Defense Mechanisms

Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ Music Video and Her Triumph Over Shame

Lady Gaga's music video for Born This Way begins with a creation myth about the origins of an imaginary Manichaen world.  Her voice-over, accompanied by stunning visuals and set to portions of the magnificent Bernard Herrmann score for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, tells of the "infinite" birth of "a new race, a race within the  race of humanity.  A race which bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom."  On the same day that this "goodness" came into existence, evil was also born.  Lady Gaga's preamble concludes with a cryptic line:  "But she wondered, 'How can I protect something so perfect without evil?'”  Not from evil, mind you, but without it.

If you parse the prolog, this "she" must refer to a kind of Mother Goddess, the eternal womb that gave birth to good and evil.  "She" seems to believe that evil is existentially necessary in order to preserve perfection.  If so, it would imply a kind of

Anger and Hatred

Wholeness vs. Goodness: Pleasantville (Part I)

“I’d rather be whole than good.” ~ Carl Jung

Though there are many themes presented in Pleasantville (1998), those that will be explored here are the shadow side of our emotions, the dangers of not dealing with them consciously and the rewards of living in connection with all parts of our ourselves.

The film shows that the cost of living in “black and white” is a life that is flat, bland and two-dimensional. And, for all the mess that living with our full range of emotions can bring, doing so enables us to live a “colorful” life with all of its richness and depth.

Brother and sister David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) find themselves living in the 1950s TV series Pleasantville (a sitcom much like Father Knows Best). Nostalgic for a simpler time, David has

Family Dynamics

‘Thor’ the Movie: A Father Teaches Humility

When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his loyal band of cohorts launch an assault on the Frost Giants of Jutenheim, disobeying his father Odin's will not to violate the truce with that realm, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) intervenes to save them.  "You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!" he tells his son.  "And you are an old man and a fool!" Thor retorts.  "Yes, I was a fool, to think you were ready [to become king]."   Odin banishes his son to Earth and takes away his power, casting him off and hurling his hammer down to Earth as well.  Whosoever holds this hammer," he intones, "if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

While other themes run through 'Thor' the movie (sibling rivalry and the importance of diplomacy over warfare, for example), this scene where Odin banishes a beloved son conveys the emotional crux of the story.  Thor's arrogance, cruelty and indifference to the feelings of others make him unfit to be king or to wield the power embodied in his hammer; he must learn the lessons of humility before he can be redeemed.  When Odin later slips into a coma, Thor's jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) assumes power and the realm of Asgard appears to be falling into darkness.

Defense Mechanisms

Exploring the Ghostly Lover: “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (Part II)

In Part I we left off with Pandora regarding the portrait that Hendrick painted of her. The way she is portrayed in the painting is not as she has ever been, but as she would like to be. She says, “It’s not me as I am at all. Why am I not like that?”

This is tricky territory and requires psychological discernment. It’s helpful to start understanding the difference between wanting only the “good” or ideal parts of ourselves to be seen, perhaps getting confused with a grandiose compensatory façade. On the other hand, sometimes it is true that the Other brings out “the best in us,” qualities hidden even to ourselves, as in the case of Pandora.


Exploring the Ghostly Lover: “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” (Part I)

The film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) illustrates the archetype of the Ghostly Lover. An archetype is a symbol or pattern that consistently recurs and is recognizable as a part of human experience, often seen in myths or fairy tales.

Viewing Pandora as if it were a fairy tale helps shed light on the dynamics of the Ghostly Lover who keeps us in the realm of dreams, not of earthly life. This lover can be someone for whom we “carry a torch,” the one that got away, or a fantasy ideal of a soul-mate. He or she often resides in the land of “what if” or “what could have been,” creating what Linda Schierse Leonard calls an “impossible possibility.” This dynamic can set up an infernal longing for something that does not exist or can never be.


Sarah Ferguson on ‘Oprah’: The Persistent Narcissistic Defense

This week, the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times features an interview with Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, promoting a documentary that will begin airing June 12th on the new Oprah Network.

This six-part series, entitled "Finding Sarah: From Royalty to the Real World," supposedly traces Ms. Ferguson's journey from the "gutter" into which she fell during the last few years, to a place of new-found understanding and self-acceptance -- "getting Sarah right," as she describes it.  If the documentary bears any resemblance to the New York Times interview, however, Sarah Ferguson has learned little from hitting bottom.


Exploring Self-Rejection and Self Love in “Cold Souls”

“Soul: the essential part or fundamental nature of anything.” ~ World English Dictionary

Paul Giamatti plays the main character in Cold Souls (2009) as a fictionalized version of himself. Starring in a stage play of Uncle Vanya and having difficulty with his role, he is filled with anxiety. Feeling that his soul is to blame, he decides to undergo a “soul extraction and storage,” a new technology performed by Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn).

The doctor explains, “A twisted soul is like a tumor, better to get rid of it …When you get rid of your soul, everything makes more sense, becomes purposeful, functional.” No troublesome emotions to get in the way!


Going Nowhere in Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”

SOMEWHERE (2010) is a film where nothing happens, either internally or externally.  With no dramatic action to speak of, no climactic moments or twists, the plot could be summed up in a few dull sentences.  Likewise, nothing goes on inside the main character, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a hard-living actor who lives at a full-service hotel in Hollywood.

Despite random sexual encounters with beautiful women, a couple of parties and a trip to Italy for the opening of his latest film, Johnny has no passion or interest in anything about his life.  As far as we can tell from the outside, he has no interior world.  Throughout the film, except for one scene toward the end, he expresses the same flat geniality, shifting his lips from own "engaging" smile to another while conveying no emotion whatsoever.   He doesn't seem particularly 


Loving Beyond Projection: “The Enchanted Cottage”

The film The Enchanted Cottage (1945) shows love developing between two people based on their knowledge of one another, in direct opposition to the film Sleepless in Seattle (1993) which shows love between two people who have never even met.

The latter serves to perpetuate certain fantasies that we have about romance: that there is someone out there just perfect for me, that my life will be complete once I meet him or her and, lastly, that I don’t even have to know (or get to know) this person to feel certain they are my soul-mate.

Defense Mechanisms

Robert Duval in ‘Get Low’: The Lasting Power of Guilt and Shame

This powerfully insightful film begins with a house in flames, and a man running from it with his own clothes on fire; for the next hour and a half, we're left to wonder how this incident relates to the life of Felix Bush (Robert Duval) who has spent the last 40 years as a hermit, concealing himself from the world and shunning contact.  Only in the final moments of the film do we understand that Felix was the burning man who fled; for all the years since, the flames of guilt and shame have been consuming him.

In the second sequence, a small boy throws a rock through the window at Felix's house; when Felix pursues the boy into the barn, his  face remains hidden in shadow -- a perfect image for his faceless existence, a lifetime during which he has not wanted to be "seen."  As do so many people crippled with shame and guilt, Felix defends against those experiences by hiding from view.

At the same time, he lives in self-imposed exile as a punishment for the "crime" he committed.  For years, he has tried to atone for his deeds through this imprisonment; now, at the end of his life, Felix finds that the only way to cool the flames of his conscience is to do the very thing he has avoided all these years -- to reveal himself in public.  And so he plans a "funeral party," to be held while he is still  alive.  He hires funeral home owner Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black) to mount the funeral.