What do we talk about when we talk about someone losing his grip on reality? When it comes to that question, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s brilliant film, Birdman, is meaty stuff for a psychoanalyst like me. Riggan Thompson, former action hero, has-been, failed husband and father, is struggling to change his life - against a Voice in his head that swings back and forth between the old allure of grandiose self acclaim or ripping self criticism. That Voice – who at first is unidentifiable, turns out to be Birdman, his claim to stardom in the movie business. That Voice is the teetering...

  12 YEARS A SLAVE — Some people need someone to hate. In Jean Paul Sartre’s essay, “Anti-Semite and Jew,” he says: “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” I don’t think it’s a far leap to put the history of Blacks in America in the same category. The important question is why? Why does this need to have someone to hate (or someone to control and use for one’s own psychological purposes) operate more intensely in some people? Like in Edwin Epps, the vicious slave master (Michael Fassbender), in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. The true story of Solomon...

HER — Spike Jonze is interested in loneliness. His new film, Her, is a semi-futuristic exploration of one lonely man’s struggle to learn what love is and what love is not. Here’s what we know about Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). He has a broken heart. His marriage to Catherine has come to a devastatingly sad end. At BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, he writes heartfelt, warm, romantic letters; to other people’s loves. The feelings he puts in the letters mean nothing to him. He’s afraid to open his heart again. Why is he so scared? Having his wife leave him doesn’t help. But, where else might...

And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness … (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets) PHILOMENA — Shame ravages. It eats away at you. It makes you collapse into yourself and live with secrets – seemingly too shameful to tell. Philomena Lee’s (Judi Dench) story is the story of shame. In Stephen Frears's film, Philomena, Philomena’s journey begins with shame until she comes full circle to where her shame began. Hers is the story of a hard won triumph over the forces that shamed her – a 1950’s Irish Catholic belief system capitalizing on shame and humiliation to...

NEBRASKA — What does a son do when he feels his dad doesn’t love him? Either silently withdraw or take the road trip of his life to just spend a little time together. Director Alexander Payne has done it brilliantly again. Nebraska isn’t the road trip we took in Sideways. It’s a father-son road trip, and a touchingly redemptive ride it is, from Billings, Montana to Omaha, Nebraska with a stop in the fictional Hawthorne along the way. This beautiful, character-driven film, with a virtuoso performance by Bruce Dern as Woody Grant and a touching Will Forte as his son, David, asks a tough...

  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET — Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street is an indulgently voyeuristic picture of MORE, MORE, MORE, at every level. Money, sex, drugs – there’s no stopping the film’s main characters, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his cohorts, from their purely hedonistic pursuits. And, yet, that’s still not enough. Is Martin Scorsese secretly enthralled and glorifying debauchery, as some critics and viewers suggest? Or, is his three-hour film really meant to take us inside the depraved minds of men who are completely out for themselves and have absolutely no capacity for human concern? What pushes someone, like Belfort, over...

AMERICAN HUSTLE — David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a cinematic treatise on the complexities of survival. Irving Rosenfeld, Sydney Prosser (AKA Lady Edith Greensley), Richie DiMaso, and Rosalyn Rosenfeld are each, in their own uniquely perverse and destructive ways, just trying to survive. But, are they? If we remove ourselves from the intrigue of the hustle itself (based upon the FBI Abscam operation of 1980), what exactly can we learn about this particular brand of self-serving (or should I say, rather desperate) psychological survival? Each member of this troubled cast of characters is trying to “survive” the limits of their real identities. As Irving...

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB — There are two radical choices when faced with a death sentence: jolt into a potent sobriety and fight to live. Or, sink into despair so deep that drugs are a greater solace than fighting the monster killing you. Ron Woodroof, played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey (Golden Globe Best Actor), chooses the former. But Rayon, a transgender woman, played with magnificent pathos by Jared Leto (Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor) can’t stop her harmful behaviors. What are the driving forces (emotional ones, that is) behind an out of character transformation versus self-destruction? Ron Woodroof, whose real life story Dallas Buyers Club tells,...

  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS — I grip my armrests. The theater becomes the USS Maersk Alabama. We, the audience, are the crew, stormed by Somali pirates bent on winning their power battle no matter what. It’s terrifying, and Paul Greengrass’ riveting documentary-style film Captain Phillips makes that terror almost unbearable. But there’s more to the film than real-life trauma: for this psychoanalyst, there’s Muse, the pirate captain, and his relationship to Captain Phillips. Could someone like Muse, capable of brutal self-interest, also have empathy? That’s a fascinating question. The relationship between Muse and Captain Phillips, the man Muse calls “Irish,” isn’t so simple as captive and hostage....