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

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...

Jordan Peele’s brilliantly conceived film, Get Out, does its job of shattering the myth that we are living in a post-racial America. My great uncle, Leo Hurwitz’s film, Strange Victory, tried to do the same in 1948 after we won the war against Hitler but came home to racism here. It’s now 70 years later and there’s still too much to be scared of. Peele says he made Get Out to face his fears. What’s he most afraid of? “Human beings. What people can do in conjunction with other people is exponentially worse than what they can do alone. Society...

Lady Bird begins with a Joan Didion quote splashed across the screen: “Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent Christmas in Sacramento.” Christmas is mostly for children or, at least, the child part of us. And, few come through childhood unscathed. Greta Gerwig’s charming, brilliantly written, funny, and psychologically real film has a lot to say about mothers and daughters. Being a mother has its challenges. Being a daughter means separating to have your own life. That has its difficulties too, especially when your mom has a hard time letting go. For Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirise Ronan) and...

Shoot Film, Not People: this is the poster filmmaker Peggy Lawson, Leo Hurwitz’s wife, carried during a march against the Vietnam War. As we watch Dialogue With A Woman Departed, Leo’s 4-hour love poem to Peggy, we come back to this sign again and again. We come back to Peggy: marching in protest, hair tied back with bandana, face determined, alert, and wise – a kind of wisdom not so easily won. Peggy’s Texas childhood was difficult. Part Native American, she experienced poverty and discrimination. Her sensitive, intelligent, aware nature detected even then the unfairness of poverty, the struggles of those...