Victor Bloom, M.D.*
"What is art but a mould to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself--- life hurrying past us and running away, to strong to stop, too sweet to lose."
Sigmund Freud, in his pivotal "Interpretation of Dreams" (1900), opened the 20th century with the theoretical base of the new science of psychoanalysis that was to have a profound impact upon philosophical, psychological, scientific and artistic development in the years to come. At about the same time, developments in technology brought about the motion picture, and with that, the most powerful and modern of all the arts, cinema art, which combines elements of literature, drama and journalism, photography, music and dance, as well as manifold variants of sound and light. The motion picture not only delights and appalls our senses, titillates, amplifies and gratifies our imagination, but at the same time it challenges our established defense mechanisms. In many ways, both Freud and the movies illuminated our concept of ourselves--- Freud, in demonstrating the existence of a lively, vital unconscious, which was previously relegated to regions of darkness, and movies which opened a new world to the imagination by projecting the fantasies of writers and film-makers on the screens of millions of darkened theaters all over the world.
*Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Wayne State University, School of Medicine and Lecturer in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Lafayette Clinic, Detroit, Michigan.
Special thanks for editorial advice to my wife, Shirley Dobie-Bloom, Ph.D., and daughters, Claire Bloom, M.D., Dorcas Dobie, M.D. and Elizabeth Dobie.
The unconscious, which is made manifest in everyday life is revealed most clearly by 'free association'. Movies, like free association, tend to undo the work of repression and challenge the status quo of ego defense mechanisms. Like psychoanalysis, they may be a force promoting insight and maturation. Movies may bring to mind forgotten memories and add useful information about the world and human relations to our memory bank. The world's great literature has been brought to the screen and has thereby been made more accessible to millions. Hollywood movies are a large part of the reason Western culture has become so widespread and English more and more a universal language. But film studios all over the world provide transcultural stimulation and education.
In the "Interpretation of Dreams", Freud showed the world the importance of dreams in giving us a 'royal road' to the unconscious, which is the seat of our most powerful emotions, deepest longings and most profound conflicts. He gave us a way to understand the development of the personality and the human condition. He helped us to comprehend why there is a 'thin veneer of civilization' and a 'faint voice of reason'. He helped us to see and come to terms with our animal nature by reminding us of our instincts and evolutionary heritage. He helped us to understand the etiology, ubiquity and universality of neurosis, as he laid the groundwork for "Civilization and its Discontents".
It is in the seminal "Interpretation of Dreams" that Freud launches the world into a new psychoanalytic interpretation of the arts, starting with the drama of classical literature. In order to understand Hamlet, we must take Oedipus into account. In Freud's analysis of "Hamlet" he points to an essential difference between the classical drama of Sophocles and that of Shakespeare, the two great classic tragedies of the theater, which are separated by a period of two thousand years. In "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles, the incestuous theme is manifest, while in "Hamlet" by Shakespeare, it is repressed, latent. Freud made a significant leap beyond the thinking of Goethe, whose interpretation of Hamlet's hesitation and inaction is that of an overly developed intellect. Hamlet is, according to Goethe, "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought". Freud's interpretation, which is now the common knowledge of literary scholars, goes deeper, and Freud says, without hesitation or disclaimers, "Hamlet is able to do anything--- except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father, and took that father's place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized." (What an astonishing revelation that must have been for turn-of-the century Europe). Freud goes on, "Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish". In so doing, Sigmund Freud paved the way to the psychoanalytic interpretation of literature and the establishment of 'applied psychoanalysis'. It is this pioneering effort which I wish to follow in the psychoanalytic interpretation of movies which follows.
