Cinema as Therapy by John Izod and Joanna Dovalis

October 15th, 2017 — 12:18pm

Category: MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

This book review originally appeared in The Academy Forum published by the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry Vol.62, Number 2,  Fall 2017

Cinema As Therapy: Grief and Transformational Film by John Izod and Joanna Dovalis, published by Routledge, London and New York 2015

Reviewed by Michael Blumenfield, M.D.

Dr. Blumenfield is a Past President of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry and regularly reviews movies at FilmRap.net

This book discusses the following 9 films:

Birth (2004)

Tsotsi (2005)

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993)

Trois Couleurs: Blanc (1994)

Trois Couleurs: Rouge (1994)

The Son’s Room (2001)

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003)

Morvern Callar (2002)

The Tree of Life (2011)

I am listing all the films covered because unless you are intimately familiar with these movies (which I was not), I believe it will be very difficult for you to appreciate and follow the detailed discussion of each of them in this book.The authors carefully dissect each movie, often scene by scene, sometimes discussing the camera angles, the music, certainly the dialogue (sometimes word by word), and most important their detailed understanding of the psychodynamics of each character and their interaction with each other. There are frequent references to psychoanalytic writings with a heavy emphasis on Jung.

The difference between this type of an approach compared to a case study is that the latter would be presented in an organized manner where we might have a context to examine the details. In this book, the author assumed that their interpretations and their psychodynamic formulations are correct and they continually build and elaborate on them in their ongoing dissection and discussion of the movie. We have to accept that their understanding of every nuance is valid. Did the screenwriter who created the characters and storyline consciously plan every symbolic twist and turn of the story, choice of phrase, meaningful color of clothes or sky or flowers, appearance of animals or birds, all of which were interpreted by the author of this book as having special meaning. Even if we assume that the psychodynamics are flowing from the unconscious of the screenwriter and director, we still have to do a reality check on how movies are actually made. Sometimes the clothes chosen by wardrobe people based on availability as might be a particular location, which may not be chosen because of symbolic meaning. The red color of the sky may be an artistic coincidence and not a symbolic choice to express anger, etc.

Even if what I believe is a great deal of over interpretation was valid, it would be difficult to understand most of it without knowing the past history and insight into each character. When we are studying a case history in a conference or supervision, the presenter has given us a context by providing the background (parents, youth, previous interaction, etc.) and usually an insight into a psychodynamic formulation, which the presenter wishes us to consider. If we are treating a patient and are formulating our understanding of the psychodynamics, we do this through a process of learning past history and early relationship, transference manifestation and the patient’s response to our interpretations. This is in contrast to having the author unfold a movie story and provide detailed interpretation of nearly every piece of behavior which is unfolding before us on the screen without a previous context.

In the introduction to this book, the authors note that they have chosen to emphasize grief in cinema and they imply (as does the title of the book) that cinema can be used in grief therapy. They seem to be suggesting that transformation and perhaps working through might be achieved by cinema. They note that film allows the viewer to more freely surrender themselves to their feelings. They elaborate that the audience might share a common trait with the character in the movie, which evolves into particular patterns of grieving caused by a devastating and undigested loss. The idea would appear to be that the movie experience would be therapeutic in working through the grief. While some of the movies discussed in the book did have grieving and loss as part of the theme, I did not feel that the authors returned to this idea in any depth in showing how viewing the film might be therapeutic to the audience.

Having said all of the above, I do believe it would be a wonderful experience to attend the movie with the authors and have a subsequent discussion with them about the film that we just experienced. I also believe that the authors would be ideal teachers to discuss the film that students or colleagues who have all viewed the film and could interact with each other about their interpretations. This book could be a textbook for a psychoanalytic class that was going to study one of the movies and have a sophisticated dialogue about possible psychodynamic interpretations. It would be even more of a challenging endeavor if a psychoanalyst would embark upon teaching a group of film students about psychodynamics and use this book and the particular movies as subject matter. In addition, it certainly would be fascinating if the authors could present clinical material where a movie had become a therapeutic experience to a particular patient in helping them work through their grief or other issues.

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Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America by Jill Leovy

October 10th, 2017 — 8:26pm

Category: Social

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

This is a very sad book. It is a story of homicide in the so-called Ghetto area of Los Angeles. Most of the victims and perpetrators are young black men and boys. Not surprisingly, these murders are often gang related, sometimes revenge for previous murder or because somebody is believed to be a “snitch”. Other times the victim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of these murders don’t even get mentioned in the newspapers or on TV. It’s not unusual for there to be a couple of murders per night in each police district. These crimes may occur in a family where there is a tradition of crime and violence. But on the other hand, sometimes the victim is a high school kid who seemed to be on verge of breaking out of this cycle of crime. Countless families become devastated by this epidemic of murder as the author skillfully and vividly described in so many cases. At times the reader just wants to say, “Enough!” as it it is quite painful to read this book.

