My name is David Gotthelf and I shine in "Shine". The movie about me makes me laugh and cry. It's quite a life I must admit. Quite a life. Yes, yes--- I play the piano. I used to be a prodigy, now I am a famous concert pianist, well, not so famous, but getting more famous all the time, yes, yes. I used to be in a mental hospital and then I got out, yes, (lotsa years, lotsa years), and got married, yes, Gillian married me. I asked her to marry me and she did, she did, she did, did, did. Yes, she did. And it made me happy and it made me whole, yes, I was in pieces and now I am whole again, almost whole, pretty whole, well that's some story. Yes it is. Here it is, best as I can remember, best, best best.
My father was a Holocaust survivor. He survived, he did. He said you had to be strong. He said he knew what was best. He said he loved me better than anybody could love me, so I should listen to him. He was proud of me, yes, he was, proud, proud. He loved music, played it all the time on the phonograph. I listened. I love it too. Yes, I did and I do. He played the Rachmaninoff Third, he did, and I listened and I could pick it out on the piano with one hand and my father hugged me. He hugged me and hugged me. Yes. He did.
He told me the story of his childhood, how as a boy he saved his pennies and bought a violin. And his father smashed it. He smashed it, he did. My father wasn't going to smash me, but he did, he did, he did. Oh, my! Not so easy to smash a piano, no, not so easy. My teacher in London told me you have to attack the piano or it will kill you. Yes, he did. He played for Rachmaninoff, himself, he did, and Rachmaninoff liked his playing, but then my teacher had a stroke and couldn't play the piano anymore, so I became him. I became my father before, so who was I? Who was I to want to leave home and take a scholarship and go to America? Who? Who? Isaac Stern said he would help me, he heard me, he did and he liked what he heard and he wanted to give me a scholarship and I was very honored, proud, excited, very eager to go, but my father wouldn't let me, let me out of his sight. He said the family had to stick together, otherwise everything would fly apart, be destroyed, yes. Gotta stay home. Father loves me; nobody loves me like my father, so help me, so help me, God!
My father said he could teach me the Rachmaninoff Third, but then he realized he couldn't so he told the piano teacher to teach me, he did. The piano teacher said I was too young for Rachmaninoff, so my father yelled at him, but it was no use, he had no money, so he said it was all right for me to start with Mozart. Sometimes my father had to give in, but hardly ever, so help me, God. My father was God. He was so big and strong and loving and fierce. Sometimes he beat me, beat me terribly hard, but I would take it because he knew best, he did, he did, he did, did, did. Honestly, he did. Afterward he held me close and said he loved me best.
My momma kept quiet and had babies. My father had to make up for all the lost ones in the Holocaust by making babies and by making music. I was his instrument. He smashed me. He didn't mean to but he smashed me. I finally got to England, took a scholarship. John Gielgood was my teacher and got all excited about me doing the Rach-3; that's what we called it in music school. Didn't seem so big, the Rach-3, not so big as The Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, a monster; hard to swallow a monster, but I had to do it. That is what my father wanted, even though he went into mourning after I left and burned the scrapbook with all the clippings and pictures of me. (I was gone; where was I? Oh, yes, in London, yes, scholarship to music school and Sir John Gielgood wanted me to play it because he couldn't anymore, not after his stroke. He played for Rachmaninoff, he did and Rachmaninoff liked how he played so now it was my turn. Rachmaninoff had such big hands! I was going to play it if it killed me and it nearly did. I practiced and practiced until it was in my brain, imprinted in my brain it was, yes it was, yes, yes. I could do the fingering in my sleep, on the dining room table, in the pub, anywhere. Fingers, fingers, play the piano, yes, Rach-3. Three, three, the Rach-3.
Time for the concert; lotsa people out there, yes, lotsa people. They clapped when I came out on the stage. Clap, clap. There was the Steinway and me and I sat down and started to play. I played and I played. The Rach-3 was coming out of me, from my brain and my heart it was coming out, the notes were spilling out onto the keyboard. It was the Rach-3 all right, yes it was. Then my soul was spilling out and I couldn't hear the notes anymore, no, but I kept on playing, the fingers were fingering and I kept on playing. I lost track of time and didn't know where I was, but I kept on playing. My father was playing and Rachmaninoff was playing and Sir John Gielgood was playing and I got lost, poured my soul out on all those keys and then it was over and I stood up and I could hear the clapping. Who were they clapping for?
