What is it about psychiatrists and psychotherapists on celluloid and how we love to see them suffer. I think we like to get even and give these therapists a lot more trouble than their clients have to deal with, thus somehow redressing the perceived power imbalance of needing to ask for help. In the hit HBO series ‘In Treatment’, Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Byrne) is a shrink losing his marbles over a young beautiful client. She is repeating an early sexual experience with a father figure in falling for her therapist, and Paul falls hard. When he takes his guilt and desire to his supervisor Gina (played by Dianne Wiest), the female shrinks holds the boundaries, and reminds him of ethics, morality, integrity which would be transgressed in having sex with his client. Though Gina is his conscience, Paul is soon joining the seductive Laura on his couch, and fondling and cuddling his way through her session. Naturally when he succumbs to her seductive techniques she is confused and begins to miss therapy. But Paul is saved by a panic attack at the final test of his will. Thankfully there are two more series for him to make up for losing his head, heart and high ground.
In the hugely funny ‘Analyse This’, Billy Crystal plays the comic shrink Ben Sobell, who lives in the shadow of his father, a famous psychiatrist, too busy doing book signings to attend his son’s wedding. Ben gets a client from hell in the form of mob boss Paul Viti (played by Robert de Niro): “If I talk to you and you turn me into a fag I’ll kill you!” he threatens, as well as getting his lackeys to drag Ben out of bed and out of his own wedding ceremonies (plural) for a session. Not to mention a plot to ‘take him out’ for knowing too much. In Ben’s nightmares Vito calls him a loser who needs therapy! Needing therapy looks to be the raison d’etre of Ben’s awful punishments – did I mention getting thrown in a shark tank. In spite of the years of therapy required for all psychotherapists in training and the ongoing supervision, Hollywood gets even as Ben, under fire from the mob, pleads with Viti to shoot back when his panic attacks get the better of him and he hides trembling under a car. Indeed Viti gets the touchy feely therapy speak lines, while Ben is forced to play at being a mob boss at a big meet.
More mafia bosses get the shrink treatment in the ‘Sopranos,’ another hit HBO series, and this time Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini) takes his dreams and panic attacks to Dr Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Before long she is taking her erotic dreams about Tony to supervision, as he tries to win his shrink with threats, gifts, trips, letters and kisses. Again it’s the female shrink who has to hold the boundaries firm, while the men fall hard and often get their prize in the form of a willing beautiful female client. This time in “Shrink”, Dr Henry Carter (played by Kevin Spacey) has another famous psychiatrist father looming over him in a well documented Oedipal dynamic, as he struggles with the grief and turmoil of his wife’s suicide. Turning to booze and drugs, this shrink to the stars is soon getting client supervision from his drug dealer: “Do you ever feel you can’t do anything for them?” And in a spectacular melt down during a TV interview he tears up his bestseller “Happiness’, “It’s all bullshit and then you die!” But before long there is salvation in the form of a celebrity client he can simply stop seeing in order to ‘see’ more personally.
And in “Help” the British comedy series, Chris Langham’s laughable shrink Peter, does comic turns to Paul Whitehouse’s parade of clients. He gets the giggles with his clients, and falls for his secretary, “I’m not very ethical really”, and like all imagined shrinks on screen that ends rather badly too.
Evolving out of the award-winning Israeli TV series Be Tipul, In Treatment is an American HBO drama series produced by Rodrigo Garcia about a psychotherapist, Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) and his weekly sessions with clients. If you have not yet come across In Treatment prepare to be delighted, and for those of you who caught series 1, series 2, which unlike its predecessor benefits from psychiatric (US terminology) consultancy, promises to be even better.
Thanks to superb acting and high quality, well-informed scriptwriting, In Treatment succeeds in accomplishing the near-impossible feat of transferring the process of psychotherapy from consulting room to screen with admirable authenticity and in so doing is a worthy ambassador of our profession.
The DVD boxed-set of Series 1 of In Treatment can be bought from Amazon. Series 2 will be available in February 2011.
Jac Palmer adds:
After being addicted to series 1 I checked out series 2 on You Tube and was delighted to see that not only is there another series of Hollywood stars, but we now have (on You Tube) a wonderful commentary from the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group, as they deconstruct Paul’s interventions.
