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.
The film “Yes Man” invites exploration of our “default switches,” which serve as defensive strategies. Some of us tend to comply and accommodate by always saying yes. Others tend to rebel and shut down to new experiences by always saying no. Neither rebelling (by an automatic No) nor complying (by an automatic Yes) are real ways of establishing either independence in the first case or closeness in the second. Rebelling mimics autonomy and compliance mimics merging.
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 which gives an insight into Vivi’s relationship with her own parents. This scene takes place at the birthday party of 18-year old Vivi (played by Ashley Judd). Her father, Taylor, gives her an extravagant diamond ring. The narrator says “Taylor Abbott treated his horses better than he treated his wife,” and that Vivi “got caught in the crossfire” between them. There are a number of aspects to analyze in this clip. One is the creation of a Daddy’s Little Girl. Not only does Taylor treat Vivi more like a beloved wife (vividly seen through the symbolism of the ring) than a daughter, he also devalues his real wife, Buggy. Winning the Oedipal conflict in this way usually creates much confusion for a young girl, as well as guilt and shame. As special as she may feeling because of her father’s inappropriate attention, she also feels guilt because it’s at her mother’s expense.
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.
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.
One way of looking at romantic love is through these three stages:Love without Knowledge, Knowledge without Love, Love with Knowledge. We explore these phases by looking at “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Story of Us,” and “When Harry Met Sally.”
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.
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.
In Part I, I wrote about ideas of lost love and creativity; here are some film examples of creativity after loss. I believe our quality of life is enhanced by our ability to feel our whole range of emotions, including our grief. It is challenging to be a fully feeling human being, but being so allows us more access to our creativity and depths.
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