Hamlet's incestuous involvement with his mother is clearly shown in the recent movie by Zephirelli, starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, and it is most difficult to repress such an incestuous image when their passionate kiss in the queen's bedroom is prolonged and close-up on a giant movie screen. Their faces are ten feet high. It is hard to miss what is happening. The image fills our consciousness and is imprinted in our memory, as it fills our visual fields and takes a place in our occipital cortex, on the surface of the brain. It is now an indelible part of our memory bank, and how it is recorded, interpreted and correlated with other memories is unique to each individual. Each of our 'family romances' is on one level mediated by numerous subcortical inhibitory and excitatory neurons. These combine with affective and autonomic centers in the pituitary gland and limbic system, which becomes a 'biopsychosocial' entity. On another level it is purely abstract and symbolic. There is a process in which a memory becomes a part of us, a part of what Freud called (in his original German) our 'soul'. We both suffer and learn from our 'reminiscences'. The movies we see during our lifetime become part of our reminiscences and therefore our life.
A perception, which is a combination of affect and cognition, is stored in our memory bank, and may be alternately accessible to consciousness or deeply repressed. We may well have some difficulty differentiating between memories from personal experience from those in movies. Remember that in "The Purple Rose of Cairo", Woody Allen has his characters walking off the screen into the audience and vice-versa, where they interact and develop relationships. And some of our patients have a similar difficulty distinguishing betrween reality and fantasy. Sometimes we all need fantasy to cope with the frustrating and complex world of reality. We find fantasies in books, plays and movies. They feed our imaginations and may stimulate our creativity. They become part of our life. Remember "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". We identify with the characters in a movie.
In the movie version of "Hamlet", the audience, like the cast of characters in the play, consists of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, young lovers and those more experienced in life. Each person may identify with Hamlet or Ophelia, Gertrude or Claudius, Polonius or Laertes, Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, or who knows, maybe even with the ghost of the dead king. Zephirelli was undoubtedly influenced by Freudian understanding, directly or indirectly, to have produced such a telling interpretation and adaptation of Shakepeare's classic tragedy.
And this is by no means the only screen portrait of an explicit presentation of the Oedipal theme. Louis Malle's "Murmurs of the Heart" includes a touching scene of an adolescent son making love to his mother. The scene is so artfully presented that it is experienced as a part of everyday life rather than a shocking occurence because mother and son are both emotionally distraught and somewhat inebriated at the time, so they don't quite know what they are doing until the morning after. The mother, now sober, tells the son not to forget what happened, but seriously intoned that it would never happen again. Then she said they each had a precious memory and it would be their secret forever. The scene quickly evaporates, and it is hard to believe it really happened, as repression takes over, but the family romance is painted over with a brush of warmth, tenderness, humor and generosity of spirit.
This movie is a projection onto the screen, and shared with the public, of what would have been a private fantasy of the director, perhaps even an autobiographical reality. We will never know which, but what difference does it make? The writer-director's 'problem' and 'conflict' have been universalized and sublimated. If Louis Malle had a strong 'unresolved' Oedipal conflict, he has clearly been able to sublimate it, and in so doing, shares his creative resolution with the rest of the world, or those lucky enough to have viewed the film.
Many such movies have a fairy tale quality, such that complex issues are seemingly resolved in about two hours. But a movie is a dream on celluloid, and dreams are a condensation, like a poem or a novel, of multiple, complex issues, much like a 'screen memory'. If the movie has a happy ending, it may gratify many of the patients in psychotherapy who are looking for a happy ending in their own lives. The projected dream of the writer offers hope to the hopeless and despairing. The possibility of a resolution, of a happy ending, is what keeps many people alive, the same hope which brings many patients to psychotherapy, despite discouraging statistics and no promises. Understanding should lead to change. Movies and psychotherapy should increase our understanding.
Just as Freud revealed an evolution in our understanding of man's nature in the two millenia between Sophocles and Shakespeare, he predicted that the insights of psychoanalysis, which would become common knowledge, would change the face of psychopathology, and thereby, of society. His prediction came true. Whereas the psychoanalytic cases of the first half of the 20th century were typically symptom neurotics, the psychopathology of patients, in the last half of the 20th century are character neurotics or 'acting-out' personalities, often redefined as 'borderline' and 'narcissistic' disorders. Many of our patients today, like personages on the screen, are substance abusers or addicts, the 'substances' varying in a spectrum from nicotine and caffeine, to marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, the opiates, amphetamines and barbiturates, and include addiction to food, sex, work, money, gambling and so-called 'co-dependent' relationships.