This time Paul Weston is back in therapy with his supervisor, the wonderful Dianne Wiest, after being sued for malpractice over the death of a client (the pilot Alex in series 1). He has moved to Brooklyn, got divorced, and has even had a legal session over the law suit with an old client of his, April, (Hope Davis) who is of course very interested in Paul, shades of Laura?
So, we get the CEO breaking down his wall of success in panic attacks, and other colourful characters, Bliss, Oliver, Luke, April, Walter, and the treat is we get to see snatches of episodes, frozen at dramatic moments, as clients collapse, break down, act out, with a voice-over explaining Paul’s apparent mistakes: “Paul doesn’t get any smarter in week 7, or “Paul had no business calling April’s mother”. As well as critiquing Paul’s interventions, the analyst voice-over explains in titles and bullet points concepts such as repression, persona, and pathogenic beliefs. What a great aid for psychotherapy trainings. We are also told that April should ‘walk, not run away’ calling Paul a ‘one trick pony’.
Other episodes from series 1, such as “Laura’s Cheap Chick Tricks”, and “Testing in Therapy”, get the same analysis – showing us what Paul missed, and check out the ‘Campaign of Seduction’ by Laura, as she smudges her mascara, creates ladders in her panty hose….and pretends to vomit with the toilet seat UP.
I’m thinking of running an In Treatment film group where therapists can add their voices to the San Fran Institute and declare judgement on Paul’s innocence, intelligence, good practice, malpractice and general good looks…..hell all you need to do is add some titles, upload a section and tell us what you think… I’m obviously already a fan.
In Treatment’s Season 2, continues to draw in huge audiences who are charmed and intrigued by Paul Weston, Gabrielle Byrne’s compelling psychotherapist. And again I find myself sucked into the lives of his clients; April, an architectural student facing cancer alone, Mia, an ex patient and lawyer in her forties wanting a partner and child, Oliver a twelve year old boy, troubled by the fallout of his parent’s divorce, and Walter, a powerful CEO whose panic attacks signal a life crisis and attempted suicide. And of course there is Paul’s supervision with Gina, (Dianne Wiest) which explores his weekly trials.
As Paul gains in screen popularity, he is a target for his client’s anger, their disappointments and projections. Mia tells him, “You owe me a child”, after an abortion in her twenties when she was last in therapy with Paul. With Mia’s firm handling a lawsuit against him by the father of a former client, she uses her power in tough sessions to test his boundaries. She brings them breakfast while recounting explicit tales of a weekend of casual sex, trying to seduce him with provocative fantasies involving Laura, Paul’s ex client and love interest, entreating him to “call it a day and go to a bar and act like we just met”.
While therapist’s private lives are rarely seen by clients, we are treated to a bird’s eye view of Paul’s troubles in his therapy sessions. Now divorced and living away from his children in Brooklyn, he continues to blame his father for his mother’s suicide when he was a teenager, conducts a half hearted affair with a married ex girlfriend, is rejected by his ex wife, and experiences a profound loneliness echoed by his clients, “I hate my life, it’s broken” he tells Gina. Indeed his work feels punishing, and cancelling sessions for his father’s funeral leaves Paul with angry clients who feel abandoned: April is furious he is “not there to take care of me”, Walter runs a background check on him and discovers his lawsuit. “I’m like a knife in your neck”, says Mia, “you feel relieved when it’s gone”. So it is no surprise Paul questions why he is doing this work. Yet in his self-doubt there’s a willingness to dig deep into his own process, “Would you use a plumber if you found out all the drains in his house were blocked?” He is all too aware he cannot give his clients what they need: a lover, child, a better parent, as Gina reminds him that’s not what therapy provides.
Paul’s clients want more from him, and he delivers for good or not: he takes April to her first chemotherapy session, and tells her mother she is ill, against her wishes. “Stop all the therapy and tell me what you really think!” Mia taunts. He allows her to comfort him after his father’s loss as he speaks from “personal experience”, imploring her to face her issues with her father, while he’s still alive. He warns her what might happen if she doesn’t face the truth in therapy, “You’re going to keep punishing the men in your life for not being what you need”.
