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

Forgiveness is overrated. Understanding is not. And, there’s much to understand in Jennifer Kent’s riveting, violently troubling, and powerful new film, The Nightingale; about trauma, PTSD, unbearable grief, and the sometimes unimaginable sources of empathy. No, no one should ever be expected to forgive their abusers. “Forgiveness” for sadistic cruelty isn’t healing. What helps is for the most horrific kind of terror, pain, and loss to be truly understood in the eyes of another. This is exactly what The Nightingale shows us through Kent’s vision and in the parallel stories of Clare and Billy, a young Irish White woman and...

What are the basic ingredients in Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails’s The Last Black Man In San Francisco? An old Victorian house. A young man who has no home. A mother who abandoned him and can’t keep him in her heart. A necessary fantasy. A Greek Chorus (that speaks the anger, hate, and under it, the grief).A gentrifying city that is taking everything away. “We don’t own shit,” is the mantra for what’s happening as the Blacks are pushed out of their neighborhoods. But, it’s a mantra that goes even deeper. When your mom left you long ago and you...

Reverend Tomas Ericsson is a man who cannot grieve. And, because he can’t, he struggles with both God and love. Tomas over and over coldly rejects his desperately loving former lover, Marta. Winter Light Ingmar Bergman 1963, slowly reveals the source of his loss of faith. Tomas loved his dead wife: “When she died, so did I.” This is a bitter man. Turned dead inside. Dead to his parishioners, his previous faith, the possibility of new love. Dead to a young congregant in despair who turns to him in terror for words of hope. All of this spells hopelessness and...

Can a cold narcissistic father drive a girl insane? The short answer is yes. Wilfred Bion defined psychosis as hatred of reality. And, what is there to love about the reality of a self-obsessed father who cares more about his own desires than his children? Facing that is horror. We see it in Through The Glass Darkly, in Karin diagnosed as schizophrenic. She’s turned away from reality, can’t accept Martin’s love; searches in her other-world for a kind father-God that might give her salvation and hope. When all she finds is a stony-faced spider trying to invade her, she must...

The Seventh Seal is Bergman’s famous religious allegory about a Knight who faces Death and tries to outwit him. The film’s religious symbolism certainly reflects Bergman’s internal struggle with his Lutheran minister father and his questions about faith. But, as a psychoanalyst, I have much more to offer in looking at The Seventh Seal’s chess game with Death as a psychological struggle. I’ll explore the various ways our Knight is haunted by a dark internal depressive force, not unlike the Grim Reaper or the Black Plague, that follows him everywhere and wants to “kill” love and hope. And, we’ll see...

Shame can ruin a life. A mistake can force a woman to live in self-sacrifice. For Diane, the reasons why are hidden in the loaded question: “How is Brian?” This question haunts her through the entirety of Kent Jones’ character-driven film, Diane. Not only is Brian Diane’s alcoholic and drug-addicted son, but underneath her attempts to save him is the reason for her guilt. She never feels she can make up for what she did many years ago. Nothing lets her off the hook. She’s locked in a prison of voices muttering relentlessly in her mind. How does a woman...

We’ve all been intrigued with Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita since the classic film arrived on the scene in 1962. But, isn’t the burning question: Is there more to understand about Humbert and Lolita beyond, “he’s a pedophile and she’s a troubled 14-year-old seductress?” The answer is yes, there’s plenty. Believe it or not, both have pathological reactions to loss. Pathological is not a surprise, I’m sure. But, perhaps loss is. So, let’s look more deeply into the not so simple histories that have brought about Humbert and Lolita’s very disturbed longings and behavior. Making them unable to grieve. Professor Humbert’s Mother Loss Humbert...

Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), age 26, is Taxi Driver's lonely, alienated "hero." Yes, he’s a Vietnam War vet, ex-marine, and likely has his share of PTSD. But, his problems stem from something much deeper than war-trauma. He must have suffered some kind of childhood trauma, to be sure. He wouldn’t be so troubled if he hadn’t. His letter to his parents is dutiful, secretive, and distant. He wants something, though; he wants Betsy (Cybil Shepherd), he’s obsessed with her beauty. But, he has no idea what a woman wants or how to date, let alone to have a relationship with...

NOW PLAYING AT THE PSYCHOANALYTIC CENTER OF CALIFORNIA'S SATURDAY CINEMA PHANTOM THREAD Still Shaking your head over last year's Phantom Thread? Come join us Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM for a complete viewing of Phantom Thread. Hear Dr. Sandra E. Cohen's psychoanalytic discussion as she explores the unconscious roots and meaning of Reynolds and Alma's dangerous feeding game. The question is: what does it have to do with the complex dynamics between obsessive control and dependency, love and loss? Saturday, May 18, 2019, 10:00 am to 1:30 pm PCC Office Classroom 11500 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 445 Los Angeles, CA 90064 3.25...

Astrid Lindgren, the author of the inimitable Pippi Longstocking, knew all about superhuman strength. She had it as a young girl. At least, she had to believe she did. To get through a traumatic pregnancy and separation from her baby. “You can do it.” That’s what people told young Astrid over and over when she felt she couldn’t take it on alone. But, she did. Because what else is there to do when no one’s willing to help? Not her parents. Not the father of her baby. So, this is where Becoming Astrid began. She had to rise up out...