Archives for General Psychology
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).
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.
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).
[This is a continuation of the exploration of mother and daughter relationships - for prior posts, click here and here] Woody Allen’s film Alice (1990) is a kind of heroine’s journey. In it, Alice (Mia Farrow), married to a wealthy attorney, goes to Chinese herbalist Dr. Yang for help with a bad back. More than just curing the symptom, the doctor, through his various elixirs, helps Alice explore hidden parts of her psyche. [For a more detailed analysis of the whole film, click here] The scene that I focus on below exemplifies a daughter’s idealization of her mother. In it, Alice meets her “Muse” (Bernadette Peters) who, in trying to find subject matter for Alice to write about, shows her the objective truth about her mother.
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):
In this next series of posts, I’m going to take scenes from a number of films to explore various aspects of mother-daughter relationships. It can be helpful to take stock of how we were mothered, how we’ve complied with and/or rebelled against the woman who raised us (or was supposed to and didn’t). Also it is useful to identify the beliefs and messages that get handed down to us, often coming down through generations. Not only can these realizations help point the way to our own individuation (becoming fully ourselves), it can also help us to not pass on our “family legacies” unconsciously. Mothers can give too much, too little, or both in different areas; they can be on a spectrum anywhere from smothering or engulfment to neglect or abandonment. A “good enough” mother is somewhere in the middle. No one gets it perfect. Furthermore, what is optimal mothering for one child is not for another, and what feelings and behavior get evoked in the mother can be different from child to child. Here is a partial list of types of mothers (I’m sure you can come up with more of your own!), and of course there can be more than one of these running in the same person:
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.
“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question” ~ e.e. cummings Like many good films, books or conversations, independent filmmaker Doug Block’s The Kids Grow Up can stimulate our own self-inquiry, leading us to ask ourselves questions about where we are with the topic presented. More than supplying answers, these kinds of works elicit personal examination, much as Block did in his excellent documentary, 51 Birch Street, examining his parents’ marriage. In The Kids Grow Up, he provides an interesting road map of the terrain of one of mid-life’s milestones: when our kids leave home. One of the many questions this film poses is what our lives as parents are going to be like after this bittersweet passage.