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).
Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, comes out this week on DVD. Beginning with its opening quotation from The Book of Job, through its 15-minute visual history of the universe, to its cryptic ending, this is a film that invites questions about “meaning” as well as the writer/director’s intent.
Admirers and critics have written extensively about the film’s “message” — search the Internet and you’ll find hundreds of comments that describe particular scenes and discuss their symbolism. While many viewers seem perplexed by this movie, to me it offers a fairly straight-forward New Age message about life, death and the source of true consolation during the grieving process.
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.
The film “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (1951) gives us the opportunity to question some of our most cherished notions about romantic love.
The movie, “I Am” is a documentary made by Tom Shadyac (director of “Ace Ventura”) chronicling his quest to make sense out of life after a serious accident. The film focuses on quantum physics, consciousness studies and social activism, as well as the effects of consumerism on humanity. The message put forth is to truly understand that we are all one and that by changing our beliefs, the world will in turn change. Human nature is referred to as being cooperative instead of competitive; I believe both qualities are to be found in humans. The film is one-sided, only exploring the “positive” side of human behavior to support its point of view. What the film exhibits is “spiritual bypass,” looking at transcending the darker sides of humanity instead of transforming them, which would require the sometimes painful work of digging deep inside of ourselves.