Simply put, the neuroses of the first part of the century were characterized by inhibition and subjective 'angst'. Superego anxiety became feelings of guilt and exagerated feelings of responsibility. The neuroses of the latter part of this century are characterized by guiltless irresponsibility, 'acting-out', amoral and remorseless sadism and gratuitous cruelty. Damage is done with impunity. Many believe that Freudian insights themselves tend to condone the uncovering of the id, which in turn lead to a pursuit of gratification, in the name of the pleasure principle, regardless of the consequences to others. Making the unconscious conscious has made the instincts and the primitive somehow more acceptable, as if to understand and to explain is to excuse and condone. As a result, a childhood history of abuse and trauma may excuse, oftentimes, in the courtroom, criminal behavior, by virtue of the defense of 'insanity'. (Remember, "I'm kinda depraved because I was deprived" from "West Side Story"). A criminal act may be the result of 'irresistible impulse' or considered to be the 'product of mental illness', as they are diagnostic categories in the latest revision of the diagnostic manual.
Some fundamentalist religious people have blamed Freud and the movies for the present deterioration of civilization, evidenced by increased rates of violent crime, such as rape and murder, corruption in high places, urban blight, broken homes, sexual abuse of children, environmental pollution and geopolitical cynicism. If Pogo is right, that we have found the enemy and it is us, he only says what Freud has said and what is shown in the movies. The movies are a reflection of ourselves and our time. The days of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" are gone forever. The movies hold up a mirror to ourselves and our time just as the analyst holds up a mirror. And just as the patient projects onto the 'blank-screen' of the analyst, the moviemaker projects his dream onto the silver screen. One setting is very private, the other, very public. And yet the movies bring private matters to the attention of the public as never before, such as the relationship between the Mafia and the Roman Catholic Church, and our own C.I.A. with Nazi war criminals. Recently a private citizen recorded on videotape a vicious beating by some Los Angeles Police of a Black citizen. The Freudian imperative to expose, disclose, uncover and scrutinize has infiltrated our culture for better or for worse.
To illustrate this change in the content and character of our movies in the last fifty years, compare, for example, the American classic fairy tale, "The Wizard of Oz", and it's 1990's counterpart, David Lynch's "Wild at Heart". It shows us what has happened in America and in the cinema during this period of time. Whereas Dorothy walked the yellow brick road with her faithful companions, seeking the wizard of Emerald City who would return her to Auntie Em in Kansas, and after many adventures came back to 'home sweet home' with the help of the good witch, David Lynch's film utilized the same good witch to save our hero from being mauled or killed by an inner-city gang. Whereas "The Wizard of Oz" started out on a quiet farm with the problem being the misbehavior of the little dog, Toto, in "Wild at Heart" we find our hero being seduced by his sweetheart's mother in a public toilet, and having to bash the brains out of his would-be assassin on the marble floor of the town hall during a high school prom. This mother was an evil witch herself, like the evil stepmother in "Snow White", who cannot abide her young, beautiful daughter's romantic fulfillment. So she puts a curse on her life and tries to ruin her happiness, as if the outside world itself is not full of pitfalls. She is hardly a 'good-enough parent'. Have we slid back two thousand years to storytelling sans repression?
But this is yet another story of the 'family romance' gone awry, the problem being that our primordial loves are incestuous, therefore taboo and fraught with conflict (Freud, 1912). "Wild at Heart" shows us many graphic scenes of sexual delight, as the young couple try to escape the cold, cruel world and find fulfillment in each other. Such scenes were absent from films of fifty years ago because such graphic depictions were taboo. They would have served to undo the work of repression. What hath Freud wrought in discovering means to undo the work of repression?