They took me to the hospital and gave me some shock treatments. Fuzzy, fuzzy, where was I? All so fuzzy. Who was I? I used to play, yes I did. Shock treatments and hydrotherapy and medicine. I shuffled my feet when I walked and I talked and talked but I don't remember what I said or who listened. The doctor said I should stay away from the piano. That was all right, all right, doctor-knows-best. Yes, yes, doctor-knows-best.
Days, days, months, months, years, years. Nice people, yes, nice people. I wandered into the day room and turned pages for the nice lady who was playing the piano. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray. The skies were gray. Gray, gray, gray. Happy, happy, happy, hah, hah! She took me to the church where I could turn pages for her while she played the organ, yes, she did and she let me touch her breast, she did. No, she didn't. She pushed my hand away, and made a face but she still liked me. I liked her. Nice lady. Nice music in the church. Vivaldi. Gloria. Wow! The chorus sang. Music, music, nice music, God's music. God, help me!
They let me out and gave me a room. I wandered away a lot, took off my clothes. What fun! The landlady was shocked. One time I started walking and it was raining and I walked and walked in the rain. How wonderful the rain was! Walking and walking and then there was this bar with a piano. I knocked and he said it was closed but she let me in. I hugged her and she hugged me back. There was a piano there and later I came back and the owner frowned. So I sat down at the piano and played "The Flight of the Bumble-Bee". I did, yes, I did. Ooooh, how the bumble-bee buzzes! Whee! And after I stopped there was a pause, was anybody there? And then they all clapped! I guess they didn't think I could play, I was so nutty. Hah, hah, I could play! I played and played and played.
And then I met Gillian and I liked her and she liked me and I was talking so fast she could hardly understand me, but she stayed and stayed and listened hard and knew what I was saying. And then she had to go and I didn't want her to go, so I hugged her and hugged her and wouldn't let her go and she didn't struggle too hard, no, she didn't. And I held her close and I asked her, "will you marry me?" And she let me go and looked at me funny and then rode away in a car and I ran down the road after her, waving my arms and she was looking back. And then she thought about it and thought about it and checked her astrology; she was an astrological therapist, she was, and the stars were right and the planets were right and the constellations were right and the stars and planets were in the right constellations and so she married me and we had a party and everybody came and we made love, just like grownups.
And then I started to come together and know who I was again and played and played the piano again and I was on the stage again, in Australia, my home, and it was the Rach-3 and this time when I played it I heard the whole thing from beginning to end and they all stood up and clapped and my mother was there and my sister was there and Gillian was there and I just stood there, bowing and laughing and crying and Gillian ran up on the stage and hugged me and I hugged her back and cried some more. My father wasn't there; he died, he did, but he was there, he was there in me, inside me.
After that I made a recording in a studio and there's a CD with me playing the Rach-3 and another CD with the sound-track of the movie, and I am going on a world tour, including North America and maybe even the United States and New York and Boston and Detroit and Chicago. And they all saw my movie! It took ten years to make. It did.
Geoffrey Rush who played me looks just like me and talks like me and acts like me and Gillian said that in the movie-making at that part she wanted to run up on the stage and hug and kiss mister Rush because he was just like me, he was, he was me. He was a great stage actor, you know. Shakespeare. Known in Australia. Spent time with me, five days he did, and imitated me and he became a clone of me, but I still remember who I am. Yes, I am David Gotthelf, so help me, God.
To be serious, I am Victor Bloom, and took the role of the mentally ill protagonist because I love music, including and especially the Rachmaninoff Third, and I love the idea of a dramatic recovery from a severe, longstanding and incapacitating psychosis. I once had a patient like David Gotthelf, when I was a first year resident. Just out of my internship I didn't know anything about psychiatry and I was on call one day when there was this patient in emergency, across the street. She was getting sewed up after cutting her wrists, both of them, with a razor blade down to the bone, tendons, nerves, blood vessels. It took hours and hours for the hand surgeon to sew her back together again so that she could regain the use her hands. That's what they told me from the emergency room. Meanwhile, I looked at her chart. It was one of those thick ones. She had been discharged. It was change of services. Her doctor was on vacation. She was now my patient as her doctor was no longer on the service. I realized that this was it. No more fooling around. This was life and death. Was I really a real doctor who could save lives? Would I be a real psychiatrist who could get to the bottom of this?
