents the fascistic part of our Super-Ego clinging on to old value systems for dear life by rallying defense mechanisms. This part rejects, banishes, and excludes those aspects of ourselves that bring up unwanted painful and shameful emotions in order to keep things comfortable and “pleasant.”
“I’d rather be whole than good.” ~ Carl Jung Though there are many themes presented in Pleasantville (1998), those that will be explored here are the shadow side of our emotions, the dangers of not dealing with them consciously and the rewards of living in connection with all parts of our ourselves. The film shows that the cost of living in “black and white” is a life that is flat, bland and two-dimensional. And, for all the mess that living with our full range of emotions can bring, doing so enables us to live a “colorful” life with all of its richness and depth. Brother and sister David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) find themselves living in the 1950s TV series Pleasantville (a sitcom much like Father Knows Best). Nostalgic for a simpler time, David has idealized the goodness of the past as represented by the show and is nearly obsessed by it; Jennifer is the opposite, very modern and a self-described “slut.” David ends up playing the role of “Bud” in the show, and Jennifer that of “Mary Sue,” the children of George and Betty Parker (William H. Macy and Joan Allen).