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‘A Dangerous Method’: Misperceptions about Psychoanalysis

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

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).


Lady Gaga’s ‘Marry the Night’ Video and the Transformation of Shame

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Lady Gaga's Marry the Night Video and the Transformation of ShameIn 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.”


Exploring Authentic Yes and No in “Yes Man”

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

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.


Exploring Women’s Anger in “The Upside of Anger”

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

The 2005 film “The Upside of Anger” is a good starting point from which to discuss the issue of women’s anger, nearly taboo in our society. In men, anger can be considered forceful, assertive, or powerful, where in women it may be judged as aggressive, bitchy or irrational. In general, women have been conditioned to be “nice” and not to make waves; often their anger has gone into their “shadow” (the hidden, unconscious parts of ourselves). In addition, current ideas about “thinking positive thoughts” don’t leave room for our more unpleasant emotions, potentially resulting in a feeling that something is wrong with us if we can’t change the way we feel simply by will-power.


Exploring the Oedipal Triangle in “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

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.


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

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Lady Gaga Bad Romance

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.


‘The Book of Mormon’: How to Practice Denial

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

I’ve been laughing myself silly all week, listening to the soundtrack (and watching YouTube videos) of the Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon. Its book, music and lyrics were written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame) in collaboration with Robert Lopez, co-author and director of another successful Broadway musical, Avenue Q.

While the melodies may be a bit generic, they’re catchy and memorable; it’s the lyrics that truly stand out, however. Profane and irreverent, they shed light on some of the more absurd aspects of Mormon theology. They also expose the type of guidance offered by the Church of the Latter Day Saints to members struggling with cognitive dissonance, as well as feelings they find unacceptable.


Exploring Mother & Daughter in “Postcards from the Edge”

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

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.


Mia Wasikowska in ‘Jane Eyre’: Mental Illness as Moral Taint

Monday, September 5th, 2011

A look at mid-19th century views on mental illness as portrayed in the recent film adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre,’ starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.


Exploring the Empty Nest in “The Kids Grow Up”

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

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.


 

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