Everything about her blew my mind. How could anyone cut themselves like that? Why did she call the nurse on the ward? Why didn't she bleed out? There was a part of her that wanted to live. At first she didn't want to talk to me. She said it was her body, she could do with it what she liked. Who was I to prevent her from doing anything? Those were the good old days of involuntary commitment. I had her on active suicide precautions. Twenty four hour supervision. Seclusion room. She tore out the stitches, dug under her cast with a knitting needle. Found pieces of glass. Hanged herself on her father's birthday. That was a clue. She lived, but she turned blue and gray and purple and had seizures. How much brain damage? I had to get her to talk. The talking-cure. She wouldn't talk. Glared at me. I told her I was her doctor. I would try to help her understand this. There had to be an explanation. It was a matter of life and death.
She said she didn't care to live, I should leave her alone. For months I could not penetrate the wall. She was a hellion on the ward. Everybody wanted to get rid of her. She had a reputation from before. I was a novice. The nurses and attendants shook their heads at me and rolled their eyes. They wanted her transferred to a state hospital for custodial care. I wanted to do intensive psychoanalysis. Harry Stack Sullivan and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann said it could be done. Sigmund Freud said it couldn't be done. No capacity to form a relationship.
Then she gave me some poems. I read them and was aghast and amazed. Horrors beautifully displayed in vivid images with a musical beat and a soaring lyricism. Metaphors galore. I was impressed. I told her. She seemed pleased. I realized she was a poet. She realized I was a therapist. She was intelligent and creative, therefore there was an island of intact ego. I asked her to talk instead of act, to think instead of act, to remember instead of act. Again and again I said it and she started to talk. But they transferred her to the state hospital. I couldn't go with her. But she came back to me after five years.
What can I say? Ten years after that she terminated. Ten years of outpatient psychoanalytic psychotherapy. She stopped cutting herself. She obtained a graduate degree. She became a working member of the mental health field. She worked for the state of Michigan after having been an inpatient in the state hospital system for eight years. The eight years included neuroleptics, ECT, insulin subcoma therapy, hydrotherapy, strait-jackets, seclusion rooms, occuptional therapy, recreational therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, group therapy. It was the group therapy that got her talking again, and when she was discharged she called me up and said she needed to talk. She called me from a phone booth on the highway near the state hospital. I thought she was gone forever, but she came back and wanted to continue talking, remembering, free-associating. The outpatient therapy included listening to Mozart, bottle-feeding, bioenergetics and group therapy. The basic, organizing conceptual framework was Freudian, only the relationship was key, interpersonal, not intrapsychic. But the interpersonal analysis dramatically influenced the intrapsychic organization. She replaced her toxic parents with an idealized therapist-figure that was accepting, supportive, non-directive, non-judgmental and analytical. I had been an auxiliary ego that was eventually internalized. As Federn predicted, after such treatment the therapeutic experience and the person of the therapist is repressed and the real relationship is over, as mature and adaptive functioning covers the psychotic core. Perhaps this is what is meant by psychic healing.
From the beginning of treatment to the time she was transferred to state hospital, she was diagnosed traumatic neurosis, sociopathic personality, pseudoneurotic schizophrenia, pseudopsychopathic schizophrenia, schizo-affective schizophrenia, acute undifferentiated schizophrenia, chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia. It was the consensus of the senior staff at her final review conference that she would either live out her days in the state hospital or commit suicide. Looking back, she might have been a severely regressed manic-depressive, where the final common pathways of the manic-depressive and schizophrenic psychosis come together, a new concept which comes from research into the longterm courses of these dreadful illnesses.
There may have been a time that the professionals involved with David Gotthelf would never have believed he would function normally again, let alone play the piano, let alone become a concert pianist, a performing artist. There is no hint in the movie that he ever received psychotherapy, only that he received the standard of care and humane custodial treatment and milieu therapy. Somehow he reconstituted, just as my patient did, and so I cannot conclude that the analytic psychotherapy had anything to do with the eventual recovery. Maybe it was the ECT, neuroleptics and milieu. Maybe it was the ongoing relationship with me as one human being to another that facilitated healing. Maybe my appreciation of her poetry elevated her self-esteem and supported Eros and creativity over Thanatos and self-destruction. Maybe what we do is art, rather than science, and psychotherapy supervision is the equivalent of master classes in music. Maybe there are many roads connecting one soul to another. Maybe the royal road to reorganization after disintegration is love.
Victor Bloom MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Department of Psychiatry
Wayne State University
School of Medicine
1007 Three Mile Drive
Grosse Pointe, Michigan 48230