Films of the early part of this century did not show nudity, explicit sex or gratuitous violence to the degree shown today. Consider the sheer number of gangster movies we see today full of scenes of explicit sex and violence, such as the 'Godfather', 'Rocky' and 'Rambo' movies which have inundated the silver screen in recent years, and through VCR's and videotapes, brought them into our homes. Consider that the movie and TV screens have become, for many, our children's babysitter, and that our children tend to adopt the values they see. Consider the impact of films on our culture. And recall the sheer number of murders, rapes, tortures, destruction of property, degradation of values, and standards that are common film fare. It is as if Freud's admonition, 'where id was, there ego shall be', was turned on its head, to--- 'where ego and superego was, there id shall be'. It is as if the reality principle were replaced by the pleasure principle, regression has overcome the maturational force, and the Thanatos has overcome Eros. What would Freud say about all this? What would he say, viewing "A Clockwork Orange", "Taxi Driver" or the Vietnam War films? What would he think of "Woodstock" for that matter? The pendulum seems to be swinging in the direction of the id.
Freud would most certainly be interested and curious about the message implied in "Crimes and Misdemeanors". In this recent film, Woody Allen depicts a man in moral crisis and in so doing, raises the issue of the values and psychopathology of our times. Having included psychiatrists in his many movies for decades, and himself joking about his own involvement with them, he omits the caricatured psychiatrist in this film and instead invokes the counselling wisdom of a rabbi going blind. And the rabbi's confidante is a murdurous, adulterous, philanthropic ophthalmologist. The underlying message of Judaio-Christian civilization, that God sees all, and that sin and evil will be punished, is shown to be a myth, or at the very least, controversial and subject to debate, and we see in this film a prophetic forboding of the decline and fall of Western Civilization.
We see that the ophthalmologist, whose public image is that of a man of culture, a pillar-of-the-community, is having an affair and his mistress is threatening to expose him. He does not take the rabbi's advice to confess to his wife and ask for forgiveness, hoping to receive compassion and understanding. He will not take the risk. Instead, he conspires with his gangster-brother to murder his mistress, in order to keep his idealized image of himself intact. His self-representation is more valuable to him than another's life. This is the very model of a pathological narcissist, a personification of the psychopathology of our time.
In fact, the protagonist agrees to the murder, accomplished without complication by a hit-man, and is an apparent 'perfect crime'. At first he is frightened, sleepless and guilt-ridden, but unlike Lady MacBeth, in the space of a few months, his sleep and composure are restored. This is the 'crime' in the title of the movie. It goes unpunished. The 'misdemeanor' is Allen's own fumbled attempt at extramarital infidelity which do not even succeed. He loses the girl to a rich and successful producer and says to us in effect, that in our world, nice guys finish last and to the victor belong the spoils. According to the principles of 'social Darwinism', in life it is 'survival of the fittest' and 'might makes right'--- ancient principles of justice, ethics and morality seem obsolete. Pauline Kael writes in her New Yorker movie review that Allen tells us what we already know, and it is true, we know this is a cold, cruel unfair world. As an afterthought, the movie's idealistic philosopher commits suicide, leaving a note, "I'm going out the window", which is the punchline of the joke about the stereotypical psychoanalyst, who is so nondirective and nonjudgmental, so detached and dispassionate, so lacking in therapeutic ambition, that he is essentially and effectively amoral, so much so that the joke is that he keeps writing his notes while his patient is actually climbing out the window. The patient is commiting suicide while in an analytic session!
Woody Allen, after many years of psychotherapy and many films seems to be giving up on the hopeful possibilites of psychoanalysis. At one time it was thought to be a panacea; reason would overcome the darker passions; "where id was, there ego shall be", and the lion would lie down with the lamb. Horse and rider would be as one. Peace and justice would prevail, if we could only love rationally and unambivalently. If we would resolve the unconscious conflicts of childhood, we would become the masters of our fate and perhaps the saviors of humankind and Civilization. (Make love, not War!) That was the fond hope of psychoanalysts and the public at first, but experience showed that the complexity of the human condition and the incompleteness of our knowledge rendered psychoanalysis as a therapy unable to help more than a precious few. Freud himself came to this conclusion near his death, with "Analysis, Terminable and Interminable" (1938).
