Archives for Relationships


Citizen Kane: Before We Called It Narcissistic Personality Disorder


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.

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Exploring Authentic Yes and No in “Yes Man”

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.

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Love and Romance

Lady Gaga: ‘Bad Romance’ and What It Really Means to be Authentic

I find Lady Gaga such a fascinating figure, not because of her artistic talents as much as the paradoxical nature of her public self. On the one hand, she often comes across as naive or simplistic, with the "love yourself" message she constantly sends out to her adoring fans. As I've written before, you can't achieve authentic self-esteem in that way, but she nonetheless seems genuinely to believe in that message. During the many talk show interviews she has given, whenever she speaks to fans in the audience, she comes across as sincere and caring.

On the other hand, here's what she said to Anderson Cooper about "fame management" during their interview on 60 Minutes: "One of my greatest art works is the art of fame. I'm a master of the art of fame." This makes her sound almost calculating, so entirely conscious of herself and the impression she makes at every moment of every day that you have to wonder whether her "love yourself" message is just another part of image management.
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Anger and Hatred

Exploring Covert Incest in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”

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.

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Exploring Three Stages of Romantic Love Through Three Films

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.

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Envy and Jealousy

Exploring Relationship in “A Walk on the Moon”

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.
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Container and Contained in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”

"My heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill” ~  Fiona Macleod

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” (1968) is based on Carson McCullers’ novel of the same name, starring Alan Arkin as deaf-mute John Singer. His best and perhaps only friend is Spiros Antonapoulos, also a deaf-mute.

Due to his growing lack of impulse control because of mental illness, Spiros is institutionalized by his cousin/guardian. Singer moves to a town near the institution to be closer to his friend.

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Love Lost and Creativity at the Movies (Part II)

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.
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Love Lost and Creativity at the Movies (Part I)

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).

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