The book is also about the Los Angeles homicide detectives and their dedication and professionalism. We see countless examples of how these detectives deal with the horror and indescribable painful situations that they have to view every day. We see their patience and empathy as they speak to family members of murder victims and often making a death notification. This reader was blown away by their ability to do this type of work on a day-to-day basis and treat each murder with care and individuality. We follow some very skillful, dedicated detectives who do their jobs with great respect for the victims and their families.

The juxtaposition of getting insight into the impact of these murders on the families and the professionalism and dedication of the police homicide detectives was quite interesting. However, nothing was more dramatic and eye-opening then when one of the homicide detectives’ sons was murdered and we follow another detective as he applies his intellectual and emotional skills to follow and solve this case through the court room and final verdict. It was clear that this LAPD homicide detective did his best to bring justice to this case in the same manner that he handled all his other cases.

This book really gives a wonderful window and insight to how the police, despite difficult circumstances and at times limited resources, do a job about which they and all of us should be very proud. Reading this book is as engrossing as any TV show about crime and it probably brings the reader closer to the real thing than any movie or novel could do. It is all true and happening every day in Los Angeles and in many other cities throughout the country

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What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

October 2nd, 2017 — 11:29pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

“History is written by the victor” is a quote by Machiavelli. In this case, it is a loser who tells what happened. Actually, this book is more than an accounting of what happened in the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton had 2.9 million more votes than did Donald Trump but lost the Electoral College and thus lost the presidential race. This book provides an insight into the persona, personal development and most important, the hopes and aspirations that Hillary Clinton has for this country. She also shares her shock, surprise, disappointment and, devastation that she experienced in losing this election.

Hillary does deliver what the title of the book promises. She explains the story or should we say the non-story of her, “emails. ” and essentially states that FBI Director Comey’s suggestion that she was being investigated for criminal activity concerning her emails which in fact was a very minor situation and that he did not mention that Trump’s campaign was being investigated for the serious activity of colluding with the Russians was quite harmful to her. The suggestion that she was participating in criminal activity that really had no basis but nevertheless gained the news initiative and allowed her opposition to use it against her essentially changed the outcome which all the polls were projecting as a win for her. Clinton also discussed the role of the Soviet Union in cyber attacks on the United States election which are now being developed in the current news stories.

Although she is fairly confident that she would have won the election if it had not been for the timing of Comey’s ill-stated unfair public statements, she also makes an effort to examine how her opponent had tapped into a segment of the U.S. population that was hurting and believed that they were not understood. It’s quite apparent that Hillary Clinton was unambivalent as to her opinion of the character of her opponent. She felt that Trump was a narcissist and a liar. A couple of years ago, I read an interesting book titled The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It tells how ex-presidents of the United States get together from time to time to share experiences and engage in discussions and activities which are usually quite cordial and constructive. I could not help but wonder how Hillary might interact with Trump should she be accompanying her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to such a gathering in the future.

I have a photo of Hillary with my then 10-year-old granddaughter which was taken during the 2016 campaign which I titled, “Two future presidents”. Clinton does share her sadness that she has disappointed so many women, young and old, who were expecting her to break through the glass ceiling. In fact, her planned victory speech was going to be in a room with lighting that would give the illusion of a shattered glass ceiling. Hillary shares with the readers how painful it has been to disappoint so many people who pinned their hopes on her for changes and opportunities that would have been related to her accomplishment in being the first woman president of the United States. However, she does appear to be coming around to recognizing that she has set the stage for another woman to accomplish this feat which she hopes will happen in her lifetime. She plans to continue to be active in many ways and I am sure that she will continue to make a difference.

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Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

September 19th, 2017 — 5:11pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, P - Political

Behold the Dreamers

By: Imbolo Mbue

 

There could not be a more pertinent book to read during the time period that I read this book. The immigration issue, DACA and related subjects are front and center in the current political discussions.

Imbolo Mbue has obviously had some very personal experiences depicted in this book about immigrants struggling to be able to stay in the United States and not be deported. This is the plight of the two main characters, Jende and Neni, a married couple from Cameroon in Africa now living in New York City and having two children. He works as a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman and Neni, his wife, takes care of the children and works, and is studying to be a pharmacist. They have a flimsy story as to why they should be allowed to stay in the United States and they are living from court date to court date with tremendous anxiety whether or not they will be deported.

