Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Beverly Hills psychoanalyst, writes about your favorite film, TV, and book characters
and their real human problems.

It’s frightening how quickly freedom can disappear. We have to watch out for those complicated forces, in the outside world and living inside us, that want to deceive us if we aren’t aware. Cabaret is a powerful and disturbing illustration, plus a startling reminder, of the various ways these dangers lurk. Over Labor Day weekend, I saw a remarkable performance of Cabaret at the Celebration Theater at The Lex in Hollywood. Director Michael Matthews’ version of this well known and loved musical crosses all conceivable boundaries; anything goes. And, then, it doesn’t. If you’ve seen Cabaret, you know the play takes place...

Jon Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians is about crazy wealth. But it’s really about so much more. It’s about the clashes between old money and new; between privilege and disadvantage; between American born Asians and those calling Asia home; between following passion and giving into duty. Mostly it's about a boyfriend's mother's envy. And, at the film’s center we find this conflict between a traditional Singaporean mother and her son’s Asian American girlfriend. At an even deeper level, Crazy Rich Asians is really about two different parts of that mother battling against each other. The Girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is the youngest...

  *Spoiler Alert: Don’t Read Until You’ve Seen This Film* The Wife slowly and disturbingly reveals many things about Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) and her marriage to 1992 Nobel Prize Winner, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). She’s lived a lie. She’s allowed it. She’s become merely “the wife.” But, when Joe asks her, as she finally gains courage to leave him after almost 40 years: “Why did you marry me,” she has no idea. Why Joan married him is a good question. But, the more important question is why she’d sell her soul for love? That can only be answered by looking at the...

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is a brilliant, terrifying, and timely treatise on hate. The film tells Ron Stallworth’s true early 1970's story (played by John David Washington): a courageous, harrowing, but ultimately foiled effort to expose the KKK and its virulent racial hate. Fuel it’s fires and hate justifies violence. Then is now: 1970 is 2018. Hate doesn’t make us “fine” people. Hate is never “fine.” BlacKkKlansman takes hate seriously. Lee masterfully juxtaposes the haters and the hated to expose the insidiousness of hate. This is the film’s overarching intent. And, Lee succeeds. He recruits us to join in fighting hate's power. Certainly,...

Middle School definitely sucks for many kids. It sucked for Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) in her excruciatingly awkward (but at the same time sweet and hopeful) journey from Middle School to High School in Bo Burnham’s film Eighth Grade. Maybe it sucked for you. We see the obvious reasons in vivid Technicolor: the insecurities, the struggles fitting in; the fears of rejection; the uncertainties about “who am I?” It doesn’t help that there are mean kids and bullies to contend with. Yet, this isn’t the whole story. Teenage self-doubts have not so obvious roots in earlier childhood history. Not so sure?...

Welcome, readers. Characters On the Couch and my blogging on film is back with Three Identical Strangers and a subject I'm passionate about: the lasting effects of separation trauma. I took an almost four-month hiatus to build out my new office at 435 N. Bedford Drive, Suite 406, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 – a lovely and peaceful new space for my much loved clinical work and writing. That wasn’t the only thing, though. Along with the demands of the office build out, I also needed time to write a chapter on Pedro Almodovar’s film, Broken Embraces, for an exciting new book. Pedro...

Tim Wardle’s documentary, Three Identical Strangers, is a timely and disturbing account of the trauma of early separation. As a psychoanalyst who specializes in separation trauma, I left the theater shaken and troubled. Children aren’t for using. They aren’t for self-serving studies, proving points or punishing parents (yes, Trump and your cronies, that’s you.) The scars are severe and they last a lifetime. We see those scars in Bobby, David, and especially Eddy. The triplet’s separation was deliberate. It didn’t have to happen. It happened 6 months after the triplets were born on July 12, 1961 to an unwed Jewish high...

Poor Phil Connors. He’s stuck repeating the same day over and over again. It’s been 25 years since Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day hit the theaters for the first time. Hopefully, none of you have spent that long living the same day. But, we do have a thing or two to learn from Pittsburg weatherman Phil Connors’ very, very bad rut; the rut of a closed down, negative, self-absorbed, glass half-empty (and, let’s add, very scared of love) state of mind. That is until Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) comes along and shakes him up a bit. What does it really take,...

Desire is what director, Luca Guadagnino, hoped to convey in Call Me By Your Name – the kind of desire that allows you to live life by following your feelings with openness. Guadagnino calls this: “living with a sense of joie de vivre", in which, he says: "we should always be very earnest with [our] feelings, instead of hiding them or shielding ourselves." This is at the heart of the struggle both Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) must overcome as their love unfolds. Call Me By Your Name is about more than desire, though; it is a film...

John Thomas Anderson has done it again. He’s a master at exploring the various kinds of perverse power games involved in problems with dependency and love. Anderson’s new film, Phantom Thread, is another brilliant character study to add to Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master, and Inherent Vice (to name a notable few). In Phantom Thread, burning at the heart of the sick game Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) and his Alma (Vicky Krieps) play, we wonder once again: who’s the one in power? And what is the need for it? Plus, we also can’t escape asking: what exactly is the...