Archives for Society and Culture

Anger and Hatred

‘A Dangerous Method’: Misperceptions about Psychoanalysis

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).

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Personal Transformation

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

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."

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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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Anger and Hatred

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

In The Upside of Anger (2005), Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) is described by her youngest daughter, Popeye (Rachel Evan Wood), as having been “the nicest person I ever knew. She was the nicest, sweetest woman that anyone who knew her ever knew.” Terry’s husband disappears one night and she jumps to the conclusion (unconfirmed) that he has run off with his Swedish secretary and left her and their four daughters without a word.

Terry goes from being the nicest woman in the world to becoming angry, bitter and cynical. The pendulum swings from seeming
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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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Defense Mechanisms

‘The Book of Mormon’: How to Practice Denial

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.
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Exploring Mother & Daughter in “Postcards from the Edge”

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 [
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Anger and Hatred

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

If you're a fan of 19th century fiction like me, you've no doubt read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and seen one of the many fine film and TV adaptations. The first such version was a silent film released in 1910, with eight or nine more to follow before the classic Orson Welles - Joan Fontaine film from 1944.

Many other movie and TV adaptations have been made since then, some memorable, others not so much; but this latest version with Mia Wasikowska in the title role is a superb rendition of the classic tale. Both Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Rochester give stand-out performances; the direction by Cary Fukunaga is superb.

Many important themes run throughout the novel Jane Eyre, and some of them make it onto the large or small screen: atonement and forgiveness, feminism, the search for home and family. The story also includes many vivid psychological portraits, rich in insight; I could discuss any one of them, but instead, I'd like to talk about its view of mental illness. It's a small part of the story but fascinating from a historical perspective. We live in an age where people commonly discuss the roots of emotional difficulties in childhood, and how family patterns of communication shape our psychology; it's easy to forget that 150 years ago, people thought quite differently.

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Death and Dying

Exploring the Empty Nest in “The Kids Grow Up”

“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.

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