Archives for Personal Transformation
In an earlier post about Lady Gaga's Bad Romance video, I discussed her particular way of overcoming shame. Based on Sigmund Freud's idea of the artist as someone who retreats from hated reality but finds a way back through his or her artistic gifts, I suggested that Lady Gaga "has managed to take profound shame and make it into something aesthetic and compelling. By putting her shame on display -- she's not afraid to make herself look ugly, or to expose herself in ways that other people might find 'shameless' -- she has in a sense triumphed over that shame." In Lady Gaga's 'Marry the Night' video, she returns to this theme and elaborates upon it. Although her latest effort ostensibly deals with the issue of trauma, dig a little deeper and you'll see it's really about shame. Lady Gaga begins the video with an explanatory monolog: "When I look back on my life, it's not that I don't want to see things exactly as they happened; it's just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way. And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it. Clinical psychology tells us that trauma is arguably the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics. They can be lost forever. It's sort of like my past is an unfinished painting, and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It's not that I've been dishonest; it's just that I loathe reality."
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.
[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):
I'd heard so much negative buzz about The Beaver (starring Mel Gibson and directed by Jodie Foster) that I stayed away from my local movie theater despite the film's interesting psychological subject matter. This past week, I finally saw it on DVD and was surprised to find myself appreciating it much more than I'd expected. While there's some truth to the criticism I've heard, The Beaver tackles a difficult subject -- suicidal depression -- with psychological insight and emotional honesty. It scorns the simplistic answers offered by pop psychology and rejects the widely propagated medical lie that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. The film doesn't really try to explain depression (although it offers some interesting hints as to its origins), or offer a solution that leads to the happy ending. Instead, it explores a peculiar form of splitting, a desperate attempt to "cure" depression when all else fails.
“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.
One way of looking at romantic love is through these three stages: - Love without Knowledge - Knowledge without Love - Love with Knowledge The first film we’ll look at in this context is Sleepless in Seattle (1993), a prime example of Love without Knowledge. This film does much to promote the myth of romantic love, as prevalent today as it was 20 years ago. In it, Annie (Meg Ryan) hears Sam (Tom Hanks), a caller on a late-night radio show, talking about his feelings about his deceased wife. Based on this, Annie goes on a quest to meet him, feeling like he might be The One.
Even though this film was made in 1999, and took place in 1969, many of the themes covered in A Walk on the Moon are still relevant for some women and some relationships today. Set in the 60’s, a time of change, this film poses questions of unlived lives, longing, sacrifice, duty, and choice. Our characters grieve for what cannot be, explore new territory, and experience initiations. Pearl (Diane Lane) is our heroine, and Marty (Liev Schreiber) is her husband. They got married when Marty got Pearl pregnant at 17. Both of them have their share of unlived life. Teen-aged Marty’s boss at the time would have paid for his college education had he not impregnated Pearl. Marty’s dream was to be an engineer and instead he ended up working in a TV repair shop. Womens' dreams in this era were much more circumscribed, so that Pearl ended up with a nameless longing for something more out of life. On their yearly summer vacation, at a Jewish camp in upstate New York, Pearl meets Walker, the “Blouse Man” (Viggo Mortensen), a hippie who comes to the camp selling women’s clothing and accessories. Right away, we see that there is chemistry between the Blouse Man and Pearl. We can see his diplomacy, sensitivity, and generosity in dealing with two ladies fighting over one blouse. We find out these qualities are genuine as we get to know him better.
In Part I, I wrote about ideas of lost love and creativity; here are some film examples of these ideas. Facing Windows (Italian, 2003): Giovanna finds her creative passion, becoming a pastry chef, after realizing that the neighbor she’s idealized and desired for so long is not the answer to her discontent and yearning. 500 Days of Summer (2009): Tom has been blocked creatively for years, writing Hallmark-type cards for a living instead of pursuing a career in architecture. After being jilted by his girlfriend, Summer, he falls into a long dark night of the soul, and emerges into a new creative state. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003): Frances (Diane Lane) moves to Tuscany to recover from a sudden divorce. She is then disappointed by a love affair and finds meaning and satisfaction in remodeling an old dilapidated villa.
Certain films point to the creativity that can follow in the aftermath of an impeded, unrequited or lost love, or simply a love that just doesn’t work out. Sometimes a juncture is reached in a relationship in which it can go no further, whether through death, divorce, rejection, betrayal, circumstance or choice. There are various ways we can react to such loss and grief. We can be in denial, numb out, avoid our pain through addiction of any sort (including busy-ness), become stuck in the past, or try to find another “love object” ASAP, among other things. We can sublimate, or something new can emerge (more about these further on).