There is a very engrossing storyline that makes a great drama as well as informing us of the nature of the relationship between these struggling immigrants. We come to understand the legal intrigues as well as the most personal feelings that may be experienced by people going through this situation.

The writing is excellent, although I had one complaint with the author’s style and format. During several points in the story, I was totally engrossed and on the edge of my seat swiping page after page on my iPad when the author adds a chapter that goes back in time in order to help develop the character or provide background information. I personally found that a distraction and wish she could have found another method to achieve her goal of enlightening the reader with more background.

I came away from this book with a new and deeper appreciation of the current immigration crisis. But really, as moving as this story, it is obviously a tale of only one couple and their individual story struggling for the right to stay in the United States. There must be thousands of other scenarios and I feel we have only scratched the surface but nevertheless it was a worthwhile experience.

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Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

September 7th, 2017 — 5:54pm

Category: P - Political

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of the famous cast of characters behind the scenes of World War II. Growing up in the post-war years, I read many books and followed radio, television and movies on this subject. I certainly heard the previous generation talk about FDR and the New Deal. Also, Edward R. Murrow was one of my heroes and I collected his I Can Hear It Now record albums and as a youngster, I followed his TV shows Person To Person and other productions, and even tried in a small way to emulate him during college as I had a radio program called Face the Mike. But I must admit after reading Citizens of London, I realized that I  “didn’t know squat” which really means I didn’t appreciate what was really going on during this fascinating time in history.

This book puts the spotlight mainly on three people:

Gil Winant who was Ambassador to England from the United States during World War II.

Averell Harriman, who was in charge of Lend-Lease and a confidant of Roosevelt and Churchill.

Edward R. Murrow, who was the iconic radio newsman who made memorable broadcast from England back to the United States.

In addition, this book provided an amazing insight into the thinking of Winston Churchill and FD Roosevelt, as well as Dwight Eisenhower and the people around these great men.

This book also captures, in depth, the atmosphere in Britain from the late 1930s to the post-war years. The author provides insight into the thinking and feelings of the citizens of London, as well as the Americans who, for various reasons, spent much of his period in this very special city. We come to see and understand the contrast between England as they battled the Nazis, who eventually took over Europe, and the Americans on the other side of the pond who were very reluctant to get involved in the war. In Britain, they were rationing food while America was coming out of a depression and beginning to enjoy prosperity.

It took the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to get the United States to finally join the British in the war against Germany. This book gives us an inside view of the bustling City of London as hundreds of thousands, if not more, of the allied soldiers gathered to await for D-Day. We see this city become a vibrant place, despite having been heavily bombed by the Germans,  that would endure even more severe V2 rocket attacks later in the war.

I also had no idea of the disputes and infighting between the British generals and their American  counterparts, as well as the jostling between FDR and Winston Churchill. It was especially interesting to see the behind-the-scene interactions when these great leaders held their secret meetings during the war  or as they communicated back and forth through their emissaries.  We are also given the sense of the complicated post-war planning or should I say the serious lack of such planning that created many difficulties when the war finally ended. It was an amazing disparity between the jubilant United States at the end of the war that was looking forward to an expanding economy, an equally jubilant, liberated and unscared Paris, filled with victorious soldiers and grateful citizens, whereas London was still climbing out of the devastating damage from the bombing, rationing and the scourge of war  as the Americans found their way home.

This book couldn’t cover everything in depth and it is a little light in discussing the extent of the holocaust. It did describe perhaps Edward R. Murrow’s most dramatic radio broadcast back to the United States (even more memorable than the broadcast from a US bomber over Germany that was nearly blasted from the sky) and that was the broadcast of Murrow’s description after he entered the Buchenwald concentration camps with the US troops. As he witnessed the unspeakable horrendous sights  he nevertheless did find the words to describe them, despite his tears.

Lynne Olson has tapped many historical resources, published diaries, as well as archives about the war to provide a vivid and sometimes a very personal behind-the-scenes account of World War II. She has framed this story by focusing on a handful of participants, one of which is the City of London itself. The author also pulled aside the curtain that  usually covers the personal lives of these famous participants. The wind and heat of war apparently led to various romantic liaisons in the three major subjects of this book, Winant, Harriman and Murrow and even involved trysts with women of the Churchill Family. There was even an unexpected very sad suicide by one very important character in this book.

This is a very well done, informative and interesting book that well deserves your attention.