In parallel process he is equally provocative, testing Gina’s boundaries, “Drop the fucking cat like smile, the bullshit Buddha pose of yours and for once tell me what you really think!” rattling her enough to yell back and get out of her chair. Indeed there is some fun to be had for an audience of clients fed up with ‘therapy-speak’, as he belittles Gina for mirroring his words.
We understand that Paul cares deeply for his clients, lovingly collecting fragments of April’s destroyed architectural model, and trying (unsuccessfully) to protect Oliver from his parent’s fighting. He helps Mia unpack her idealised image of her father, and encourages Walter to reconnect with “the little boy whose been sitting in the dark scared half to death”. He encourages clients to confront unhelpful patterns and fictions that foster a false sense of self. In a moving role-play he phones Oliver in their session, creatively imagining the challenges awaiting him in his move from the city, confirming he’ll be there for support. He acknowledges the hard road they travel through chemotherapy, loss, divorce and bullying and admires them for their courage. What we get is a lot more elegant and choreographed than ‘real therapy’, which often takes longer than this neat seven-session TV version.
The journey ends for some and continues for others. April ends therapy, Mia ‘ends’ with a last ditch seduction, “Why don’t we just go in the bedroom now and fuck instead of pretending this talking nonsense actually helps!” Yet this ‘talking nonsense’ is often pretty spot on, and reveals the deep-seated reasons which can govern our lives and keep us trapped. Mia uncovers her role as a powerful lawyer defending men, as she always defended her father, just as Walter recognises his life was built erroneously rescuing others since his brother’s death, and decides to continue the work of healing his lost inner child. Armed with insight into improving their relationships, we vicariously experience the sort of therapy In Treatment audiences might like a go at, while an audience of therapists love to compare their game with Paul’s scripted methods.
“I haven’t lived one moment of my life for myself”, Walter realises approaching seventy, and this resonates for Paul as the raison d’etre of his work, “I want to be there”, he tells Walter, “when you go back and rescue yourself”. Beautifully put, this feels a pretty worthwhile project. And for those who dislike Paul’s brand of therapy, there are plenty of episodes on YouTube complete with commentary by Control Mastery, rubbishing the script and his style of working, his poor boundaries and more. For aficianados, the good news is that Paul has not thrown in the towel, and series 3 is done and dusted. Also look out for Necessary Roughness, a spin off therapy series you can download, if missing Paul’s weekly sessions and private demons leave you in withdrawal. And of course there are a variety of therapy approaches demystified on the London Psychotherapy Network website for those of you searching for your own Paul Weston, warts’n all…
When Albert Frederick Arthur George is thrown into the job of becoming King, after his brother Edward VII abdicates to marry Mrs Simpson in 1936, it is his worst nightmare. Colin Firth is wonderful in the role of Albert, as is Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist, who helps Albert overcome his chronic stammer and tremendous dread of public speaking, which his new role and World War II forces upon him.
Described by Logue as “afraid of his own shadow”, and in life, dismissed as a simpleton because of his stammer by the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, this true story is compelling and powerful, and a wonderful advertisement for the healing power of therapy. At their first meeting Logue asks Prince Albert his earliest memory. Though Albert at first refuses to be drawn in, “I’m not here to discuss personal matters”, he is soon learning to trust, and to open up about the awful abuses he suffered as a child: the nanny who hurt and starved him; a mother who neglected him; being forced into painful splints for his knock knees; and a brother who bullied him cruelly. His father justified re-enacting his own abusive family history saying to Albert, “I was scared of my father, and I’m damned well going to see that you’re scared of me!”
After seeing every qualified speech therapist available, whose primary focus was the mechanics of his impediment, without success, Albert meets the maverick Logue. Logue was not a therapist, but his work was without doubt therapeutic.
