A new 70th anniversary edition of Citizen Kane, first released in 1941, was recently issued. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss why I think this film is great. When film historians and critics write about Citizen Kane, they mention its innovative camera angles — the way director Orson Welles plays with shadow and perspective — or its groundbreaking departure from chronological narrative.
While I admire these features, what I appreciate most about the film is its psychological portrait of Charles Foster Kane. Long before the label narcissistic personality disorder entered our lexicon and people routinely discussed the narcissistic behavior of their friends and family, Orson Welles gave us a character unable to feel empathy for other people; who craves, even demands attention from the entire world, and who becomes enraged when he can’t have what he wants. These are the features we have come to associate with the narcissist.
Charles Foster Kane — or Charlie, as he is known to his friends — was born to parents who operate a simple boarding house in Colorado. When mining stock given in lieu of payment by a boarder makes his mother (Agnes Moorehead) wealthy, she consigns Charlie to the care of a wealthy banker for his education.
In the scene when she signs the necessary papers, Mrs. Kane at first appears emotionally detached; but when her husband threatens to beat Charlie for pushing the banker into the snow, she says, “That’s why he’s going to be brought up where you can’t get at him.” This scene, with an emotionally remote mother and an abusive father, offer the only clues to the origins of Charlie’s personality and later difficulties.
Further exploring various dynamics of the mother and daughter relationship, 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 and self-absorbed; Suzanne is very much in her shadow.
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.
The film “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” gives us a way to look at “holding” through the ideas of “container” and “contained.” Some of us have a tendency to play the role of container or holder, sometimes to escape our own sense of neediness by taking care of others. And some have a tendency to crave and bid for containment or holding, perhaps due to early childhood deficits. As we mature psychologically, a play seems to emerge between being a container, being contained and cultivating self-containment as well.
If you enjoy smart, well-acted and beautifully filmed British movies where psychological nuance drives the story rather than plot, then be sure to see Cracks (2009), starring Eva Green.
This exquisite film was directed by Jordan Scott, and produced by her father Ridley Scott and uncle Tony Scott. Based on a novel by Sheila Kohler, Cracks revolves around a charismatic teacher Miss G (Eva Green) at an English boarding school for girls, located on Stanley Island in the year 1934. Miss G’s influence on her “team” of students recalls the way Maggie Smith enthralled and shaped her own young proteges in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody (1969), though with more sinister undertones.
Miss Brody was narcissistic and self-deceived; Miss G suffers from crippling agoraphobia and takes flight from reality into grandiose fantasies of herself as a world traveler. While she inspires her students to believe in themselves and their potential, she also relies upon their adulation and belief in her lies to sustain those delusions.
In her “Born This Way” music video, Lady Gaga models a kind of refusal to let shame and self-doubt debilitate her, triumphing over those feelings through her enormous artistic gifts.
In her recent New York Times interview to promote the upcoming Oprah Network documentary “Finding Sarah: From Royalty to the Real World,” Sarah Ferguson appears to be as lost and unable to accept being part of the “real world” as ever.
SOMEWHERE (2010) is a film where nothing happens, either internally or externally.
‘Love and Other Junkies’, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, relies on the Hollywood romantic comedy formula but makes some interesting observations about narcissistic ‘love’ along the way.
A look at the role of separation and merger issues between mother and daughter in the HBO mini-series ‘Mildred Pierce’ starring Kate Winslet, Evan Rachel Wood and Guy Pearce.