 

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How It All Began by Penelope Lively

August 19th, 2017 — 10:55am

Category: FG - Fiction General

How It All Began   by Penelope Lively

I must confess that circumstances led me to read this book over a more prolonged period of time than usual. I believe my appreciation for the story suffered because of this. The premise of this book is that events that occur in one person’s life will influence and even change the course of the life of another person which will impact and change the course of still another individual and so on and so on. The seminal event from the author’s point of view in this story was the mugging of an elderly woman which caused her to have a broken hip which led her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law which caused her daughter to take off from work and then brought about changes in the trajectory of other people. Needless to say there were events which led the woman and her mugger to cross paths which were not explained in this book

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t quite get with the flow of the story but I did appreciate the engaging style of writing of Ms. Lively. The story of each person might very well have been developed into an interesting novel itself. However, from my point of view, the overall experience of this novel was not a satisfying one.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

July 13th, 2017 — 9:44pm

Category: HI - History, P - Political, Social

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Much to my chagrin, I thought that I was reading a fiction novel until I concluded the book and read some notes by the author. It was then that I understood that the book is a true account of specific real people living in Annawanda, a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) India. The author kept detailed notes about her interviews and discussion with the people described in this book. Everything in the book is purported to be true!

I come away from this experience with insight into the life of living in a slum in India. It is most depressing to realize the demeaning life that so many people are living there. It is especially disheartening to appreciate how so many children are deprived of an education and instead have to accept their role of hard labor at a young age. If something can even be worse than this, it is the type of work that these youngsters must pursue. Of course any type of child labor is deplorable but for the children of Annawanda and other such areas, a major work endeavor is scavenging garbage on a daily basis in order to come up with anything of value which might include used paper cups, uneaten food, scraps of metal and whatever. At times these children would seem to be from age 10 upward. They would find their lives endangered from security guards or dealing with risky physical hazards. Other times we learn how such children suffer the health consequences by incurring diseases and infected skin lesions by their daily submersion in garbage. The fact that their parents and other elders tolerate these activities by their children, have encouraged it as well or even joined them in some aspect of this work, only demonstrates the degenerate nature of their life.

It is ironic that these things are happening in a democratic country, which appears to have free elections. However, this book gives us a close look at the level of corruption among politicians at all levels, police and seemingly among just about any person who has any authority or advantage over another person. Paying bribes is an acceptable way of life even if these payments may be diminishing the food from their families.

Certainly this book is well written. The subject matter is riveting, if for no other reason that it is unbelievable. Does a woman with one leg being set on fire by herself or perhaps assisted by someone close to her, provide a dramatic scenario? Imagine a prolonged trial for this incident in which one of the defendants is a child being tried in juvenile court, all fraught with corruption and bribery.

Katherine Boo is a first time author who worked as a writer for New Yorker Magazine for many years and has spent a great deal of time reporting from poor countries. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award. It must have been an emotionally painful experience to have been so close to the depravity and misery that she reported in this story.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

June 29th, 2017 — 11:44pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This book as the title suggests is about books and people who love them and love each other.

The story takes place mostly on Alice Island, a small island off the coast of New England. In reality there is no such place but it reminds me of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. On this island there is a book store owned and run by a middle-aged man A.J. Fikry who had suffered the premature death of his wife. He also has had the unusual experience of having a woman who he did not know, leave her two year old in his bookstore before she ended her own life by walking into the ocean. Unexpectedly, he decided to adopt this infant and raise her. There is one more event necessary to set the scene for this novel and that is the appearance of Amelia, the new representative from a publishing company whose job would be to periodically a few times a year take the ferry to Alice Island where she would interact with the owner of the bookstore about new book releases. There is chemistry between A.J. and Amelia but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way for them to blend their lives.

There are other important characters in this book including Ismay, the sister of A.J.’s departed wife and Lambiase, a local police officer who falls under the spell of books and this bookstore.

There is an important concept in psychiatry called psychic determinism, meaning that all things are determined by events that occurred in the past. Our lives are altered by our interactions with various people, places and events. There are obviously an infinite number of examples how the existence of one element might change many lives. In this case we come to appreciate how this one bookstore and many of the people who came through its doors were altered and determined.

While I did enjoy this novel I also felt that I missed a good deal of appreciating the depth of it because there were many references to books that I have not read. In fact, each chapter started off with a reference to a classic story, which I am sure added to the enjoyment by those who read and remembered that book.