What Logue did differently was listen attentively; he was there for his royal client; he treated him as a human being and an equal – and in so doing he begins to help the Prince believe in himself. Not a qualified doctor, but a failed actor and voice coach with experience of treating traumatised war veterans, Logue simply offers Albert authentic friendship – a friendship based on their shared experience of giving up on their dreams. Albert craved a quite life but was thrust into the hated limelight, while Logue, with Shakespearian ambitions, was denied his spot
Yesterday Beeban Kidron’s fascinating documentary exploring the impact of the internet, was followed by a satellite discussion chaired by Channel 4’s Jon Snow, and spawned a lively online TV and radio debate, far outreaching the teenagers on whom she focuses. Demystifying what it means to live and communicate now with this technology, Beeban interviews teenagers addicted to their phones, to Facebook and social networking sites, to video games, YouTube videos, online pornography and gaming, as she weaves their interviews alongside academics, technology writers and thinkers, psychoanalysts, software designers, whistle-blowers and YouTube bloggers.
We see the impact of cyber bullying, the monetization of our data, scary statistics on usage, and powerful imagery of what the icloud really consists of; gigantic banks of machinery and fiber optic cables connecting multi million dollar buildings scattered all over the globe, storing our photographs, our videos, our modern day letters and text messages that make up our online experience. And where is our offline experience?
In the real world Beeban interviews Paige, a teenager of 14 who is so addicted to her phone she lets a group of boys abuse her in order to keep it safe, and falls into depression when separated from it. We meet fifteenyear old Ryan, whose porn addiction leaves him denuded of love in real life, as he and his friends increase their online demands for girls to get naked and more in an effort to out thrill the porn at their fingertips. Real bodies and real experience can never match his online high and fixed fantasy. Similarly a gaming addict flunked from Oxford University denies the impact of his Xbox addiction, as we watch his winning high while losing in life.
We follow Tom, a fifteen year old who comes out online and finally dares to meet his online soul mate. In a moving scene he and his finally real life boyfriend cuddle and rub their phones together to share information, in a strange act of intimacy. In a world where google “knows you better than your own mother”, the parents of a boy tragically bullied online are the last to know the truth. The power of the new brand of pop star YouTubers and bloggers on meet-ups in Hyde park is also fascinating, just as the questions the documentary raises on anonymity, and on the internet’s political, economic, psychological and philosophical implications in a culture where “Facebook conditions you to undervalue your own privacy”. Indeed the openness of the participants is itself part of the debate, with the new trend of employers using Facebook and social networking sites to eliminate candidates.
As kids grow up feeling more intimate with their phones, this conversation feels crucial. As I prepare for a workshop exploring blocks to intimacy. I watch the documentary with my teenager and experience the film and satellite Q & A as a powerful and real experience as we emerge into daylight to check our phones via a technology bearing little resemblance to the use of those who invented it.
It’s hard to describe a more uncomfortable viewing in cinemas than this ‘truer than life’ captioned film by Craig Zobel. I witnessed people watching through their hands, I heard tight voices between arguing couples, and shrieks of nervous laughter leaking to dispel the tension. I even saw one person after another leave the Everyman Cinema. The question is, how far are we willing to go with employees and colleagues, when a phone call from a ‘police officer’ instructs us to hold said employee for theft and to strip search them at the office.
Powerful responses to the film can only trigger the victims and bullies in us, after all, our inner child has most likely suffered at the hands of a bully, a parent, a figure in authority, and that’s the part that will obey ‘police’ orders. The film cites the 1961 Milgram psychology experiment at Yale University, which explored whether Holocaust accomplices were simply following orders. In the experiment the participants were given the role of teacher and asked to administer electric shocks on their ‘learner’. Milgram’s conclusions showed how ordinary people were likely to follow orders by an authority, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Indeed there were 70 such incidents in the US of prankster calls involving abuse and rape that Compliance explores.