Woody Allen may be typical of the masses who are resistant to the depths of analytic inquiry, and so skirt its edges. Perhaps Allen bought too much copper and not enough gold in his psychotherapy (Freud 1918). He never plumbed the psychic depths like his idol, Ingmar Bergman, except for his "Interiors", which has only attracted a few admirers. A gloomy film, it ends hopefully, as the insane mother commits suicide and the new stepmother breathes life into her stepdaughter and family dynamics.
Woody Allen is only one of many film-makers who casts a dark shadow on the image of psychiatry. Psychiatry often falls victim to the consequences of being the bearer of the message of the darker forces, despite often being shown in the process of curing severe emotional illness. Perhaps the ultimate film depicting psychiatry in the most negative light is "Silence of the Lambs". This recent film is potentially damning to the image of psychiatry, as the sinister protagonist is not only a brilliant psychiatrist, but a psychopathic serial killer and a cannibal, as well. It joins other films with psychopathic psychiatrists, such as "Dressed to Kill", about a psychiatrist who murdered his patients, and "House of Games", which depicted a psychiatrist whose character became sociopathic after her altruism and scientific objectivity faded. Such images reinforce the prevalent stereotype of the psychiatrist as 'psycho' and 'weirdo'; why would any sane person want to undertake such a profession? How often do we hear, "I don't know how you can listen to the stuff you have to listen to", and this, often from other physicians. But it is part of our professional task to not be shocked by anything human. But not to be shocked by anything human is the province of the devil.
Doctor Hannibal Lecter is the archetype of the sinister villain, and as we come to fear him, we come to respect him and like him and, yes, identify with him, for he is also brilliant and cultured and well-mannered, and eats his victims with gourmet delight. Though primitive, he is no brute. He carefully judges the inexperienced and innocent Clarice Starling, and finds her worthy of his efforts. She must match him in exposing her vulnerability--- she psychically undresses while he licks his chops. But he mysteriously kills his neighbor prisoner who is rude to his new friend and confidante. It seems the serial killer has his own code of ethics and metes out punishment, god-like, for misbehavior. It is his whim to be above the law. He makes the law. He is The Law. And yet mere mortals hold him captive.
A case is made for openness, honesty and vulnerability, in his relations with Clarice, and she takes part, even in the face of great danger. How many psychotherapy patients, whose deeply buried oral-sadistic wishes are uncovered, project such primitive power upon their therapists, and are frightened by their own impulses, without knowing quite why? How many therapies are prematurely terminated as therapist or patient cannot manage these frightening projective-identifications?
Jodi Foster, in her role as a student F.B.I. agent exemplifies an ideal psychiatric resident or patient, and a strong feminine role-model, a woman who will not be degraded or frightened away from an important task. She combines positive motivation, intelligence, integrity and courage to solve a dreadful series of crimes, and seemingly makes a pact with the devil to rescue an innocent victim from the jaws of death. She is not easily shocked or frightened. And all this despite harboring a terrifying fear from her own past, an experience uncovered by the psychiatrist-prisoner, who would only give of himself, quid pro quo, a question for a question, an honest answer for an honest answer. He refused to engage in monologue, but would only enter into a dialogue, an I-thou relationship. Is this the conclusion he came to from his clinical experience? Is this his reaction to traditional analysis? These interesting questions are implied by this brilliant psychiatrist, who evidently was either not cured by his personal analysis or never had one.
The dialogue is the model for a diadic interpersonal approach to psychotherapy, as opposed to the monologue intrapsychic approach of classical psychoanalysis. Here, the 'therapeutic alliance' is all important, mutual trust and involvement is required, rather than the one-sided trust which obtains in orthodox, classical psychoanalysis. It is the psychotherapy of Harry Stack Sullivan and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. To this day the field of psychiatry is still undecided as to what is the appropriate therapy for a given, unique patient, and what is the role in the process of psychotherapy of the unique match of psychotherapist and patient.