Finally, this novel also provided a reminder of how modern technology may be changing the bookstores of the world forever. At one point in the novel, A.J.’s mother appeared with gifts for adults and the child which consisted of E-readers. A.J. understandably didn’t like the idea of such a gift. We read this novel on an E-reader and we are little sad to say that we don’t know if we will find a reason to set foot in a bookstore again. Unlike the situation in this novel where book clubs were held in the bookstore, our own book club takes place in our members’ homes. This novel may very well end up belonging to the category of historical novels.

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Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

June 20th, 2017 — 1:27pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, HI - History, P - Political

 

Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

A successful, happily-married jeweler, father of two children, is in his store in Tehran, Iran, when he finds a man pointing a rifle at him and saying, “We’re here by orders of the Revolutionary Guard.” The year is 1979 and the Shah and monarchy of this country has been toppled.

As we get into this well-written historical novel, we find it very easy to identify with the members of this family, as well as with their hopes and aspirations. We can put ourselves in their shoes and relate to the father, Isaac, his wife, Farnaz, and their two children. It was only when their world was turned upside-down by Isaac being led away for interrogation and stay in prison of which his release was possible but so was execution, that we were entering into an unimaginable set of circumstances. The difference between his life and death while in captivity might be whether he would reveal information about “questionable” relatives or friends who may have supported the toppled shah or his government in any way. What would we have done?

From time to time we meet people who were born in Iran or their parents were born there, but we never imagined what they may have experienced. We probably know more about the Holocaust having spoken with or heard accounts by survivors in real life or from books and movies. There was one account in this book describing an Iranian man who had escaped to the United States and was a successful florist. It was revealed that the man had been a well-known university cardiologist in Iran before he was forced to leave in order to survive. Once in the United States, he couldn’t imagine going back to school and trying to get credentials and certifications to become a doctor again. So, he put his energy and creativity to becoming a successful florist. Once again, we think, what would we have done? Or perhaps the lingering question is could we have done what most of the characters in this book have done?

This book is apparently inspired by some actual experiences by the author as well as some understanding into what members of her family have gone through. The book is well-written. It serves not only as an insight of the history, but also as a solid description of family relationships and family psychodynamics. I highly recommend this it.

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Thank You for Being Late; An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration by Thomas L. Friedman

April 5th, 2017 — 10:23pm

Category: E- Economic, HI - History, P - Political

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration by Thomas L. Friedman

This by far is one of the most interesting, enlightening, and engrossing books that I have read in a long time and I have been reading some pretty good books.

Thomas Friedman has been a reporter, New York Times columnist and author who has been awarded Pulitzer Prize three times for his work. He has the uncanny ability to describe and provide insight into our modern society and where we are going from a historical, political, scientific, and humanistic viewpoint. He draws his experience and insight from his decades of reporting in the Middle East, Washington, DC, growing up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, having met world renowned people in all walks of life including a parking lot attendant who he met who also writes a blog read in 30 different countries.

I know that the world in which my grandchildren are growing up is vastly different than my childhood experiences but Friedman with a simple explanation demonstrates how different it really is especially driven by technology. He cites “Moore’s Law” which is “the observation at the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years” (which reflects the accelerating scientific advancements in the world). Friedman then asks the reader to imagine the magnitude of change by visualizing a chessboard and putting the grain of sand on the one square and then doubling the amount of sand on each of the successive squares (64 in total on a chessboard). I googled the amount of sand that would be on the last box. It would be 18,446,744,073,709,551,600 grains of sand. It is this projection which illustrates how much scientific advancement is available to neutralize the statistics that show potential climate change, famine, unemployment, population growth, etc. etc.

Friedman wades into so many problems that our changing world is facing but emerges with an optimistic view that we can adapt as Mother Nature has been adapting since the birth of our planet (with the help of Moore’s Law). He concludes his book by turning inward and trying to understand himself and the community from where he came. He reviews his years growing up and reviews some recent visits to time visiting St. Louis Park, Minnesota which is a small suburban town where he attended public school and Hebrew school. He examines the values he extracted from his childhood experiences and also optimistically observes how this town is changing today with the new generation of immigrants but yet adapting and solving problems the way he hopes the rest of the country and the world will adapt. While he briefly mentioned his own parents and how they influenced him, I believe he underestimates the impact of the nuclear family and early childhood experiences.

Despite the above, this is not a simple homey book. Friedman deals with most subjects in great depth. He not only shares his own opinion but he cites statistics and conversations with wide variety of experts in every aspect of the subject matter. He reviews statistical trends, history, and in-depth discussions with many people. The hard copy version of this book is a solid 496 pages. You will come away from reading this book invigorated, knowledgeable and perhaps some of Friedman’s optimism will rub off on you.

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