Sandra, the fast food restaurant manager (AnnDowd) plays it excellently, capturing the discomfort of her role, but eagerly winning brownie points when her perfect child tries to please and follow orders. Appointed to hold and search Becky (Dreama Walker) during a long and busy shift, she also hands her job to employees as she continues serving customers. “I did what I was told” she seems to brag when all is discovered. It is hard not to cry out in disbelief as we see them all following orders without twigging to a sexual pervert getting off on the line. We see how Sandra confirms Becky’s guilt with no shred of evidence, and does not call to check the officer’s id. Indeed she happily appoints her boyfriend Van to take charge, even though he is drunk and alone with the young naked Becky. All it takes is the odd familiar line of police jargon to confuse the prank caller’s perversity, as he asks Van to comment on her breasts, and spank her, so it really beggars belief. When the officer finally shows up and asks Becky why she didn’t refuse, “I just knew it was going to happen”. This sums up the experience of the viewer, as we witness the ‘true story’ impossibly unfold.
And which of us couldn’t admit to moments of submission, of being bullied, if not having experienced various forms of abuse. Harder still to imagine the manager or the prankster in us, who greets his little daughter after the call. It is with considerable relief when an employee gets the picture, and is able to stand up and refuse.
The cinema staff don’t often wait in the lobby to chat to movie goers, but after the film there was lively conversation, and when I squirmed noisily in my seat, for once there was not a single person who told me to be quiet. But this time the victim in me was rebelling, and would never have complied.
FilmREVIEWS: Where Desire Will Get You (Featured in Contemporary Psychotherapy Vol 5 no 1 Spring 2013)
A Movie Double Bill
Director: Steven Soderbergh (2013)
Screenplay: Scott Z Burns
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law & Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Lee Daniels (2012)
Starring: John Cusack, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey & Nicole Kidman
Reviewer Jacqueline Lucas Palmer
What do our movies tell us about our impulses, our desire, our wounding, and our eternal need to escape the present? In two thrillers, Side Effects by Steven Soderbergh, and The Paperboy by Lee Daniels, we mine our sickness, lust and greed; our darkness, racism and homophobia; our addiction to medication and escape – all in a trail of blood as long as the Oscar red carpet.
Indeed one effect of watching Soderbergh’s film is despair at the obsession with anti-depressants and the psychiatrists on the payroll of the pharma giants who trial and push medication. In this culture Dr Jonathan Taylor (Jude Law) is psyched on Red Bull, giving his wife beta-blockers to face a job interview, telling her: “It makes it easier for you to be who you are.” He also googles the side effects of a drug he had prescribed to his patient Emily (Rooney Mara), after she took a knife to her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) in a confused sleepwalking state. In this professional moneyed world of success and appearance, everyone compares the side effects of their drug of choice. In reality, American advertisements for anti-depressants feature women looking hopefully into their future. After driving into a wall, sleep- walking, standing on the edge of a subway platform and more, we rightly fear for Emily when she starts to chop her vegetables.
The power of the big corporation to fund Jonathan’s practice at a high price to him, feels like a comment on Soderbergh’s recent decision to withdraw from the control of Hollywood studios. Their funding may explain in part a cheesy plot turn involving Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dr Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former psychiatrist and seductress on the analytic couch. The interesting question of Emily as either cold hearted criminal, or victim of her medication, is side-tracked by plot twists and a witch hunt; Jonathan sees the “poisonous fog of depression” described by Emily come rolling his way as he struggles to get to the truth and defend his reputation.
In Side Effects the sex feels performative, both on the couch and under the cover of Emily’s new drug, in a back stabbing milieu, where insider traders can get away with anything. In Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, a dark tale set in the late 60s Florida of Pete Dexter’s novel, the sex is center stage and damage comes with the territory. Exploring the nature of desire, homosexuality and violent sex, Daniels’ film explores endemic racism in the complex relationship between Jack and Anita (Macy Gray), the family’s maid, who he loves like a mother and whose voiceover frames the story.
Charlotte Bless (played by Nicole Kidman) is the sexual center of the tale, swamped by her impulses and damaged by her past. Here she pursues a correspondence with Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), whose violent criminal and sexual leanings are likened to the reptilian swamps he survives in. The film weaves desire through every character, from Charlotte’s hyper-lustful, trashy Southern bombshell, to the young Jack (played by Zac Efron in Calvin Klein jeans and a six-pack) who yearns for her. Jack’s brother Ward, (played by Mathew McConaughey) is a man whose dangerous and violent homosexual practices hospitalize him. As Ward and partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) try to exonerate Hillary, they accompany Charlotte on a prison visit. Along with Jack, they play sexual voyeurs in a powerful scene involving a chained Hillary as he watches Charlotte, taking no-hands sex to a powerful climax. With an unflinching view of violent sadomasochistic sexual practices, the film sees Charlotte trapped in the alligator ridden swamps of Louisiana and Hillary’s fantasies.