Hannibal Lecter is the embodiment of Melanie Klein's oral-sadistic mother-infant undifferentiated self-object. This is what the patient fears when he fears engulfment and dissolution. This is why some patients fear fusion and so fear involvement of any kind. And the uninvolved patient is psychologically alone and like a hungry infant, ungratified, angry and depressed, lonely and despairing, he yearns toward fusion and engulfment, psychological cannibalism. It is a vicious cycle, hard to break.
Cannibalism is at the bottom of what we have come to term, 'The Holocaust'. Who can know the facts of the Holocaust, the lampshades of human skin and the extracted gold from the teeth, and not know this piece of history is cannibalism? Can we truly describe what happened as "The Banality of Evil"? Hannah Arendt's analysis and description were overly superficial. She was a writer, a philosopher and a sociologist, not a psychoanalyst. Movies have recorded the truth of what happened, and the dark side includes real history. And yet this history came in the first part of the twentieth century, the time when inhibition and repression were supposedly dominant. Consider the movies, "Judgment at Nuremberg, "The Sorrow and the Pity", "Hotel Terminus" and "Shoah". We still have a massive resistance to the facts and implications of these movies, as they are not popular. They reveal the truth of the dark side of human nature. There can be no comic relief to these true stories. The movies, like psychoanalysis, uncovers time and again what would ordinarily be forgotten, buried, repressed, denied.
We feel the loneliness of both Hannibal and Clarice, as they seek some human relationship with each other. Yet why would Clarice have anything to do with such a man? It was part of her job, a training experience. But do we also learn about ourselves as we plumb the depths of any human being? She is strangely drawn to him because he is somehow admirable. Not only because he is remorseless, unapologetic, uninhibited and powerful, but he is also pitiful, as we see him bound and caged. Remember Michaelangelo's statue of the "Bound Slave". So does our id feel bound by our ego and superego, slaves to our civilization. Again the 'noble savage'. We envy his power, his animal nature, and we identify with it. It may be 'identification with the aggressor' (Anna Freud, 1950), because we are afraid, but as we fear him, we also own him, because our id is like his id, and we are all animals under the skin. The primitive is in us all, the 'call of the wild', the powerful, irrational call to regression, acting-out and 'direct gratification'. What a piece of work is Man!
Another source of the power of the Hannibal-cannibal image is that we know the gods of pre-history were anthropomorphized; that is, they were like humans, only more so. They were fantasized to be omniscient and omnipotent, but like their creators, had human desires. Therefore there were human and animal sacrifices to the gods, goats and lambs and vestal virgins, because these 'primitive' gods most certainly wanted food and sex. The sacrifices were left on mountain tops and holy places and it was thought the gods would come to eat and be appeased and be grateful and do our bidding. We still make sacrifices to the gods.
There is much of the darker side of life and the human condition revealed in movies and Freud's writings and reflected in everyday life. But, like plants, we seek the light and are illuminated by both Freudian insights and cinema art. Unlike plants, we can be blinded by the Truth, and hence our Resistance. The wisdom of Emily Dickinson (1868), applies here:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---
Dickinson, E. (1868), The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1960, pp. 506-507.
Freud, A. (1936), The Ego and Mechanisms of Defense, International Universities Press, New York, 1966.
Freud, S. (1900), The Interpretation of Dreams, Basic Books, New York 1958, (Strachey), pp. 264-265.
Freud, S. (1912), Contributions to the Psychology of Love. The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life., Basic Books, Inc., 1959, vol. IV, pp. 203-216.
Freud,S., (1918), Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Psychotherapy, S.E., Hogarth Press, London, 1964, pp. 157-168.
Freud, S., (1937), Analysis, Terminable and Interminable, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1959, vol. V, pp. 316-357.