These films suggest that damaged pasts threaten dangerous endings, and criminal actions. In Side Effects, Emily has not been recognised by her father and has been abandoned by her husband; in The Paperboy, Charlotte’s dark past is not given a name.
For damage there are valuable sessions of psychotherapy where our darker impulses can be explored and contained in the safety of the fifty-minute hour. By contrast, the scene involving Zac Efron’s jellyfish stings and Nicole Kidman’s natural remedy will last, as an enduring side effect, long after the heat of the swamp evaporates into crisp English spring.
The new film by Matteo Gorrone after his mafia hit Gomorrah, is set in the same impoverished Naples, as we follow an ornate carriage and horses convey its bride and groom to a huge wedding venue. In a riot of 17th century costume, hostesses and MC’s herd wedding guests to a Venetian bridge and fountain for their family shot, while ushering the next party towards food and drinks. Central guest of the occasion and helicoptered in, is Enzo, star of Italian Big Brother, and focus of the celebrity obsessed guests, who chant his name and clamor for photos and autographs. Enter Luciano (Aniello Arena), the heart of the story, as he drags up for his usual centre stage role as showman in family festivities, and enjoys a moment in the spotlight with Enzo. Next, his wife kids and family are haranguing him to join them at the mall to enter the Big Brother trials. “Never give up”, is Enzo’s mantra for his own life transformation, as Luciano wants out from his fish stall, and a scam he runs pushing food processors on impoverished pensioners.
The first sign of Luciano’s troubles is at his audition in Rome, as he spends an hour (to everyone’s 5 minutes) with the Big Brother psychologist, convinced his heavy childhood will make him a shoo-in as finalist. “I told him things I never told my Pa”, he brags, thrilled that he shocked the psychologist. Pretty soon Luciano slips into self-obsession at his new status, egged on by the applause of the family and friends fan club. Taken by every sign that happens around him, Luciano becomes suspicious and paranoid, believing the TV company are spying on him, and remorseful of a bum he turns away from his stall. Putting all his hopes on the show, he closes his stall, decorates their home for the cameras he anticipates, and waits for his call, even as the first episode airs on his new wide screen TV. Breaking into a club to find Enzo, Garrone mines the celebrity crazed obsession as a gilded Enzo descends by harness to the chants, strobe and smoke of a sex and drug fuelled crowd. Pretty soon Luciano’s paranoia intensifies as he isolates in front of sexually explicit episodes of Big Brother, descends into a fog of depression, and gives their new furnishings to the bum and other locals looking for a handout.
The glitz of sequins and makeup gives way to the hum drum of real life, while the reality of the soup kitchen heals, alongside the priest’s sermon, that to know ourselves is a powerful life lesson. Garrone shows us that it’s the community and brotherhood of the church and family that sustains Luciano, when his mental health deteriorates. But in this acerbic comment, Garrone heaps Catholicism into his observations on display and celebrity. Luciano finally wanders outside the Vatican amongst a mesmerized audience, before escaping to the famous Cine Citta film studios, now sadly home to the Big Brother house.
Reality and fantasy collide again, as Luciano’s Aniello Arena is serving a twenty year prison sentence for murder, escaping his own circumstances through his acting roles. This is a story of a man undone by longing, and the fantasy that is fame, with the happiness comfort and fulfillment it is expected to bring. Luciano’s manic laughter as the credits roll may signify either his madness, or his final understanding, as he sinks into a lounger, amongst the empty cavorting gestures of the show’s contestants. The film’s message of self-examination, and healing through therapy and community is in the mix, but Luciano continues to gaze at his own reflection, and seek his moment in front of the cameras. This is something he desires above all else, and he will not be cured by seeing Enzo, the Pope, or endless episodes of Big Brother, but will he by the psychologist finally called on to help him.
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